Tuesday, April 16, 2013
What counts as suffering?
I've been thinking a lot about suffering recently - not because of all the horrible things that happen in the world, because we always have those, but because I don't want to miss any opportunities that God gives me to put an exclamation point on my prayers for other people.
Not being a cradle Catholic, I didn't grow up with the idea of "offering up" my sufferings, but even before I became Catholic it made sense to me that suffering must have a purpose or God wouldn't allow it. In 1 Corinthians 1:6 Paul tells us "Now if we are afflicted, it is for your salvation and consolation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer". And in Philippians 3:10 (one of my favorite chapters in the Bible) Paul says that he wants to know Christ "and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death if by any means I might attain to the resurrection from the dead".
I found that passage when I was a brand-new christian forty-something years ago and was strangely comforted by it. It put suffering into a purposeful context - it wasn't just random, or evidence that God was angry with me or had forgotten me. Suffering was something to be embraced for a greater goal - the GREATEST goal! I have never heard anyone teach on this passage, so it has dwelt quietly in my heart until it was revived by the Catholic church's teaching on suffering.
However, here's the rub: I don't seem to have any suffering to offer up. Oh I have as much pain as the next person, but it doesn't seem worthy to be called "suffering". It's either something I well deserve - the consequence of my own bad choices, like cutting my finger with the plant clippers - or it's something like having a cough for a month, which should certainly count as suffering for my husband, but I'm so used to it that I'm hardly conscious of it. I'd put any personal sickness in the category of "not really suffering" unless there was really intense pain involved. Throwing up doesn't count - that's just normal stuff. Headaches, sinus infections, etc. - they all seem to me to be simply the side effects of life. I guess I have too high a view of suffering - that it only counts if it's physical or mental abuse by someone. Martyrs suffer that way; they aren't considered to have suffered because of frequent viral infections or having bad eyesight.
What say you? How do you use these "small, daily sufferings" as a tool in prayer? What counts as suffering? I'd sure like some enlightenment on this. I'm aiming for this:
"For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake..." (Philippians 1:29)