Flee a thousand leagues from saying, “I was in the right. It was not right for me to suffer this. They had no right to treat me so.” God deliver us from all such rights. And when we receive honors, or affection, or kind treatment, let us ask what right we have to them.
~Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you… So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
~ from 2 Corinthians 4
Oh beloved, it is true. Suffering comes in many forms. Some happens due to circumstances beyond our control. And much happens due to choices we’ve made. Neither forms here are really within our control. Even the suffering from choice is really beyond our reach, because the foundations of the consequences we now face are firmly planted in our history. We can never go back.
It seems to this fool of a writer that suffering is a constant of our existence in this life. Surely we all face different degrees of this. i have seen poverty and circumstantial despair that absolutely freezes the brain, and – quite frankly – pisses me off. i have seen things that make me want to hurt the people that have caused the suffering i observe.
Another issue, i guess, is the anger i often feel at myself for the suffering that i have caused myself and (mostly) others. There are sins of my past that have gutted the very lives of people close to me. It is sometimes a desperate place. The pain goes beyond the physical and psychological. It is a pain that threatens to rend my spirit and leave it wasted on the floor of the universe like some torn rag.
i am, however – thankfully – beyond the shame. G_d has told us clearly that we are indeed forgiven of ALL our sins when we but fully agree with Him that we are in need of His forgiveness. However, it seems that G_d allows the regret of inflicted hurt to remain, that we might ever have a changed mind about our sin, and maintain a burning desire to never hurt another in like manner.
Here though, in suffering, there is a danger in our spiritual walk. We cannot hold on to the suffering caused by our circumstance – or even our own choices and sin. Holding on to anything other than Christ as we suffer is to create a fetid pool in our spirit that only serves to nourish the seeds of future potential sin and wrong choices in our lives. We must, in our suffering, allow ourselves to be totally cleansed by the pain of the suffering and the One allowing the suffering to occur. And in allowing this cleansing, we see that suffering’s only real purpose is to point us towards the only real Source of joy (hint: Jesus).
Going deeper, it seems that, in the very least, suffering is willingly giving up the right to have anything be any other way than it is right now. It is to trust that our battered and bloody existence has a profound purpose in the economy of G_d. In suffering we learn to trust that we are His treasured possession. We are a closely held source of wealth in the eyes of the very One who defines value itself. We are a peculiar and special jewel going through the proper procedures to bring out our eternal shine in His kingdom.
Would that we might willing allow Him to work in our lives today. That as we hurt, as others fail us, as we fail them – and as we fail Him – we would see that all this suffering always has the ultimate purpose of G_d’s glory and our good.