How many times in our lives do we say “why?”
Why do certain things happen? Why do things happen to us? Why does God permit sad and tragic things to happen, especially to good people?
“Why” is a constant refrain for so many of us, when we are faced with tragedy and suffering.
For example, after many of us heard of the sad and tragic deaths of football players from Mainland High School, we asked, “Why did this happen to wholesome young men? Why must their parents suffer the pain of loss?”
In our own lives, as we grow older, we begin to experience the various illnesses and the diminishment of our strength. So often we struggle with things like heart conditions, cancer, kidney disease and stroke, and again we ask “Why?”
The challenge that we face should not be measured by why, but rather by a growing invitation to surrender to and trust in the God who does not abandon us. God the Father sent his Beloved Son to us and allowed that Son to be rejected, to be tortured, to suffer and to die for our sins, He who was blameless took on our sin. God allowed this for our salvation to draw us back closer to Himself.
In every tragedy, in every suffering, there is clearly an invitation to God to surrender to love, to grow in our identity with his Beloved Son, to participate in the redemptive suffering of Jesus. And so, as Paul says (Colossians 1: 24-25), “I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church,” we make up what is “lacking” in the suffering of Christ. It’s not that Christ’s suffering and dying were not adequate, rather it provides us more intimate participation in the mystery of Jesus’ suffering and dying. Our suffering allows us to participate more completely in the glory of the Risen Jesus.
Suffering and pain are part of our human existence. But they offer us an opportunity to grow into the likeness of Jesus to whom we have been grafted through our baptism; to be seen by the Father with the same delight that he takes in his Son, Jesus. Sickness, tragedy and suffering are invitations and opportunities that unite us to surrender to a loving God who does not forget us in our pain even as he did not abandon his Son in his pain and suffering. They are reminders to us of our need and our dependence on the God who created us and continues to love us.
Sadly we tend to forget we are children of God, dependent on a loving Providence. So very often pain and suffering are vivid reminders of who we are and our relationship with God.
This reflection grows out of my own experiences over the past few months. I have spent much time and prayer reflecting on this as I deal with my own illnesses. I am unable to get around as well as I used to. In response, I have begun to appreciate even more the value of diminishing energy and strength. I believe it is calling me to a greater trust and openness to our loving God, like it has for so many others.