Shortly before Lent began, we heard a reading from the Book of Job. It was a woeful lamentation, of course, as is the entire book. But what struck me is that the priest mentioned during his homily, “We won’t hear from Job again until June 2021, so this reading is well worth reflecting upon.”
Three and a half more years until we revisit Job? It seemed a bit shocking. Then as I thought more upon how dismal it seemed Job’s life became after every possibly misfortune fell upon his life, it was evident to me that his story is one we should pay attention to.
The Book of Job bespeaks of suffering based on God’s permissive will, and Job is confronted with the same questions we are in this modern age: “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” “Where is God if He really loves us?” “Is suffering a punishment for sin?” “We should turn our backs on God and blame Him for all the horrific things happening in the world today.”
Job’s friends tempted him with similar sentiments, but he responded with complete trust.
What, then, can we learn from or about suffering that can help us when we’re in the midst of our own painful situations? If Job could be afflicted with boils all over his body, have his entire family killed, lose all of his livestock and land – and still praise God – then we, too, can learn much from what we’re permitted to suffer.
When we’re in the thick of struggle, we seldom know where to begin to pull ourselves out of the self-pity or discouragement that accompanies us. Though not a comprehensive list by any means, here are four points to ponder when you are really grieving, in pain, or despondent.
Bless God at All Times
Probably the most famous of all that happened or was said in the Book of Job was when he said, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21). What can we learn from this when we are in the thick of suffering? Remember that Job proclaimed this with confidence before God restored his fortune and gave him an entirely new life and family.
Job was thanking and praising God for who He is, not for what He does or does not do.
So must we. Suffering refines and prunes us, though we often find the process disdainful. What if, in the throes of uncertainty and in the middle of a trying time, we do as Job did: thank God. Praise Him.
Gratitude has an amazing way of transforming and healing us when we are spiritually, emotionally, or physically sick. A comparable prayer to the one Job prayed might be, “Lord, thank you for all that you have done, are doing, and will do in my life.” Recount the blessings and ways God has answered your prayers in the past. Then you will be more inclined to accept the not knowing, the lingering questions, the painful waiting.
This, Too, Shall Pass
A common cliché attributed to ancient Persian Sufi poets, “This, too, shall pass” means more than what it seems at face value. All of life involves a sequence or series of transient moments, but when we are suffering, it feels as if moments are days. Life lingers somewhere in the in between. Time is painfully slow, and we get stuck in thoughts and feelings revolving around the what if’s or if only’s.
If we look again at Job’s life, we learn that suffering does, indeed, pass – just as all of life does. Trials do not continue interminably. Like everything else we experience on earth, they have a beginning – and an end.
Perhaps it’s a good reminder to tell yourself “this, too, shall pass” when it feels like you have been wrestling a great deal with something, keeping in mind that the Cross always – always – leads to Resurrection, whether in this life or the next.
As in Job’s case, he was rewarded in this life. There’s no guarantee of the same for us here and now. But we do know that the reward of our fidelity to God has been promised and sealed. Keep moving through today, remembering that God will bring you out of the darkness.
“Let Nothing Disturb You.”
A favorite quote by St. Teresa of Avila, these four simple words hardly seem simple to put into practice when we are seriously struggling. What makes her advice so powerful is that St. Teresa understood firsthand how difficult it is to become restless when God permits some tribulation to occur. It was when St. Teresa learned to relinquish her mysterious maladies and painful persecutions from the other sisters in her convent that her interior disposition began to change.
What does it mean to “let nothing disturb you” when you are suffering? Quite simply, it means to surrender to your struggle. Instead of fighting your cross or pushing against whatever it is that you would rather avoid going through, submit to the suffering. Relinquish your battle by letting go of your expectations of the way life “should” or “shouldn’t” be.
Instead, acknowledge and accept that there is no victory without the Cross for a Christian. And when you reach that point, whatever befalls you will not stir the beast of rage or anxiety in you. Instead, divine peace will settle in you, abide in you, and you will learn to resign yourself to the truth that God uses all things – beautiful and broken – for your good.
“All Is Well and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well.”
Another famous line comes from St. Julian of Norwich. At first glance, it seems trite to say that “all is well” and “all manner of things shall be well,” because all is not well when we are hurting. Everything seems off kilter.
But it’s important to ponder her words and their meaning for us in the midst of suffering. Being in the middle is always the worst, because we have to experience all of the pain and uncertainty of “not yet arriving.” What St. Julian means is that where you are right now – this moment – is exactly where God wants you to be. It is necessary for your spiritual well-being. It’s a piece of your life’s journey that, put together with everything else you will experience, creates the beautiful image of who you are and who you’re meant to become.
“All is well” means that your suffering has merit. Though it hurts immensely, it is not in vain. You don’t have to waste your suffering by becoming bitter or angry or fighting against it. “All manner of things shall be well” means that God will use your misery, if you hand it to Him with a spirit of humility and contrition. He will transform all of your suffering into love, His love.
image: Lavaudieu Abbey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons