Reading about how to suffer well is always so timely, isn’t it? No one can ever say, “Suffering? I’ve got that in the bag.” Or “Suffering? I haven’t done that in quite some time.” That’s why it was such a pleasure to read the very practical When You Suffer: Biblical Keys for Hope and Understanding by Jeff Cavins. Suffering is ever-present here in our temporary home on earth, and there’s always more to learn about how to unite our troubles with Christ’s in order to participate in His redemptive work.
Cavins’s book, born from an excruciating experience of a harrowing neck injury, examines the origins of suffering—original sin in the Garden; the purposes of suffering—punitive, probative, and disciplinary; and what we can learn from the life of Christ about how to suffer well. Below are a few tips from When You Suffer about how we can transform our suffering today:
Don’t Downplay Your Suffering! Remember that Jesus Purchased All of You on the Cross
We know that Christ gave Himself for us on the cross for our salvation. What Cavins reminds us, though, is that He died for us, body and soul, including our suffering. Our suffering, then, which was redeemed by Christ’s passion, becomes infinitely valuable, no matter how small or petty it can seem to us. Cavins writes:
It was the precious blood of the Lamb of God that purchased you…all of you! When Christ redeemed you he received you back to himself. What God has purchased becomes very valuable and should not be looked upon as common or inconsequential. Therefore, your suffering is not inconsequential; it is extremely valuable in the economy of God (p. 73).
In modern America, we sometimes don’t let ourselves acknowledge that we are indeed suffering because we know that we have so much more than other people in the world. The hashtag #firstworldproblems comes to mind. But we are fallen creatures in a fallen world and suffering is all around us, though it may come in different forms. Cavins encourages us to acknowledge our suffering in order that we may unite it with Christ’s. We can’t do that if we pressure ourselves into thinking that everything’s fine or that we don’t get to suffer due to our circumstances. Maybe a perfect woman wouldn’t be pained that there are toys scattered in the living room, seeing it as a sign of great material blessing. But for the weaker among us, we are encouraged to recognize that yes, that is a source of pain to us at the moment and Jesus cares about how we are hurt by it. We follow the lead of St. Therese who never pretended that the annoyances of communal life didn’t bother her, but confessed simply to God that they did and then did her best to present them to Christ with a simple heart.
Bring Your Suffering to Mass
Another tip for suffering well that Cavins offers is to bring your suffering to Mass and lay it at the foot of the Redeemer during the Offertory. Cavins describes our tendency to suffer all week and then go blank during the Offertory at Mass. Then, he writes, is the perfect time to think of all that you’ve suffered during the week and lay it at Jesus’s feet as a treasure. In doing so, we can unite our pain with Christ’s as well as our brothers and sisters. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he talks about how we share both in Christ’s suffering as well as His comfort. Cavin writes:
In Paul’s remarkable message to the Corinthians, he points out that we, as the Church, share in both Christ’s sufferings and his comfort. Paul goes on to explain that there is a real sharing in both suffering and comfort among the members of the Church. Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians by saying that they “share” in the suffering of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:7). The word share is the Greek word koinnos. The same root, koinon, describes the “communion” or “participation” we experience with Christ in the Eucharist (see 1 Corinthians 10:16) (77).
By participating in the Mass, we join our passion, our suffering, here on earth with Christ’s in order that we can participate in the resurrection, in the redemption, of our lives and join in Christ’s mission of salvation of souls. We are truly one with Him in the Eucharist.
Offering It Up: Suffering without Sinning
Jeff Cavins does a great job of explaining what offering it up means. This favorite phrase of Catholic parents for the last two thousand years can leave fuzzy ideas in children of what that actually means. By explaining first that our suffering has great worth and that we are able to give it to Christ for His mission, Cavins then encourages us to just do it. To offer it up, all our pain, small and big, to our Lord. When we offer it up, we place our desire for the suffering to end and the temptation to either lash out or self-medicate or somehow escape the pain immorally into Our Father’s hands and then…continue to do good. Cavins writes:
When Jesus suffered, he trusted himself to his Father. Peter, following Jesus’s pattern, said, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19)
That is the kind of life that Jesus offers to us, that we could continue to do right, live right, be virtuous in the midst of pain. Cavins explains that in coming to earth and living among us, Jesus teaches us not just how to live well but how to suffer well.
Suffering presents us with two options: we can turn away from God and flee the pain unsuccessfully in any number of ways or we can join ourselves to God and have Him work through our pain to bring life to this earth. The options are not for the faint of heart but neither is our faith. Jeff Cavins does a great service in encouraging his brothers and sisters to keep the faith by suffering well.
Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer