The Question. Often while sitting in the psychological counselor’s chair a very common question emerges:
“Why does God allow these bad things to happen?"
There are many similar takes on this question such as:
“Why does this happen to such an innocent child?”
“If we have such a good God, then why is there so much suffering in this world?”
“If God was on the Cross for so many hours, then why has my relative been afflicted with this or that ailment for so many years?”
The Dilemma: These questions always stop me in my tracks and I even find myself getting tongue tied in trying to come up with a compact soothing succinct answer. After all, in my work, I want to help bring comfort to people’s lives and to teach them how to face challenges and trials.
But ultimately suffering is a sacred mystery of God ---much like the Eucharist and the concept of the Holy Trinity. No matter how we slice it, we cannot wrap our minds around it. Much of the challenge stems from the realization that suffering is a fact of our existence. We all suffer in some form or fashion. People suffer in a variety of ways: physically, psychologically, spiritually, socially, and culturally. We all have a Cross or even Crosses to bear whether we want to accept the situation or not. Truthfully, none of us are left unscathed. And ultimately, we can benefit from our trials. But how?
I have heard it said that suffering is actually the twin sister of love. Just like sorrow and joy can be twins. It is with great joy I discovered St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter “Salvifici Doloris” which was released to the faithful on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1984. From that great work three words resonant: “Suffering unleashes love.”
“Suffering Unleashes Love.” The Crosses in our lives are those occasions for love to blossom, by interior acts of love, exterior acts, and cultural acts. We have a choice. We cannot choose our type of suffering or calamity, but we do have control over how we are going to react to it. Out of an act of our own free will, we can decide to become bitter, lash out at God, refuse to go to Church, blame others, call everyone hypocrites, and curse the day we were born. Or we can choose to cooperate with the Grace of God. Through prayer and discernment, we can look for the good that can stem from a situation and look for the expressions of kindness and love from others that inevitably abound. Psalm 27 states: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” Look for the little acts of love such as the get-well card, the kind word, the sharing of resources, the bouquet of flowers in a hospital room, the new and old relationships that are forged. Don’t see anything good happening? Sure, we can also see the negative fruits. But look hard enough and there are inevitable acts of love abounding.
Jesus Chose His Cross. If still nothing good seems to emerge, one can become that beacon of love oneself, just as Jesus Christ himself did. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).” Unlike us, Jesus suffered voluntarily and innocently to unleash love in a profound sacred mysterious way. He chose to suffer when he didn’t have to do it.
Most of us are not taught the value of suffering. An old Catholic cliché is to “offer it up” and we can choose to become prayer warriors at the foot of the Cross, sharing in the Passion of Jesus Christ. We can take every smidgen of difficulty in our life and transform it into something that has redemptive value for ourselves and others.
The Way Over it is Through It. In psychology, a common phrase that I often repeat to my clients is: “The way over it is through it.” This is extremely true for anxiety, fears, trauma, and grief. Avoidance only intensifies the suffering. For example, being able to stay with the feelings of a panic attack actually helps one to get over it, as counterintuitive as this may sound.
So, stop wasting that good suffering that inevitably emerges in life. One doesn’t have to look far. One doesn't even need to create it (none of us likes to be around those that create their own sufferings!). It is all around us naturally.
Go forth and unleash some love!