The Gift of Suffering

Lent brings forth reflections on suffering, the cross, and other sacrificial aspects of life and love more profoundly than any other time of the year for me. Therefore, I am sharing a few thoughts on suffering, what I have learned, and how it continues to influence my life. While none of this is new, I am keenly aware of our tendency to avoid pain and suffering as much as possible, sometimes at the hefty cost of not accepting life in its fullness. Our desire to evade suffering often leads us to make mediocre decisions that may have consequences for us, those around us and the generations that follow us. For example, our inclination to avoid difficult conversations and close an eye on injustice in our community are some everyday choices we make to avoid pain/discomfort. Understandably, no one wishes to embrace suffering as a joyful gift, as did the early saints whose lives were marked by pain and suffering, as well as immense hope and joy. Drawing inspiration from The Passion Week and the Crucifixion, I seek to explore how our lives are intertwined with suffering and the everyday joys of life. What does the suffering on the cross and the agony in the garden teach us?

One of the first lessons I took from Passion Week is the acknowledgement of the impending pain and suffering that awaited Jesus on the cross; the agony in the garden makes it real for us. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it is the reason we are afraid of pain and suffering. The crucifixion of Christ serves as a reminder that suffering often makes you feel isolated, abandoned, and afraid that you will not have the strength to endure the trials. Sometimes, we want to give up rather than go through it, and that is when Jesus offers light and hope with his prayer in the garden and reveals humanity in suffering.

Jesus’ approach demonstrates how accepting rather than escaping the pain and suffering can lead to something greater. However, to see beyond the obvious, one must have faith, hope, and patience to recognize the life lessons learned from the experience. Acknowledging pain and suffering as an integral aspect of life enables us to overcome the fear of obstacles that could derail our plans, impede our growth, and deter us from taking risks or confronting life changes.

Another lesson and gift from the cross is that it pushes us to expand our perspective beyond our boundaries. It beckons us toward greatness and illuminates our purpose on earth as interconnected with the rest of humanity. Just as a diamond is refined through fire, a life that embraces and traverses suffering, discerning its purpose, radiates light upon the world. The lives of saints and countless leaders who preceded us serve as testaments to this truth, as they left lasting marks on the world through their life choices and sacrifices.

Apart from the theological and religious significance of Jesus’s death and resurrection on the cross, it offers many transformative lessons for everyday people who may not engage with the deeper religious connotations. It reveals our inherent humanity, fragility, and the ultimate sacrifice one can make for another. In our daily choices, when we strive to positively impact others through our actions and existence, whether for family members, children, neighbours, colleagues, or the broader collective good, we acknowledge the potential for pain and alienation. This acceptance of pain and suffering also teaches us to confront our fears and silence the negative voices that hinder us from overcoming harmful addictions, addressing lingering hurts, forgiving those who have wronged us, letting go of toxic relationships, etc.

In essence, the Death on the Cross is not merely a great example of pain and suffering, but rather an invitation to live and embrace life fully, with unconditional love and a commitment to “love your neighbor as yourself” even amidst life’s hardships. It is about living for and with others, enriching our existence with empathy and compassion and offering hope to the world. By embracing this truth, we impart an invaluable gift upon our children and future generations: the realization that life is a delicate balance between despair and joy, presenting opportunities for personal growth and fostering a deeper love and care for humanity.