Finding meaning and joy in our suffering

By Fr. Roy Cimagala

IF we truly are firm believers and followers of Christ, we have every reason to find meaning and joy in all the suffering, trials and challenges we can encounter in our earthly life. And that’s because Christ has conquered everything and has converted all the negative things in our life into means for our own purification and strengthening, our own sanctification and salvation.

We are reminded of this truth of our Christian faith in that gospel episode where the disciples were buffeted with big waves while they were in the middle of the sea, with Christ simply sleeping in the stern. (cfr. Mk 4, 35-41) As the gospel narrates, the disciples woke Christ up and asked him if he was not concerned about their precarious condition.

That’s when Christ asked them why they were afraid, and proceeded to calm down the sea, to the utter consternation of the disciples. “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” they asked, showing that their faith in Christ was not yet strong and deep.

This gospel episode invites us once again to strengthen our faith in Christ so that we can find meaning, joy and peace in all the suffering, trials and challenges of our present life. In another instance, Christ reassured his disciples, and now us, that while we cannot avoid these negative things in our life here on earth, he asked us to be at peace since he has ‘conquered’ all these. (cfr. Jn 16,33)

What we should rather think and react when we encounter some suffering of any kind is that we are participating in the redemptive passion, death and resurrection of Christ. We are actually given an occasion and a privilege to identify ourselves more intimately in the redemptive mission of Christ.

There can be joy in suffering only if we identify ourselves with Christ. With Christ, suffering becomes an act of selfless love that can take on anything. Only in him can we find joy and meaning in suffering. With him, suffering loses its purely negative and painful character, and assumes the happy salvific character.

We need to process this truth of our faith thoroughly, always asking for God’s grace and training all our powers and faculties to adapt to this reality. That’s why Christ told us clearly that if we want to follow him, we simply have to deny ourselves, carry the cross and follow him. There’s no other formula, given our wounded human condition.

This self-denial and carrying of Christ’s cross will enable us to see that suffering is obviously the consequence of all our sins—ours and those of others. Embracing suffering the way Christ embraced his cross unites our suffering with that of Christ.

Our motive for it should be like that of Christ. It’s the desire to conquer that suffering and ultimately our death through his death and resurrection. It’s obeying God’s will just like Christ obeyed his Father’s will. “Not my will but yours be done.”

Our reaction to any form of suffering in this life should therefore be theological and ascetical. It should be guided and inspired by faith. It should not just be a physical or a natural affair. It should reflect the spiritual and supernatural realities to which we are all subject.

Everyday let us find ways of deepening our understanding and appreciation of this truth of our faith, and also of acquiring the capacity to live it as fully as possible, until we can truly say that we are finding meaning, joy and peace in our suffering.

Email: roycimagala@gmail.com