Can Suffering be a Gift from God?

Lisa Shefferly-Gillay - Suffering


Recently, I went to Confession before Mass. I confessed my lack of trust in God as it applies to a current situation in my life. I said that I wanted to run ahead of God and fix things as I saw fit. I told the priest that I didn’t really want to do this, but was so tempted to disregard God in my life and take matters into my own hands. After all, God was taking way too long to make things right from my point of view. I started to cry in front of him when I told him what was going on in my life, and of my great suffering at this time. Instead of a penance, he asked if he could bless me. I have never had this happen to me, ever. Does that mean I didn’t celebrate the Sacrament? Or did he see my extreme internal suffering as penance enough? I don’t know, but I walked out of that confessional with a renewed sense that God was with me in my pain; that maybe it could be used as an offering to Him as a gift.

I have prayed lately that I desire to offer my sufferings to Jesus, in union with His holy cross and His holy passion, as a gift for Him. I know that my little gift of love is imperfect yet He will take it and unite it to His gift of love on the cross so that I am actually offering a perfect gift to Our Heavenly Father. It is then a beautiful thing for God to do with as He pleases. In this way my suffering can be given back as a gift to Him who is all good and desires the good of His people. At times, my internal pain is so deep that I feel God has abandoned me. In my sorrow I have cried out to God and have been comforted from those close to me as I walk my little Via Delorosa. This has been an immense help to me. Even Christ had St. Veronica to wipe His Holy face. These tangible moments of consolation give me hope that what I am currently going through in my life is not in vain and strengthen my faith that God hears me in the worst of my sorrow and suffering.

To be in a state of intense internal suffering while trying to go about living life joyfully and peacefully as a child of God is so very hard to do. Why? I am trying not to ask that question as much anymore because there simply are no answers. I am trying to be more prayerful and devoted to the Catholic faith and what I hope is God’s will. That is the good part. I fall many times on this journey towards God yet I pray He helps me to persevere on this journey so that I can continue to work out my salvation. And that is the struggle. To trust God while undergoing suffering can be very difficult especially when we want comfort, ease, and happiness. The enemy desires our fall. God desires our perseverance, faith, and trust in His Divine Will. Currently, one of my deepest desires eludes me. Sometimes the pain of this lack hurts so deeply in my soul that I never knew how much I had the ability to experience it in this way. It seems non-ending at times. Yet I continue on and pray every day, and every moment when I think of it, for its complete realization. I offer my very breathe to Him who watches over me, praying I am following God’s plan set before me.

Today is another day to grow in faith and learn to wait upon the Lord. Today I will do my best to be more watchful of His graces in my life as He tries to teach me patience, contentment, long-suffering, calmness, peacefulness, and serenity in all things. This is how it should be. We should not look outwardly for our happiness, but from within, from the Holy Spirit who dwells interiorly in our souls. Only God is the source of our every desire and need. It is we who run to this and to that looking for satisfaction. We just need to continue to learn to rest in Him who gives every good thing to His children whom He loves. It is, after all, God who is the Giver and Lover of our souls, the Supreme Joy of our very being. Anything good in our lives is from Him and is a gift for which we must give thanks. Every suffering is an opportunity to turn back to Our Lord and to remember it is He who is the source, not the gift, of all that is good in our lives. We must focus always on God and all the rest will be as joy, pointing us back to Him, our true peace and happiness. This is so hard for us to grasp at times, yet is so simple a concept to attain. I pray that we see that God blesses us richly this day and every day as another gift from Him to renew our love and trust in Him.

Sorrow is a mysterious thing and redemptive suffering can be a blessing for oneself and for others. I offer up my sufferings in union with Your Holy Cross and Your Holy Passion, Dear Lord Jesus Christ. O Lord God, strengthen me lest I mess up Your plans. Amen.

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16 thoughts on “Can Suffering be a Gift from God?”

  1. Pingback: Bearing one’s crosses | Shared thoughts...

  2. Jesus is perfect yet had to suffer severely for me, you, and your son. Jesus is God’s son and was beat so badly the he almost died while carrying the cross. Are you saying that your son is more important and should not have to carry his cross. No suffering, no glory. God has actually made your son a living Saint and is giving you and your wife a chance to become Saints too. Sounds like a blessing to me.

  3. Phil, you fail to remember what our Lord God did for humanity. “God so loved the world that He gave His ONLY Son.” Jesus suffered for our sins. He was scourged, crucified and died on the cross for us. Remember that. Don’t let the evil one confuse your faith.

    1. Phil your picture (post) of your precious family truelyBlessed me. I see the love that you all share for each other. Adam has a sense of peace in his eyes and in his smile. It’s hard to understand suffering, but I know the Lord knows and I see His covering over your family. My prayers from this day forward will be with you.

  4. First, thank you for your post. Very well written.

    Second, let me briefly address Phil’s response. Phil, you and your family are in my prayers now. I cannot imagine what you are going through, especially over such a long time. I have read Albert Camus many times to help me face courageously the seeming absurdity of life’s trials. Some time ago, I came across a passage in his Notebooks that read to the effect that he could only accept a God who knew suffering. For me, this was a turning point in my understanding of the human God, Jesus. Rather than ignore or escape suffering, Jesus endured it and the God of Jesus, his Father, did as well. The more I thought on that, the more that suffering screamed at me as a true sign I was communicating with the God who is truly with us. May that God be truly with you and your family.

    Third, now for you, Lisa, let me respond by saying that suffering comes in a variety of forms. The most obvious one is physical. There are others, though, that can be worse:: emotional suffering, irrational suffering, willed suffering (oppression), and the despair of unfulfilled desires. The pains associated with each are considerable, but they are also more grave as one goes up the ladder so to speak, with physical pain at the ground level and spiritual pain at the top rung.

    Since you did not, and need not, indicate what kind of suffering you are experiencing, my sense is that the priest did right by blessing you, for suffering in itself is not sinful. Your response to suffering may become sinful if and when you turn away from God in your response to suffering. The more you turn away, especially at the spiritual level of the ladder, the more intense the pain of separation is.

    The signs of such turning away are forms of oversight, not insight. But insight into oversight is desirable in itself to enable us to live a practical life and avoid the flight from understanding.

    Camus resisted such a flight. Had he lived, I believe he would have come to a deeper understanding of how we are called to live outside of the chaos of nothingness and meant to understand and not just accept the suffering with which absurdity strikes us on so many levels beyond the physical, though it may indeed lead to physical manifestations or be derived therefrom.

    Doubt is a sign of mental/physical suffering. Discouragement is a sign of emotional suffering. Despair is a sign of irrational suffering. Denial is a sign of willful suffering.

    Phil’s story appears to show signs of all of these kinds of suffering. He seems to have lost trust, courage, hope, yet he still loves his son though denying he loves God.

    How can he,can you, or any of us regain trust, courage, hope, and the awareness of God’s love when we are in the midst of suffering?

    To me, this is where the counter-intuitive insight arrives concerning suffering. When we have desires that go unfulfilled and suffer as a result at these various levels, we understandably tend to react and want to flee, especially when we realize that fighting does not work. Fleeing is the intuitive reaction. The counter-intuitive response that is insight is to go through the crisis, rather than avoid it.

    When I went through my own existential crisis years ago, instead of fleeing my problem, I followed the suggestion of a friend and went to a place and time where I could be with the problem with undivided attention. I went on an 8-day retreat into silence at a place far away from my situation to discover what on earth was going on.

    My insight into my oversight was that I had been avoiding going through the crisis. I had been doing so for over 20 years.

    Over that 8-day period of silence, I listened to the silence. I paid attention to what only I could hear. I was dealing with my deepest desire and where it was coming from.

    What I began to experience at first in pieces and then experienced wholeheartedly changed my life. I have never been the same as I was before. The existential angst I had had so many bouts with before yielded to a new sense of trust, courage, hope, and profound love.

    Was the suffering I had gone through a gift from God?

    Only afterward was I able to see that my suffering was like a back door or a hidden passage way that provided me a path to discover what lay beyond my own limitations. In the silence, I discovered what I finally recognized in my dad: humility.

    Let me conclude my response by telling you briefly about a woman I met on the Internet who was working with a group of other women reading passages from the Bible. They came across the following passage and got stuck on what was meant by “refiner’s fire”:

    Now I am sending my messenger—
    he will prepare the way before me;*
    And the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple;
    The messenger of the covenant whom you desire—
    see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts.
    But who can endure the day of his coming?
    Who can stand firm when he appears?
    For he will be like a refiner’s fire,
    like fullers’ lye.
    He will sit refining and purifying silver,
    and he will purify the Levites,
    Refining them like gold or silver,
    that they may bring offerings to the LORD in righteousness.

    So this woman volunteered to go talk with a silversmith and, without telling him why she was interested, asked about what the process was to refine silver. He didn’t just tell her. He showed her by putting a lump of silver in a container over a flame.

    When he took the container away from the flame, she asked him how he knew it was finished. He told her that the process was meant to take out the impurities and when they were gone, there was a tell-tale sign.

    “What was it?” she asked.

    He replied, “When you can see your face in it. Before that it not ready. If you do it too long, the metal will be destroyed.”

    Here’s a link to a song that takes this refiner’s fire metaphor to the highest level.

    May God bless you!

    1. John, you say “Phil’s story appears to show signs of all of these kinds of suffering. He seems to have lost trust, courage, hope, yet he still loves his son though denying he loves God.” You misinterpret my experience…I do reject the notion of a God who allows suffering of children…I do not deny the Source. I place full faith and trust in the energetic power of the universe and the absolute resilience of man to heal. I place full trust in the power of primate to tap into the Source to heal. I reject the common man’s notion of a God which I believe is devoid of reason and logic. I reject a strictly biblical literal presentation of an anthropomorphic Overseer who chooses to intervene at His pleasure. I believe that our very primitive theological interpretation of God is plain askew. Prayer is little more than an energetic union with the Source of which we all are part.

    2. We come from different starting points, Phil. My God is not how you describe him nor does he act in the way you seem to think he does. I have no understanding of how your Source acts. My sense though is that your Source apparently allows children to suffer and you don’t like that. Why your Source does is inexplicable. Why mine God does is not comprehensible but is understandable. By shifting starting points, sense can be made of suffering. But as long as you stick with your Source, you must ask it for answers that I cannot given you since I do not know the Source you claim to rely on.

  5. Lisa,
    You are experiencing radical woe which is outside the advertised box; and unfortunately the Catholic blog and book world and most homilies touches that topic infrequently. Often we are like a Thomas Kinkaide village painting….a little too sweet as to what God’s watching over us means. Remember always Thomas Peters, the son of canonist Ed Peters, and remember his brave young wife Natalie always. He served God for years in the written word and God did not prevent him from becoming paralzyed. Christ praised John the Baptist but did not deliver him from prison miraculously as God delivered Peter and Paul in Acts ( both of whom later still He didn’t deliver either). John had his head cut off. Was God watching over him? Yes. Only the long term good is quaranteed. St. Magdalene of Nagasaki was tortured in excrement for 13 days prior to execution for the faith. Was God watching over her? Yes…He probably took her suffering and predestined another thousand humans for Heaven. St. Thomas said that we “further predestination” by our offerings etc. Frankly Magdalene of Nagasaki at 23 years old may have saved more than a thousand in that two weeks of suffering…only God knows the number but if I find on the other side after death that she saved a million people from hell, it wouldn’t surprise me.
    Isaiah 45:7 has God say, ” It is I who bring weal and woe”…good and bad ( not moral bad though). Each Friday I pray that God protects our whole clan not from woe….but from woe directly willed by the devil. I ask God that any woe be willed by Him as something He prefers for His plan of love and His plan of cleansing us but not to allow satan to bring his woe unless God prefers it for His purposes.
    Along came a woe last week and very unusually, it bounced off me and it didn’t. But net….it bounced off my soul while giving my flesh a twinge and I had this great new feeling that I had been Isaiahed 45:7ed…a new verb construction of mine. I’ve been Isaiahed and weirdly, it feels like a caress of sorts.
    St. John of the Cross cited Job saying about Satan: ” he sees every high thing”. Satan saw a man fasting 40 days in the desert and he approached that man Christ. Lisa, if you’ve done high things, good things…Satan sees you and he’ll bring his woe against you sooner or later. Simply pray that God in a special way makes it His woe toward you for the long term good of every actor in your personal play…that God takes satan’s woe and makes it His even more than usual. Isaiah 45:7… check it out.

  6. Suffering as a gift from God? I don’t think so. I write this from ICU in a hospital with my 28 year old son who is intubated and totally sedated with tubes in every conceivable orifice of his body. 16 years ago he nearly drowned, 25 minutes under water and two months in ICU. Fo9r 16 years he has suffered and my wife and I have cared for him. Thanks for the gift, God.
    Does a kind, merciful and loving God allow children to suffer? I think not. Is he a victim soul and his suffering is an offering to set souls free from purgatory? That is a total illogical and presumptuous fabrication of reality. Does he allow children to suffer so they learn something? I doubt that my son can learn something. No, suffering is no gift and if there is a God, absent or present, I am angry with him. Gods do not allow the innocent to suffer and guilty to live lives of prosperity? God needs to be logical and reasonable and do the right thing; my anger with him/her is monumental, and it should be.
    Now, is there a reward for suffering like heaven? Well, believe what you will. I take care of my son not for a carrot of heaven or a stick of hell…both concepts which are unverifiable. Life is about living a good and worthwhile life…that is the goal and nature of life and love. Suffering happens, everywhere and God may be watching from a distance but He make me mad as hell. Beyond the suffering is living a good life and then what happens will happen. A distant God does not judge, we are our judge and jury. As Albert Camus said: “I refuse to live in a world where little children suffer and die each day.” Elie Weisel says it best: “Because of indifference, one dies before one dies.” I do not accept suffering nor approve of a God who allows it.

    1. My heart goes out to your family. I feel for your pain, this world is not perfect but may the divine in you bring light and understanding to suffering in the world. My dear friend do not judge or fret, be weary to the manipulations at hand going on in your life. No matter what happens may your heart not turn cold but grow in it new light and understandings. I pray that the truth may set you free from all hardships within your life. Your son I shall pray as well. He is in most dyer need for prayers, must you not loose faith at this time! Pain and suffering can do wonders on the mind… I understand I have been there before. But you must remember my dear friend, ants are nothing to humans nor are demons to the father. I love you always stranger. Do not let go of the heart. Love always and all will fall through, farewell! God bless

    2. I do not fret nor judge…I am perfectly at peace with my decision to care for son full time. The only manipulations in my life stem from the blatant indifference of many people to my son. My heart is warm and full of love for the suffering and the disabled and am more attuned to what they need than most. Truth, I unite my soul with the energy of the infinite Divine, the Source. My son does not need prayer…he needs people to mobilize the healing light and the energy which exists throughout the universe and does not emanate from any sect. Pain and suffering only serve the purpose of allowing the human primate to enter the darkness and emerge in the light. I have faith in the power of universal energy and the Source. I have never lost faith in the Source, I just reject a God who allows innocents to suffer as it is simply cruel….the Source is not cruel, but a welcoming Light who does not intervene in human affairs.

    3. Phil. You are angry because you love your son and could not bear the sufferings that he is enduring for the past 16 years. You have an enormous heart, my friend. Up until two years ago, I too was a firm believer of this indifferent and distant god you are talking about. I was living the good and worthwhile life at that time. Then, I changed. I changed because suffering entered into my life and that made me realize that there is something more than just a Source who watches everything from a distance. This Source that you are talking about is in you and all around you. IT is not indifferent, but IT loves you.

      Let me ask you this: Take God out of the equation, then how would you explain your son’s suffering? If the world is supposed to be a place where you live a good life, then why did you sacrificed your good life to care for your son? Have you ever considered the fact that it is not your son’s life that has changed, but yours? Is it naive to say that your son’s sufferings has made you a better person – someone with a much deeper understanding of others pain and incapabilities? Do you know the effect your son had over all these years on the people he came into contact with? Isn’t possible that some of those lives changed as a result of your son’s tragedy?

      I can assure you that God played no part in any of the events that led to your son’s current state of life. But I also know that God has used the life of your son to change the lives of many, thus alleviating what could have been painful situations in their lives. This might not give you comfort because you could look at it in a totally different way and say “So what’s in it for me and my son?”. If that thought happens to come up, then contemplate on this: Why did God allow His only begotten Son to suffer? Is it because He is a cruel god, or is it because there is something more to suffering than what we could see with our naked eyes.

      May God Bless you and your son.

    4. Your reply is generous and very kind. Adam’s accident happened because it was an accident and accidents happen in the world. You call God, God…I refer to this phenomenon as the Source…an energetic whirlpool of eternal love…the very nature of the universe. Of course it made me a good person because I choose to be a loving caretaker and I learned much and teach much….that is my essence. I view the accident and my learning as part of my long held belief in past lives and in the progression of the soul through thee many past lives…we evolve through each stage of a life plan WE choose before our actual birth and process our learning after leaving this vessel for a time. We return to learn more and more until we get “it”.

      Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? John 10:34; the same words are available in the suppressed “Gospel of Mary Magdelene” found among the Nag Hammadi codices.

  7. Pingback: Catholic Homeschooling Innovates w/Hybrid Classical Pgms - Big Pulpit

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