The theme of this week’s post is ... Sacred Suffering. Oh joy! Doesn’t that sound like fun?
I realize that most of us don’t want to think about suffering. Our goal in life is to avoid bumps in the road—that’s why we surround ourselves with as many luxuries, gadgets, and technological conveniences as possible. We certainly don’t want to devote even a moment of our time to musing over such discomforting thoughts.
But we must. To ignore suffering in the hopes that it’ll never visit us is futile and harmful. Life happens. Drama and trauma, illness and accident, disappointment and loss ... all these things can hit us hard, and at times we may not know where to turn or how to handle our grief—yet when we deal with it appropriately, even the most profound tragedy can become sacred.
I believe that ironic twists of life can always be used for a greater purpose, even when these twists are ironies I would have preferred to avoid. As I was preparing this essay on sacred suffering, tragedy struck my personal life. All of a sudden, in the matter of one before-dawn phone call, my entire future changed. Plans, hopes, and expectations were threatened in an instant. I felt that on so many levels, my life suddenly wasn’t going to be what I had thought it would be.
Suffering? Yes, I’ve certainly been experiencing that. However, I choose to bring my current situation into the light of God. “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” as Julian of Norwich wrote (and she certainly knew all about suffering, having lost her family to the fourteenth century Black Death). I trust this with all my heart. Expectations are mere delusions of the surface-mind. I can’t predict the future, nor should I try. Instead, I have to turn my suffering into an advantage. Yes, my life may have changed. Yes, that change may not be comfortable and certainly not something I would have chosen. And yes, I have and will continue to grow from the challenge, building myself into a stronger spiritual fortress. That is the nature of sacred suffering.
Sacred suffering is the act of seeing the good in all things, of honoring the positive energy in every circumstance—particularly the ones most difficult for us. Challenges strengthen us, and adversity builds stamina. By acknowledging the good which can come from every situation, we open the door to allow that good to march through, enriching our lives. When we keep the door closed, we’re cutting off the positive growth we can gain. That isn’t something we want to do – if we have to go through difficult times, we might as well receive the full grace and benefit of the blessings which can result.
We all experience suffering on a variety of levels throughout our lives. It’s during these struggles that many people give up, believing they’re not doing something right or their efforts to change the situation are useless. In this “go-go-go” world of instant messages and drive-thru conveniences, we often expect everything in our lives to be instantaneous and easy, but that’s not how the Spirit works. In order to realize full complete, God-graced healing in whatever way we need it most, we have to undergo the struggles and challenges necessary for our own resurrection to occur.
One of most detrimental things we can do as we face the challenge of turning our suffering into something positive is to try to control the outcome of whatever our situation may be. When we grasp, push, pull, or prod, we tend to break things. Our lives are not Silly Putty, they’re beautiful roses. When you force a rose to bloom, you’ll yank off its petals.
Think of a toddler. You’re in the grocery store, and he’s just learned to run—how exciting! He wants to zip to the candy aisle (after all, you’re just browsing through the boring carrots and spinach), but of course you can’t let him roam freely. You grasp his arm to hold him back, and what does he do? He squirms and wiggles and tries to get free. Must. Have. Candy!
That’s what grasping does—it starts a fight. Like a screaming two-year-old, this effort of struggle creates inner chaos and noise, which then drowns out the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit (1 Kings 19:12). If we grasp, we won’t reach whatever it is we’re seeking. We won’t find peace, and suffering will increase. Spiritual growth cannot be coerced, cajoled, or forced; it mirrors physical growth, arriving only when the body is ready. Sometimes we’ll have magnificent growth spurts, sometimes periods in which there’s no growth for months, or longer. We can’t make it happen, we can’t force the progression. We simply have to release and wait.
Rather than grasping, we must allow the peace of spiritual surrender to thoroughly settle within. It’s only through this peace that we can achieve silence, and only through inner silence can we dialog with the subtle voice of our intuition, which is the direct voice of the Holy Spirit. When we listen to that Voice we gain the clarity, peace of mind, and spiritual presence to turn whatever our difficult situation may be into a brilliant display of positive growth.
This requirement of release means we need to let go of all things holding us back from personal development. The paradox of this is that “all things” includes a desire to understand God. If we try to figure out why something has happened to us, analyzing with our logical minds, we drown out the Voice guiding us in the proper direction. When we release the need to analyze, adjust, and fix, when we surrender to the grace and will of the Divine, we open ourselves up to the spiritual flow that is the transformative power of changing all things toward the higher good.
Lately I’ve been making it a point to remind myself that, because I’m divinely protected, nothing bad will ever happen to me. That’s not to say I won’t ever suffer, experience abuse and tragedy, or whatever else may come my way. But it is to say that, no matter what happens, God has my back. Nothing “bad” will ever happen to me, because God will turn my suffering to good—as long as I let Him.
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28)--
there simply is no other way.
St. Catherine of Siena wrote eloquently on the topic of suffering and how we can positively view our efforts even during the times we may perceive as the darkest and most difficult. In one of her many letters she stated:
In fact, we earn merit because of the suffering we endure. This means that if
we don’t sit down in apathy, or let our spirit become weary and discouraged,
or give up the practice of prayer, the struggle will bring us to true and perfect
virtue. Why? In times of struggle we come to know ourselves and our weakness
better. And we come to know God’s goodness within us better ... So you see how
in times of intense struggle we become more perfect and prove ourselves in
In other words, once we’ve stopped clinging to our misery and release ourselves into God’s hands, our suffering takes on an entirely new meaning and we endure all things with patience and love, knowing that “in everything God works for good …”
In a Nutshell:
“In fact, we earn merit because of the suffering we endure. This means that if we don’t sit down in apathy, or let our spirit become weary and discouraged, or give up the practice of prayer, the struggle will bring us to true and perfect virtue. Why? In times of struggle we come to know ourselves and our weakness better. And we come to know God’s goodness within us better ...So you see how in times of intense struggle we become more perfect and prove ourselves in strength.” (Caterina of Siena)
Inspirational Quotes to Feed Your Week:
“Love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is only your aversion to it that hurts, nothing else.” (Hermann Hesse)
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. But God keeps his promises, and he won’t let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the strength to endure it, and so provide you with the way of escape.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
“It is indeed in struggle that great lessons are learned ... it’s in periods of struggle that we have occasion to know better both ourselves and God’s goodness within us ... so it really is good to be happy in times of struggle and never let these dishearten us.” (St. Catherine of Siena)
“All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” (Julian of Norwich)
I'm Jenny duBay, a domestic abuse survivor and now advocate. My degree is in Christian theology with a concentration on spiritual direction, and my vocational emphasis is on helping those who have suffered from domestic abuse to heal and reclaim their true selves.