Suffering is good. Well, it can be. Yes, yes. I know. It sounds crazy. Then, maybe it is. Let me make it clear that suffering can only be good in the light of Christianity. Outside of it, it is quite frankly meaningless and cruel. I must also make clear that it is not the suffering itself that is good, but rather what may come of it. I do not believe God teaches us by making us sick or harming us.
What God does do is take those evils and, if we let Him, use them for good. In suffering, we come to learn compassion. After all, at its root, compassion literally means to “suffer with”. But those who have not suffered cannot relate to suffering.
We do not suffer alone though, regardless if we have anyone else in our lives. The Bible says that God comforts us. And we are comforted so that we might in turn comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-5). Here we find our source of comfort, but also become one. Only those who have suffered can understand the needs of those who suffer. Although suffering builds a general compassion, each type of suffering has characteristics unique to itself. And here we must allow God to work through us, to share the pains of another and to share the strength we have found through our own suffering.
Have you ever been lonely? Then you are specially equipped to reach out to the lonely. Have you fought a chronic illness? Then you can be a voice of hope to others who are going through it. Somehow, we come to think ourselves alone in our struggles, but that is quite untrue. In this world, every person has some portion of suffering. When we share them we lighten each other’s burdens. Sometimes letting another person know they aren’t alone in the battle is enough.
Suffering does not only offer strength for us to share, but gives us strength of our own. Strength in knowing that God has not abandoned us, but is all the nearer in our pain. And with that comes a greater trust in Him. My own suffering is what lead me to trust God in the first place. When the world has no answers, when you are at rock bottom, in constant pain, there is no where else to turn.
Further than just trust, hardship builds tenacity, a refusal to give up and stubbornness in the face of adversity. Suffering functions a bit like weight-lifting for the spirit, making it stronger with each motion, each tear, each prayer. And just like weight-lifting, we must let our spirits rest at times so that they may heal, grow, and be fresh for the next round.
A common misconception is that a person must be depressed during trials and tribulations. Suffering does not, however, have to mean that joy is gone. That is to say nothing of sorrow being beneficial as well (a topic for another time). But joy, when we truly have joy and not happiness alone, is unshakeable. We may smile through our tears in knowing that we are loved, that pain is temporary, that the worst life has to offer is death and, if we trust in God, that death is nothing to be feared. So long as we live, we may hope, believe, that whatever affliction assaults us may pass.
To those who suffer I say this: do not minimize what you go through. Learn what you can. You are not alone. Bend, do not break. Never give up hope. Don’t be afraid to cry. Fight. Tears are for the strong for in them you stand against your sorrow. Don’t run from fear: courage cannot exist without fear and consists of opposing it. Above all, trust in God.