Christ Uses Our Sufferings for Good

The Christian life is a long progression of letting go of our own wants and desires in order to live in greater union with Christ and to love as He loves. This is a painful purification process for all of us that most often comes about through suffering. Jobs are lost. Successes come and go. Relationships fall apart. Medical diagnosis or old age take away our health. It’s during these times that the Lord is reminding us that we are made for him alone. Suffering is never wasted. The Lord uses it for our deeper conversion and put love in the world where it is most needed. 

Lent is a microcosm of the reality that we are called to rely on God alone and to die to the things of this world. The Lord often has greater plans for our holiness than we had in mind at the beginning of this holy season of prayer and penance. The Lord reminds us that we are made for Him alone every time our plans fail, in seasons of isolation and waiting, in illness, the death of loved ones, or in other circumstances. 

My family started Lent with my husband in the hospital and with him ill for the first half of Lent. After he started feeling better, our plumbing went out and sewage came pouring up in our bathtub. The Lord provided through a loving place to stay with my spiritual parents and the city covering the repairs since it was their line causing the problem. In the moment, however, it was one more thing in a long list of difficulties and an opportunity to love when I dawned gloves and held my breath as much as possible while cleaning up the nasty mess.  

Close friends of ours have spent almost the entirety of Lent in the hospital with complication after complication from abdominal surgeries. The husband went into respiratory and cardiac distress and nearly died when a massive blood clot cut off blood supply to both lungs and his heart. He recovered, but is currently in the ICU recovering from yet another surgery and is battling an infection. We credit his still being here to St. Joseph’s intercession. Their Lent has been one of constant surrender in each moment and openness to God’s healing and ministering through the priesthood. 

There are times when God’s plans for our lives are confusing and painful. Anyone who has dealt with a debilitating medical diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, poverty, or any other type of affliction knows how hard it is to understand how God’s ways are from a place of love. How can this agony be good for us? How can this loneliness be His plan for my life? How is this rejection from others helping me grow in holiness? How is this love? There are times in our lives when these questions well up in the deepest places within us. We experience confusion as our gaze is purified of all that obscures our ability to see as Christ sees. Each suffering brings a new interior crucifixion that conforms us closer to Christ. 

Suffering forces us to make a choice. It requires us to turn more readily and with total dependence on God or we can fall into bitterness and distance ourselves from Him. This choice comes with each new affliction. The battle is fierce within us as we seek the grace to choose God over the anger and pain we experience in our suffering. If we choose to rely completely on God, then our suffering will in fact be used for good and our love for Him and others will be purified. It’s in our giving back to God that we are set free and filled up with the divine love. 

I frequently re-visit St. John Paul II’s Salvifici Doloris. It is one of the most powerful explanations of suffering that I have ever read. He wrote from a deep intimate communion with Christ Crucified and as a man who experienced tremendous suffering. St. John Paul II understood at a profound level that God uses suffering for our good in His mysterious plan. Our suffering is never wasted. 

We will suffer in a myriad of ways. Sometimes it will be self-imposed suffering, such as the mortifications we attempt during Lent. Most of the time it is unwilled suffering. Each new suffering challenges us in a way that draws us closer to Christ. He seeks greater and greater conversion from us. As we go deeper into conversion, we begin to understand how everything must belong to Him. 

He will allow our health to deteriorate, if not through old age, then through diseases. He will allow relationships in our lives to fall apart, so that we will turn to Him alone rather than relying on human beings who are fallen just like us and who will let us down. He will allow jobs and successful careers to collapse, so that we may know that our identity is not found in our career, it is found in Him. He will allow us to experience periods of loneliness and isolation, so that prayer becomes the very air we breathe. In His permissive will, suffering leads us to greater heights of holiness when we surrender to Him. 

Despite how difficult it is in the moment to endure each knew suffering, we have to turn to Him with trust and surrender knowing that He is leading us to deeper conversion and intimate union with him. As St. John Paul states in Salvifici Doloris paragraphs 12 and 13: 

“Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man. Its purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially with God. But in order to perceive the true answer to the ‘why’ of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery; we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the ‘why’ of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.” 

Suffering is meant to show us how to love Christ and others. Supernatural love is unleashed in the world when we embrace our own suffering and turn with compassionate hearts towards others who are suffering. 

When we give ourselves away, when we relinquish our grip on the things we want in this life— especially when confronted with suffering—God will unleash goodness through us and around us. When we suffer illnesses and weakness, we are better able to relate to the suffering in our midst rather than ignore them. When we lose a job or don’t get a promotion we desired, the Lord leads us to embrace our identity in Him, not worldly success. When relationship fall apart, we are given an opportunity to die-to-self and forgive, which leads us to love as He loves. He wants to use us to witness to the power of the divine love where He knows the most good can be done. More often than not, suffering opens our eyes to where we can serve Him and love Him more. 

As we prepare to enter Holy Week, let us draw closer to Christ in all of our sufferings. The Lord knows our agonies. He experienced them. He knows bodily pain through His scourging and crucifixion. He knows loneliness through His Passion and death alone on the Cross. He knows what it is to be hated and reviled by others. He knows poverty and what it is to be stripped of all things. Through our sufferings, He is inviting us to draw closer to Him. To walk the Way of the Cross with Him and to find our ultimate freedom in Him alone. Our sufferings, like His, will give way to the resurrection if we hold fast to Him. We must trust that He is continually unleashing love in the world through our sufferings united to His. 


Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

By

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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