Last week David Brooks wrote a great op-ed in The New York Times entitled What Suffering Does. I encourage all to read it. We are preparing to enter into Holy Week. We will hear the story of the Passion of Jesus. We will be reminded of His suffering and rejection. For many it raises difficult questions about the nature of suffering itself. This article is good because brooks takes pains to underline that suffering and pain for sufferings sake is not good. In the same breath he shows how we are a culture obsessed with happiness, particularly with respect to our future.
Our past, however, when recounted to others, is often the story of how we have survived pain or suffering. When we look back, our stories are often about our greatest struggles. For me as a Christian, the story of the Passion has great power for me because in it, I am reminded of how God understands and knows suffering and is abundantly present to me when I am at my worst. The Passion reminds me of how God enters into my suffering. My life has been shaped in no small measure by moments in my life that have been difficult, making me certain that the better parts of who I am today have been shaped by some of my most heartbreaking moments. In The Little Mermaid, Hans Christian Andersen writes “But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.” There is a great deal of truth in Andersen’s words about a fanciful being.
Brooks writes in his op-ed piece:
Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different. They crash through the logic of individual utility and behave paradoxically. Instead of recoiling from the sorts of loving commitments that almost always involve suffering, they throw themselves more deeply into them. Even while experiencing the worst and most lacerating consequences, some people double down on vulnerability. They hurl themselves deeper and gratefully into their art, loved ones and commitments.
I am by nature a joyful guy! I love ‘having fun’ as much as anyone. Happiness is a goal in my life as it should be in all our lives. But I am not naive. I find the words of David Brooks and others who hold up the role of suffering to be liberating. As I enter into the Sunday of the Passion and the Holy week that follows, I do so assured that our God knows what suffering is all about and chooses to enter in our suffering. With that encouragement in mind, let us be willing to enter in another’s pain and be present with compassion and with mercy. I do not ‘look forward’ to suffering, but I am grateful to be able to ‘look back’ and see how my life has been shaped and changed because of suffering and how God and others helped me get through that which was so unjust, unkind, or unfair. I am so thankful that God became ‘One with us!’