Wounding and Healing: The Mystery of Suffering

Years ago, while I was still in the thick of raising children, I entered a period of depression and anxiety as a number of serious problems assaulted our family.

Even though I had a supportive husband, healthy children, and many other blessings, the depression grew worse until I dreaded facing each new day. I decided to make a more conscientious effort to enjoy various moments throughout the day and to choose to be more grateful. It was not easy!

One beautiful summer morning, I was hanging laundry outdoors, and I said to myself, “I am going enjoy hanging out these clothes!”

With determination, I lifted a pair of wet jeans from the laundry basket and shook them out with an energetic snap. As I did so, a dime flew out of one of the pockets and flicked me sharply on the cheek, surprising me into tears. I felt utterly defeated!

It would be years before the Lord delivered me from the oppression I suffered during that season in my life. God tested me, certainly, but then He delivered me.

Why might our loving and all-powerful God chastise and test us by allowing us to suffer?

We can never fully understand the mystery of suffering, but there are observations we can make about it that give us a glimpse into why God allows it. It is valuable to think about and pray about these things:

  • Suffering reminds us of what is important in life. Trials and hardships highlight the fact that we may be overly focused on trivial things and are not giving enough attention to the essentials. C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
  • Suffering shows us that we are not God. We need a savior. Suffering humbles us, which is the starting point to a real relationship with God. It also invites us to consider the ways in which we need to be healed. The Glorious Physician wants to fix the broken places in our hearts.
  • Suffering has the potential to make us holy, which is the purpose of our lives. There are certain kinds of personal growth we cannot experience except through trial, such as courage, self-discipline, and faith. Suffering is a kind of boot camp!
  • Suffering helps us to be in relationship with others. When we see others in pain, it stirs our compassion. When we reach out to others by listening to them, praying with them, and helping them meet their practical needs, we form meaningful bonds with them while bringing them hope and consolation. It unifies us in Christ. As we read in Scripture, “Blessed be the…God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ, we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:4-5).
  • Suffering is not the end. Theresa of Avila said, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” Although this may sound glib to us when we are in pain, it wonderfully highlights an eternal perspective.
  • Suffering has value. Catholics have always believed that we can mystically unite our pain to Christ’s redemptive work. Our suffering can be “offered up” and become a means of grace. As St. Paul says in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” Paul loved the people he was serving so much that he offered his sufferings to God for their salvation and well-being. We can do the same with trials large and small!

God takes a risk when He allows us to suffer. He knows the pain we experience may become a cause for us to reject Him and to doubt His goodness, but God also knows exactly what human beings, created as free agents, need in order to become mature kings and queens in His eternal kingdom.

The next time you are suffering and struggling to reconcile your reality with God’s love, spend some time gazing at a crucifix.

I once heard Joni Eareckson Tada, an evangelical ministry leader and quadriplegic, say that God permits what He hates, to accomplish what He loves. Do we think it pleased the Father to send His only begotten Son to take on a human nature so that He could suffer torture and death? Jesus’ Passion and death help us to understand that suffering and sacrifice is somehow deeply connected to love. When our distress makes it nearly impossible to pray, merely gazing at a crucifix is good medicine.

As I was praying the Stations of the Cross during this Lenten season, the following words from the book of Job penetrated my consciousness, “Happy is the man whom God chastises! / Do not reject the punishment of the almighty. / For He wounds, but he binds up; He smites, but His hands give healing.”

This has always been God’s way of helping His children grow, mature, and become more like Christ.

This “wounding” and “healing,” was illustrated to me again recently by another, more light-hearted story from my own experience:

I had started making an effort to participate in the Mass aired on the radio every day. One morning, though I wanted nothing more than to roll over and go back to sleep, I lunged across my bed to grab a phone-charging cord, so I could listen to the Mass on my phone. (Yes, I was still lying in bed…did I mention I am no saint?)

As I snatched the cord, somehow it whipped up and the end of it whacked me in the middle of the forehead. It hurt! I immediately thought of the old dime story. I could almost hear a demon snickering as he punished me for trying to do good, but I knew his old tricks and ignored the assault. A minute later, my husband, who was completely unaware of my “injury,” walked into the room and blessed me with holy water in the exact same spot where I had been hit with the cord. Now who was snickering? “The Lord wounds, but he binds up…he smites but his hands give healing.”

We do not fully understand why God allows the enemy to harass us, or why He has ordained suffering to be an inescapable part of our lives, but we do know that we come from a long line of believers who have struggled in sadness and pain until finally experiencing the complete healing of an eternal Easter. We must, like Job, persevere, trusting that God is with us, sustaining us. He is a good and loving Father who has a purpose for our suffering and who will bring us the healing we need in His own time, in His wisdom.


Image: Unsplash.

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