Here’s a quick question: what good can come from suffering? As you may or may not have read in a previous blog of mine, I’m reading Peter Kreeft’s “Making Sense of Suffering” and I want to share a beautiful idea that I came across in it. Know that I’m not trying to explain suffering; this is just one bit of truth and light that can be found in the darkness of it all:
Suffering fills the need to continually remind us of the most obvious and evident truth there is, yet the one we are the most constantly forgetting in practice: that we are not God (117).
I think the key words of that sentence are: in practice. In my head, I know that I’m not God but I also know that sometimes my actions tell a different story. In college I had a pattern in my life that took me a good amount of time to first of all discover and then to break (it’s still even a battle sometimes today). I would have a regular prayer schedule going and things in life would be going seemingly well. Since everything was just hunky dory, I would begin to slack off in my prayer life until eventually it would almost disappear. It would start small: at night, I would think about waking up for Morning Prayer, but when my alarm went off the next morning, it would be a different story. I reasoned that logically it would be better for me to sleep more—I’d be able to pay better attention in class and I’d be less grumpy (everybody wins, right?). My night prayer time would dwindle as my desire for sleep took over and eventually I wouldn’t really be praying except for the last five minutes before I fell asleep at night. Thankfully, I would still get to Mass everyday but even that would be a struggle. All of a sudden, giving up those thirty minutes when I could be doing nothing or watching TV we’re so hard to give up. As much as I didn’t like it then, the Holy Spirit was always there pricking at my conscience, and even though I didn’t want to go, I’d know I should and I would.
In this pattern the inevitable next step was that one day I would look around and think to myself “Why am I so stressed out? Why does everything seem to be so hard? Where are you God?” It’s funny that even when I wasn’t praying (when I was taking a proverbial step away from God), when I found myself amid suffering, part of me was mad at God for not preemptively taking care of it. I really don’t know how long it took me to realize this pattern, but honestly it was a lot longer than it should have been. What God allowed me to see was the connection between my prayers (my life-line to Him) and the ability to overcome my struggles. There always were problems but when I was rooted in prayer, God could give me the tools and the graces I needed and walk me through them. When I stopped praying, I was overlooking God’s role in it all, and essentially was saying, “Okay, I can do this on my own now.” This isn’t a new idea. Moses warned the Israelites against forgetting God in their prosperity way back in Deuteronomy:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. […]Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God […] You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today (8:10, 12-14, 17-18).
Ahh!! God tried to warn me about the trap I fell into over 4000 years ago. Gosh, if only I had read that passage before. Oh well, sometimes we have to learn things the hard way. I know that living with Christ doesn’t mean there won’t be suffering in my life, but it does mean that I’ve got someone to carry me through it. Even if I forget that He’s there, which I might, He won’t forget about me and if suffering is what it takes to remind me that He’s there and that there’s more-Amen. Praise God