Cultivate Fidelity in Times of Suffering

There are some things that we say and believe when we are suffering that do not really help us but rather make our suffering worse. Here are some of such negative thoughts: “I am suffering because God has abandoned me.” “I am suffering because God is punishing me for all my sins.”

We say and believe such falsities because we do not know the heart of God towards us. Our sufferings and pains seem to blind us to the reality of who God is to us. Subsequently, our sufferings in this life overcome us and we cannot be faithful to God in those trying moments.

God reveals to Moses three things about Himself from the burning bush before sending him on mission to liberate the Israelites in bondage. We must keep these three things in mind and heart if we are going to triumph over adversities in our lives and prove faithful to God.

Firstly, God is always present to His people in good and in bad times. God revealed to Moses something that the Israelites may not have realized at the time of their cruel bondage in Egypt, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering.” God never abandons His people but is so present to them that He knows all their sufferings and hears all their cries.

Secondly, God is always merciful towards His people. The ever-merciful God takes the very first step to “rescue His people from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” The psalmist proclaims, “The Lord pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction…Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in gladness.”(Ps 103)

Thirdly, God is always intervening and acting in the lives of His people. The ever-acting God declares, “Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians.”(See Ex 3) In the darkest moments of our lives, when we may be thinking that He has abandoned us, our God is acting to liberate us and bring us closer to Him.  

This is why Jesus replied to the report of the tragic death of the worshipping Galileans with this question, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were greatest sinners than all the other Galileans?” Their untimely death cannot be attributed to God abandoning them or God punishing them because their sins were greater than others’ sins.  

In all moments, favorable or unfavorable, God remains present to His people in Jesus Christ. He is present as the Gardener who does not dissociate Himself from the fruitless tree. On the contrary, He is involved and earns for the unfruitful tree a moment of grace and mercy, “Sir, leave it for this year also.” He also labors to the very end to ensure that the tree bears fruit and avoids being cut down, “I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it, it may bear fruit in the future.” This is our God—He is ever-present, ever merciful, and ever active, helping us to be faithful to Him in our sufferings, even as we are accusing Him of abandoning us and punishing us for our sins.

The Lenten season is a time for us to respond to God’s presence, mercy, and actions in our lives. In the words of St. Paul, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation.” (2Cor 6:2) Jesus also warned us of what will happen to us if we do not respond appropriately to His presence and merciful actions, “If it does not bear fruit, you can cut it down.” (See Lk 13)

Here are some ways we can and should respond to God in those moments of suffering and pain:

First, we must believe always that God is present with us, and He is always merciful and active in our lives, even if we cannot perceive His saving actions. Let us face our trials in this life by saying, “Lord, I believe that you are with me, you know well all that I am suffering, you are offering me your merciful love and you are acting to make me faithful to you in these moments.” Such acts of faith allow Him to act in us and through us in ways that we cannot imagine.

Secondly, we must begin to see the sufferings and pains of life as God inviting us to deeper repentance from our sins and conversion back to Him who is ever merciful. Time of suffering is a time for conversion, to cease doing evil and learn to do what is pleasing to God. The Israelites had failed to heed the call to conversion in their times of suffering, “God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.”

Our suffering worsens too when we suffer as if we are sinless. We ask God to deliver us from our pains while ignoring and justifying the many acts of sin and selfishness in our lives. We do not humbly and honestly face our sins and open them to His merciful love. However, when we turn to Him in humble repentance during suffering, He forgives, consoles, and strengthens us for greater fidelity.

Thirdly, let us be grateful for His abiding presence, mercy, and deeds in our lives. St. Paul warned the Corinthians not to grumble against God like the Israelites did in the wilderness when they faced some deprivations, “Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer.”(See 1Cor 10) In times of suffering, the Israelites ignored God’s presence and His saving acts. This only worsened their suffering. Being grateful to God fills us with hope and inner strength.

Lastly, let us not give up in doing the good that God has inspired in us, “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”(Phil 2:12-13) There is no way that we will give up when we have faith that God is present and continuously acting in our lives so that we can be faithful to Him even in the midst of pain and suffering.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot understand or explain the many forms of suffering that we face in this life. These are not meant to excuse us from being faithful to God and His will for us. The last thing that we should say or believe is that we are being punished for our sins or God has given up and abandoned us. These are lies from the pit of hell itself that we must vehemently renounce.

Look at a crucifix and ask, “Who is this hanging on the cross for your sins and my own sins?” How can He then turn His back on us or allow the wrath of His Father to consume us? Isn’t He faithful In His sufferings for our sake to guarantee us that we too can be faithful to Him in our suffering?

In Our Eucharistic Lord, God has become one like us and one with us, present to us and fully knowing all that we are going through. His mercy is infinite and His saving actions are effective. He invites and equips us with His grace to respond to His abiding presence, mercy, and saving actions. This is the only way that we can rise above our sufferings and be faithful to Him.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

Photo by yassine rahaoui on Unsplash

By

Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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