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)


  1. When we give Him the tiny loaves and fishes of our poor suffering, He multiplies them through His cross to feed a multitude.

    I think even the tiniest act of suffering, when united with Jesus, is precious to Him.

    St. Elizabeth Seton said "the smallest act, when done with love for God, is precious to Him."

    Even, in a sense, those things which come to us as a consequence of our choices. Because while the choice may not have been the wisest (hindsight is 20/20), we have yet another choice, with the suffering, to either unite with Christ in trust (that he will turn it to good) or to take the side of evil and complain.

    Beautiful post, and something I have been thinking about as well. The doctrine of suffering is one of the major issues that drew me so strongly to the Catholic church.

    My hurts matter to God, and He can draw good out of the smallest or largest evil, even if it wasn't 'our fault.'


    1. Thanks, Sarah. I love the depth of your blog posts and am grateful for this input. I'm praying for you that your trials don't overwhelm the treasures that God has for you in your current place. It seems to me that most of the treasures God offers us are wrapped in smelly seaweed and don't look so good from the outside until we unwrap them.


I'd love to know your thoughts!