One of the myths about summer is that it’s a time for relaxation, visiting friends and family, adventures to fill the mind and heart with newness. Summer, we like to think, is a microtime that packs into a few short months, the lifelong desire to be happy, to be content without being complacent. We want to enlarge our lives without arrogance, to see the incongruities of life and be able to laugh at them. But these things are not easily achieved. Moreover, they are not achieved by grasping them straight on. In order to live happy, contented, big lives, we need to learn how to suffer as well. Therein is the paradox.
In all of us, the initial impulse is to run away from suffering. In part, we’re right in that impulse. The fact is: we all suffer and we all suffer differently. What crushes one, hardly touches another.
Suffering doesn’t take a summer vacation and no matter the time of year, we don’t have to go shopping for suffering. It is something we all experience. It comes to us. The American black population whose ancestors were slaves brought here to benefit their white slave owners, suffered from then until now. To prepare for an unknown work in an unformed future is to suffer. To feel isolation, mental stress, misunderstanding or misinterpretation is to suffer. To be sick of mind, body or spirit is to suffer. To live in a world of violence and destructiveness is to suffer. To reach out to someone and find them absent is to suffer. To experience death, untimely or not, or illness that saps life, is to suffer.
I had a friend, now deceased at an early age, who once told me: “I live my life as a tragedy.” I could not find anything redeeming about this viewpoint. She chose to interpret her life that way. It paved the way to her death. When we take on the world, messiah like and we are overwhelmed, we suffer. The person who weeps at the casket of a family member, whom they have neglected for years, suffers, but it’s too late then. Self- chosen suffering is self- centered.
The soundest attitude toward suffering is evidenced in Jesus, who alleviated suffering wherever he found it and accepted suffering when it was the only way to go forward. Nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus say “Live with your suffering.”
The Gospel reminds us in straightforward ways and in stories that we cannot be happy, content – our world cannot be happy- unless we allow ourselves to be pruned, chipped away at, rubbed against, resized. Happiness is not the goal of life, although many think so. Life to the full is the goal, but the way to fullness of life is not easy.
All that we can say of human suffering can be said of the suffering of Jesus. So when we are put upon, when our world knows the ravages of the demonic, turn to Jesus as he is in the Gospel, and as He reaches out to us all . That is not trite, though people may think so. To know Him deeply, to follow His way puts human suffering in perspective. It is an insightful human step on our way to the reign of God when we realize that the paradox of suffering is in the air we breathe.
~Sister Joan Sobala