When I think about the question of suffering, two experiences come to mind. The first happened many years ago. The seven-year-old daughter of a friend became terribly ill. She suffered for days and finally died. I couldn’t believe the comments of grieving loved ones outside her hospital room: “God has his reasons.” “It’s part of his plan.” “God is just testing us.”
Who was this God they were talking about?
God is a loving parent. Well, I was a parent, too, and I could not imagine any reason I would cause a child of mine to suffer that much. And what kind of a parent uses the suffering of his own little girl to test some grown-ups? Don’t we say, and believe, that God loves us even more than we love our own children?
My hospital experience was reinforced a few months later at a weekend retreat for women. One night I stayed up late, taking to a friend about saying yes to God. Her great fear was that once she said yes, terrible things might happen to her. “Weren’t God’s friends always getting some tragic illness or being martyred? ” she asked. It took me a while to figure out what to say to my friend, but the answer I gave her has shaped my understanding of suffering ever since.
Suffering happens. It is part of life.
No one, not the richest person or poorest, not saint or sinner, can get through life without suffering. God doesn’t cause it; God doesn’t plan it. God is just there to see us through it. When we say yes to God, God’s life becomes our life. And we open ourselves to the peace, courage, and perseverance that God’s love offers. It can be so much easier to endure suffering when we know that our good and loving God is with us, as close as the next breath we take in.
by Judith Dunlap
Published in “Every Day Catholic, Oct. 2006, St. Anthony Messenger Press.