Suffering in one fashion or another seems to have been my lot. I don’t say this out of complaining or trying to get sympathy. It’s just the reality of my life. Not too long after my birth I was diagnosed with encephalitis which my parents thought might kill me. I grew up with severe asthma and allergies, have had migraines since the age of 7, and was diagnosed with a heart condition at 13. Nine years ago I was diagnosed with a chronic condition that will most likely one day take my life.
I have tried to look back at a time in my life where I wasn’t suffering from one illness or another yet I cannot seem to think of a period of when that would have been. There have been a few months here of there where I have been free of the burden of illness yet it all seems meshed together that I cannot really think of a time when I haven’t lived like this. It’s all I know.
As one can imagine, I now have an incessant desire to try and understand the value of redemptive suffering, not because I’m obsessed with my sufferings or why I seem to have to carry these crosses but because I want to know how to be able to use the grace God is giving me through them. I’ll be honest. There are days when I want it all to go away. There are days when I simply cannot handle another migraine this week because I’ve already had 4. And there are definitely days when you question why in the world any of this makes sense. Frankly, it’s hard to understand with faith. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like without it.
The teaching of redemptive suffering goes something like this…Christ could have chosen any way he wanted to redeem us. He could have simply willed it but he chose the path of the cross. Suffering and death was the vehicle he chose as our way of salvation. So the one thing which touches us all to our very core is flipped on it’s head and becomes the vehicle for our redemptive. But it’s even more then that. In his infinite wisdom and love, Christ chose to allow us to participate in this redemptive act of the cross for the Church and the world. He didn’t take away our suffering but redeemed it and made it a channel of grace for ourselves and others.
Now this sounds great and all but the question remains of how. How does one participate in this? How does one carry one’s cross and participate in redemptive suffering instead of just biting ones lip and praying for it to all go away soon? It has taken me years to even begin to have an inch of insight into this. I’m not too sure I’m much father along but I will share a little about what I’ve learned.
Patience and trust. These are the two virtues that are needed the most when one is asked to carry the cross. At first I tried hard to figure out why I was suffering and stressed myself out trying to figure out how to conform myself to Christ. In the process of doing this I didn’t realize that I was rely on myself way too much and not enough on Christ. I’ve had to come to the realization that I may very well never come to understand how God is using these crosses for the good of myself or others. I’ve had to rely more on believe that He is working good through them and that I must be patient for Him to reveal it to me in His on way and time.
It’s not just about bearing the suffering with patients but striving with Gods grace to accept it with open arms BECAUSE this is the way in which Christ chose to redeem the world. If Christ has chosen this way then can I be any different? I’ve also come to understand that prayer is not just about words. Sometimes I must sit in silence with the suffering and recognize that Christ is present with me. That 5th migraine of the week in itself can become a prayer which rises up like incense if I allow God to be present to me in it. But I also have to remember that sometimes carrying the cross of suffering also means crying out to God with Christ. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The cry of abandonment is an honest and profound prayer which rises up to the heart of God. In it we recognize in all our weakness and pain that no one else but God can save us.
The gift of redemptive suffering is one that asks so much of us. More often then not I have found that I fail at what might be asked of me but God is generous in offering me ever more opportunities to try again. In the end, I must always remember that suffering never has the last word.