“Life Himself came down to be slain; Bread came down to suffer hunger; the Way came down to endure weariness on His journey; the Fountain came down to experience thirst. Do you, then, refuse to work and to suffer?” – St. Augustine of Hippo
St. Augustine has a way of cutting to the heart of a thing. Suffering has been the greatest and most challenging paradox and enigma of the Christian life. How do we suffer and why? Nearly all arguments against the reality of God can be brought back to the question of suffering. Too easily, we forget the ultimate suffering and the ultimate innocence of the One who suffered not for His own merit or advantage, but for ours.
Christ did not come into our humanity so that we did not have to suffer, but so that our suffering would not be meaningless, – so that we would know how to suffer. He elevated humanity’s suffering to a redemptive reality. No, the Incarnation came not so that our lives would be easy, but so that our lives and the suffering in them could have the greatest value.
Too often in my life I have uttered the prayer, “Lord take this cross. Remove this suffering.” There are times and contexts when this prayer is the most natural. Some sufferings seem too great to shoulder and asking God to rescue you comes before any other thought.
These are times when I am low in the valley of suffering and confusion. Trusting God feels impossible and His love feels withheld. If He loved me He would not test me like this! However, Scripture reassures us that God does not test people, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one.” James 1:13
The prayer that is needed in the midst of suffering is in fact not natural, but supernatural. If by nature we demand to be rescued and treat God with suspicion and recoiling at His love, then in that moment of suffering we must pray for the supernatural grace of trust.
In moments of encroaching despair and confusion, our prayer becomes, “Yes, Lord, I want what you want. I trust in Your merciful love.” We pray this even if God is not bringing us what we think He should. What God in his Divine Wisdom permits to come into our lives will always be for our ultimate good, even if it is pain and loss. St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “If God causes you to suffer much, it’s a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint.”
As we pray for the supernatural grace of trust in the midst of our suffering, let us not forget that we are merely pilgrims in this place. Our final destination is Heaven. Do not become overly attached to and concerned with the struggles of this life. Do not lose sight of your heavenly goal. If you are filled with anxiety and agitation, then you may be too filled with the worries of this world while relying too much on your own natural ability to respond. What nature cannot understand or reconcile, supernatural grace within us accepts as God’s loving will.
Lord, help me to trust in Your merciful love. Grant me the grace to trust when my fallen humanity tempts me to despair of Your love. Merciful and loving God shower upon my soul the supernatural grace to trust in Your love even in the dark and lonely places of this life. Amen.