In the devotional book, Streams in the Desert, Mrs. Charles Cowman quotes an unidentified author as asking “Who can estimate how much we owe to suffering and pain?” Suffering and pain cannot cause us to learn and grow, but they provide the occasion for learning and growing.
As we know, pain and suffering are not pleasant and not something we want to endure. However, the occasion of suffering and pain allows us to reflect on ourselves, how much fortitude we may have, for example, or how well we can tolerate mild to extreme pain with civility and courage. It allows us to consider the purpose of our pain and suffering, and seek understanding and wisdom from God. This makes the occasion of pain and suffering immensely profitable and helpful in our spiritual growth toward maturity. It is like any opportunity: we can profit from it or simply fail to take advantage of the occasion.
If we are, in fact, consumed with anger at our circumstances so that we cannot see any value to our pain and suffering, or we are unable to reflect on any possible profit we may gain from our experience, then our experience can hurt our trust in God. I realize, and have experienced, that there is pain and suffering so severe that it is difficult to have a time of reflection. If we are given a respite that allows us to consider what God can teach us at that moment, it is a gracious opportunity of which we should take advantage. God’s grace is faithful to make him known to us in gentle and loving ways. He is alongside us to help us endure the pain and to learn of him. The purpose is not always explained but we can be assured that our suffering is not in vain; God has some eternal purpose for it and in this truth, we can rest and be assured. Our faith is strengthened by this truth although we hoped for a clear understanding of our situation, but it is not always made clear to us.
In the last few years, I have had numerous hospitalizations and surgeries. After a while, I began to realize that my ministry at that time was to the medical staff that I encountered on a daily basis. Most had difficult lives, trying to raise families, maintain relationships, and provide for their dependents. I tried to be a conduit of God’s grace and light to them, and to make their tasks a little lighter. I experienced the love and compassion of caregivers, I also experienced the kindness of strangers who opened doors and give up their seats for me. It is my experience that the majority of humans are kind and considerate to those who are ill, weak, or disabled.
So how much do we owe to our pain and suffering? A great deal, I believe.