And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
-How Great Thou Art
News flash: life is hard. Life is also filled – sometimes unbearably so – with suffering. We live in a valley of tears. Occasionally we get to experience glimpses of heaven on earth: the feeling of holding a new child in our arms, a proposal of marriage, landing the perfect job, and the like. But then there are times the suffering seems overwhelming: financial distress, strife in the family, friendships lost, the death of a loved one. In the midst of this suffering it is easy to wonder, as we all do, why?
We don’t always know why. Sometimes we understand it in the moment, sometimes it takes years to understand why, and still other times we don’t know – at least not on this side of heaven.
As I sat in daily Mass last week, we closed with How Great Thou Art. I’ve heard it plenty of times, but I don’t know that the verse quoted above ever hit me like it did and continues to. God didn’t spare His Son. He didn’t spare Him rejection in His hometown, nor temptation from the devil, nor the agony in the garden, nor the flogging, nor the road to Calvary, nor the crucifixion. God spared Jesus not. If God didn’t spare His only begotten Son, why would I think He would spare me suffering?
Life is not a pursuit to end suffering. Life is about learning from the suffering, making the suffering redemptive, and drawing closer to the Son that God didn’t spare from suffering. God sent His own Son to suffer and die – why would we think that we are destined, created, for any less suffering? True, we are redeemed by Christ’s suffering, but we are not freed from suffering because of His sacrifice.
St. Thérèse once said that “sufferings gladly borne for others convert more people than sermons” – and she is right. If we are going to suffer – and we know that we are – then what matters is what we do with that suffering.
In a sense, it is like winning the lotto. If we are going to win the lotto, what we do with the money matters. Are we going to splurge on frivolous, flashy things? Are we going to give to the poor? The same can be said of our sufferings. Are we going to complain endlessly about them to draw attention to ourselves? Are we going to offer it up?
Obviously there is a temptation to complain, just as there is a temptation to win the lotto and blow all the winnings on ourselves, but that is not the course we – who follow the Suffering Servant – are called to. We offer it up.
Not my will, but Thine be done.
May it be done unto me – even if the path You are calling me to is difficult.
Perhaps it sounds bleak that God didn’t even spare His only Son, but in a sense it is also encouraging. Suffering is inevitable, but Christ showed us, literally, how redemptive suffering can be – for us and for the world. So strap on your boots, fall down to your knees and offer it up, for the good of your soul and the souls around you.