Suffering is an inescapable part of life. Its forms are varied; there is physical pain, grief, betrayal, loneliness, addiction, injustice, and the anxiety that arises before the mystery of death. What has been the shape of suffering in your life?
If we ponder our own experience and that of people we know, we see that suffering has the potential of either reducing or extending the dimensions of our soul. We can become bitter — increasingly closed-in on ourselves. Or we can discover new capacities for compassion and appreciate in new ways what truly matters in life. We can probably see instances of both in our own stories. Sometimes the short term effect of suffering is to shrink and the long term effect is to stretch our lives. Patience is required to see the bigger picture.
A characteristic that sets Christianity apart from other religions is that it has at the center a savior who suffered. As the apostle Paul puts it, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1Corinthians 1:23)
The possibility arises in the Christian faith that our experience of suffering can be “sacramental”, that is, it becomes an opportunity to be in fellowship with Christ who also suffered. It can put us in solidarity with all other people who suffer.
Lord Jesus, you took up your cross as an act of supreme love. Where we are compelled to suffer, may we reach out to you, that we, too may allow your light to shine in the darkness. Amen.