People suffer—good people and bad people. When the so-called good people suffer, many of us look at the so-called bad people thriving and complain. Scripture records such lamentations. It seems everyone suffers, in modern times as well as in the Bible. Suffering is part of life, but how we approach it, understand it and deal with it determines how it all ends in many instances.
Job: Fidelity in Suffering
Perhaps the best-known sufferer in Scripture (besides Jesus) is Job. Job’s sufferings came from Satan himself. The devil hates us because God loves us so much. God allowed Satan to visit horrors upon Job. His wife, friends and neighbors questioned what he must have done to deserve such punishment. They advised him that he should curse God and die.
However, Job realized all his good came from the Lord. He did not rely on himself or his health and wealth; he relied on His Lord. Do we? Job wished he had never been born and even cursed the day. But he never cursed God, and God rewarded his patience with better things.
Is such fortitude possible today? I know many people who are suffering these days. The suffering I have been witnessing and in some cases experiencing includes loss of an infant, a parent, or a spouse; terminal illnesses; job loss; suicide; chronic diseases of elderly parents such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and multiple sclerosis; and financial problems. Of the people afflicted, some had active religious faith while others did not, but all of them turned to God; all requested, offered and welcomed prayer, and listened or sought out guidance and comfort from others and Scripture. Not one cursed God.
God’s Love: Our Source of Hope
The constant lesson in Scripture, the unrelenting, incontrovertible truth about God, is His love for us. Scripture is God’s love letter to His creation. It is a promise of a better life—if not here, in the hereafter which is eternal. Life is good; the afterlife is even better. That is the promise. Jesus said so and I believe Him.
Sometimes our suffering is a result of an action or inaction on our part. Sometimes the remedy is a simple one but we are afraid to make a change, fearing that it might only get worse. We rationalize, we excuse, we run from change. On the other hand, sometimes we cannot make a change or flee a bad situation, such as an illness or an injury.
But there is hope. Jesus is our Hope. The Lord has given us tools to help ourselves. Have you ever heard the expression “God helps those who help themselves”? Granted, there are times and situations where people find themselves paralyzed, whether by physical paralysis, fear, emotional distress, panic, or illness. In those instances, a simple mental surrender to God of your entire being and an act of trust is the best thing to do. Pray if possible; if not, simply holding the Bible is a great form of prayer, protection and trust. It is an outward sign of the inward faith and trust you have, even if you don’t feel it. Feelings are not always facts.
Tips On Managing Suffering
If you are suffering now, what can you do? Here are some steps that helped me:
Certainly constant prayer is a good start. But what if all your praying is not “working”? Do you feel like you are on the pay-no-mind list with God? Perhaps it is because in many instances we really don’t know how to pray. That is what I have recently discovered.
I was in the habit of telling God what I wanted and exactly how I expected Him to accomplish it and in what time frame. As a result I became desperate in my prayers and frustrated with the silence from above. So I sat before Him in the Blessed Sacrament and poured out my wants, complaints and desires. Then I said to Him, “Okay, Lord, that’s what I am dealing with. Now I turn it all over to You. I really don’t know what to pray for or how to pray, so I am giving it to You. I trust You and I submit myself entirely to You.” Once I left my pleas and desires in His hands and abandoned myself to Him, things changed—not immediately but gradually.
Surrender is a difficult concept for Americans, especially for many men. Some people have father issues, so it may be difficult to surrender to God the Father directly. He understands. To those who have such issues, embrace them and go to mom. Our Lady has the ear of the Father. Turn to her, embrace her, consecrate yourself to her, put yourself under her protective mantle and leave everything in her hands. She will petition the Father for you. But surrender is the first step.
That is a hard one for me. When someone, something or some situation bothers me, I like to talk about it ad nauseam. That is the worst thing to do. Not that it’s wrong to look to someone we trust for input or encouragement—especially if the problem really is serious—but we need to know the difference between this and the never-ending laments that don’t help anything and keep us focused on ourselves.
Words have power, as Scripture tells us. We need to avoid complaining because it gives problems life and power. Dr. Joyce Meyers has a great talk on “stopping the mumbling,” and I highly recommend listening to her on Youtube. Her talk made me realize we need to stop grumbling, complaining, judging, condemning and gossiping. It is a powerful tool in the fight against self.
Do Good to Everyone and Forgive
Jesus’ sermon on loving our enemies, because the Father is merciful towards them (Matthew 5:43-48), is another powerful tool. If we love those who love us and invite only those who will invite us back, where is the merit? If we love God, we must show love to everyone, because the key here is summed up in the prayer Jesus taught us – the Pater Noster. We will be judged by what we pray. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The Father will ask us about this at the moment of final judgement. That should be a powerful motivator for each of us to wipe the slate clean.
That doesn’t mean it is a one-and-done situation. Powerful hurts are hard to forget. It doesn’t mean that you excuse the offense or let them off the hook. Your forgiveness actually lets you off the hook. It is a constant exercise; the enemy or your conscience or broken heart will remind you of hurtful things often. That is okay; embrace it, own it, ratify that you have been hurt and then say, “Father, as you have forgiven me, so I forgive everyone who has injured me. I place them and the situation into Your hands. Grant me peace and forgiveness for all the times I have injured others. Thank you Father, amen.” Then change the channel of thoughts in your mind and think about happy things.
One of the fruits of the presence of the Holy Spirit is joy. This joy is not a mere emotion; it is a choice, and can be present even in times of trial. I found this when I was hit by a car and had a broken back, shoulder and leg. It was difficult for me to be joyful over the next six months, being in constant extreme pain, having two bars inserted into my spine, undergoing operations and hospitalizations, and suffering depression because of all the medication I was taking. But I actually found joy in my suffering because I was able to unite it with Christ. I realized I was not alone; Christ was suffering with me and in me. He was experiencing what I was experiencing.
This doesn’t imply that I was a perfect sufferer. I was in a dark, sad, lonely place, and I also felt anger towards God for allowing this accident. Once I was well enough, I would go to daily Mass at noon. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was very angry with God. In my heart I heard the Lord say to me, “You forgave yourself, you forgave the guy who hit you with the car, but you haven’t forgiven Me.”
I was blown away. The God who created me was asking me to forgive Him. Not that He needed to be forgiven, but because I needed to forgive entirely. I said, “Lord, I forgive You; thank You for allowing me this grace.” I was immediately freed from that darkness, and I experienced true joy unlike anything I had experienced the prior months.
Create Joy In Your Life – You Have the Power
Is it easy to be joyful when you are suffering? Can a person be joyful when in a bad marriage, with sick children or parents, struggling to make ends meet, struggling with mental illness, having a stressful job, an unreasonable boss, spouse, or parent? Is it easy to be joyful while undergoing chemotherapy, operations, addictions or having to work so much that you barely have time to sleep? No, it isn’t. But if you are going through these or any other life-sapping experiences, you can carve out moments of joy during the day. Here are a few tips:
- Take a moment to enjoy nature, a pet or a good cup of coffee or tea;
- Take three minutes to google today’s mass readings and meditate on God’s Word while traveling, cooking or even while in the bathroom (God is everywhere);
- Take a walk and exercise;
- Take advantage of Eucharistic Adoration, spend an hour in the true Presence of the Lord;
- Make a plan of action. Take one situation in life that is causing you pain, pray and then take action to remedy it or eliminate it;
- Eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive, look at and meditate on all the blessings in your life;
- Avoid negative people, conversations and circumstances when possible;
- Enjoy this moment, don’t think about the future, even the next five minutes; enjoy that moment, embrace it and immerse yourself in the now;
- Create joy in yourself. Joy is an act of the will. Greet people joyfully when you see them, even if you don’t feel like it. Engaging people in good conversation is the best remedy. Go to a movie, out to window shop, or out for lunch with friends. Stay connected, get out of the house, get out of yourself; and
- Confession. Not that confession is a therapy session, but you can take the opportunity to see how the circumstances that are afflicting you may be injuring your prayer life, your relationship with God, with others and even with yourself. For example, the stress of suffering might lead someone to become impatient and snap at others. The grace of Reconciliation strengthens us against such dangers, and, in drawing us nearer to God, helps us to be happier too.
Prayer In Time Of Suffering
Lord Jesus Christ, You are the giver of all good things. We ask you to send your healing power to all who are suffering. We plead Your Precious Blood upon all those unfortunate circumstances in life affecting us. Your powerful Blood will wash away sin, illness, temptation, worry, fear, darkness and attacks of the enemy. Like the Pelican, O Lord, You nourish us with Your flesh and blood and keep us safe. We take shelter under the mantle of Our Lady, like a chick underneath the wing of its mother. We ask You, by Your Precious Blood and through the intercession of Your Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and all the angels and saints, to heal us.
We forgive all who have injured us and we ask pardon of all whom we have injured. We unite our sufferings to You on the Holy Rood. We surrender everything to You through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We praise You, we adore You, we glorify You, we give You thanks for everything, O Lord. We do not know how to pray but the Spirit in us groans to You. Hear our prayers through the Holy Spirit; grant us peace and salvation. We trust in You and we make all these prayers in Your Holy Name. Amen.
“Pray, hope and don’t worry” – Saint Pio of Pietrelcina