Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thoughts on Suffering and Comfort

I’ve been mulling over the concept of being “comfortable” and the concept of suffering after a recent online debate that I was involved in.  When I began learning about Catholicism, I’ll admit that the understanding of suffering was one of the first things that made sense to me.  I’d never really been exposed to the idea (or hadn’t been paying attention if I had) that suffering could bring us closer to God.  The concept that we could “offer up” our pain was also certainly quite foreign. 

That’s why I’ve found it so disturbing over the past few years when I’ve read things that were written by other Catholics basically renouncing their belief in God because he “allowed” x horrible thing(s) to happen in their lives and if there was truly a God, he wouldn’t let it happen.  The idea of God as Santa Claus was certainly one that I struggled with in the past, although I’m not exactly sure where it came from.  I’d formed my own little belief of “if you’re good, God will protect you and good things will happen” that was bound to come crashing down by the time I reached adulthood.  And perhaps that’s why I find it so upsetting when I see others saying the same thing. 

The debate I was in more recently involved the word “comfortable” and whether or not we are supposed to be “comfortable” in this life.  In the conversation I was having, any sort of hardship seemed to be labeled “bad,” with a life of comfort in this world being seen as the goal of our labors.  I’ll admit that I instinctively find something troubling about the thought.  Being comfortable and successful in this life isn’t supposed to be our goal.  Besides, when we’re comfortable we don’t often go out seeking God, because the word seems to imply that we’re happy where we are.  And I just don’t remember reading about many (any?) saints who were “comfortable” in this life. 

The path to Sainthood isn’t supposed to be “comfortable.”  It requires heroic effort.  And the tragedy in this life won’t be we weren’t materially comfortable and happy with our careers.  The only tragedy would be not achieving sainthood. 

Apparently that idea is very, very offensive (as I was told many times in the conversation I was having).  The response I was given was that we are supposed to have comfort and be “happy” (because I’d pointed out that happiness in this life wasn’t something we’re promised) on earth.  And that there’s Nothing.  Wrong.  With. That.  

There isn’t anything wrong with happiness.  But the “happiness” that we seek through material goods and earthly pleasures and our own accomplishments is nothing compared with the joy we might gain by striving to live out God’s plan for our lives. 

Another idea I found somewhat off base was the idea that we know what will make us happy.  I think many of us can think of instances where it was the exact thing we least expected that brought us the most joy.  As much as we cling to our carefully crafted plans (and I am totally a list maker and a planner) what God has in mind to form our hearts and souls always seems to be infinitely better. 

And often times we are formed by suffering, and specifically, our response to suffering.  We can become bitter.  We can cling to belongings and plans, which can increase our suffering, beyond what it needs to be.  Or we can turn towards God and say “not my will, but yours be done.” 

It’s not easy.  I know it’s not.  That’s the prayer I found myself saying over and over again in the hospital in between “please save my baby… but not my will but yours be done… and if it’s your will that this baby be in heaven… then help me accept it…” a few months ago. 

For me that acceptance and reliance on God did make the suffering bearable, particularly in the weeks that followed our loss.  I found myself comforted and very much felt God’s presence in a very tangible way in my life and throughout my prayers in those immediate days.  The condolences I received in the weeks that followed, especially when I managed to cling to my daily prayers, were there when God must have known that I most needed them, although I must admit that my prayer life is back to normal now, with my personal daily struggles of remembering to pray, or feeling sleeping, or being distracted. 

God offers us comfort in this life.  He knows what we need and, if we turn to Him, will not allow us to be crushed under the weight of our sorrow.  But he doesn’t promise that we will be comfortable.  After all the gate wouldn’t be narrow (Matthew 7: 12-14) if this whole thing was supposed to be easy.  


  1. This is SUCH a great post! It reminds me of what Our Lady of Lourdes said to St. Bernadette: "I do not promise to make you happy in this life, but in the next."

  2. Good blog post on a common modern problem. I suspect it has its roots in the "name-it-and-claim-it" theologies of certain TV evangelists where if you believe the right way everything you attempt will go well.

    That is not what God promises. He promises a cross, he promises we won't always understand, he promises to bring good from evil, but he doesn't promise easy or comfortable.

    Look to the Old Testament, the prophets were the closest to God and their lives were NOT comfortable or easy! Look to the Apostles who personally lived with Jesus during his ministry on earth and their lives were NOT comfortable or easy!

    Our times are filled with heresies and few Catholics have a clue about the Faith and seem content to be "nice" and to avoid offending anyone. But think about what Christ says in Revelation about those who are lukewarm.

    Modern culture has only ONE category of absolutes: that NOBODY has the right to have principles or to hold anything as an objective truth that should not be compromised.

    Jesus had principles and taught them so that the Apostles could establish the Church and pass on all those many teachings. The world hates that we have the Eucharist--so the satanists have black masses and other Christian groups attack us for the belief. The world hates MARY, the perfect woman, for the fact that she is so totally NOT the ideal pushed by our culture for women and so if we have a deep devotion to Mary, we will be reviled for it, even by some of our fellow Catholics.

    I don't expect easy or comfortable. I'll gladly enjoy them while I have them, but I don't expect it.

    Even though materially comfortable for now, it does not mean there are not serious challenges in this life, such as people who ought to love the Catechism and the writings of the Saints but don't and dislike people who do, or our Bishop who is antagonistic to Catholic home school when he ought to promote as a tool for raising soundly catechized children. These are crosses and only small examples of the many little persecutions that go with commitment to the Faith.

    It is as it is. I just wanted to encourage you to hold firm and try to accept that having fellow Catholics treat you badly because you actually try to live Catholic teaching is just part of the challenge of living in the 21st Century.

  3. Life is not meant to be comfortable. What people fail to remember is that life is like a tetter totter. Happiness is balanced by sadness, joy by sorrow, exultation by depression, etc. You cannot have one without the other or you're stuck in the middle and "comfortable" with no highs or lows. Also, learning is painful full of bumps and bruises. Watching a child learn to walk is exciting but very stressful as they constantly fall down. That hardship doesn't go away when we become adults just more intense.

  4. Yes, I agree with Ann Seeton. It seems to be something that's infiltrated from Evangelical sources. I've heard people say that anything that's bad that's happened to them is the result of not following God or not being good or something like that. It comes from putting a heavy emphasis on the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy rather than the Beatitudes.

    Really suffering is not a bad thing. It's not evil in other words. And it does not mean that you are evil because something has occurred to make you suffer. It just is what it is. If anything, I think suffering is meant to bring you closer to God (as you so eloquently said).

  5. Can't say enough about this post. This was wonderful, thank you. Being "good" will by no means make nothing bad happen in your life. Neither will being "good" get you to heaven. This sounds bad, but sometimes hard things that happen in our lives can turn out to be blessings. When something hard happens to me, I find myself crawling to God's feet, always, because He is the only one who can bring me comfort or even fix it. These sufferings bring me closer to God because I cannot leave His Feet, nothing else is worth doing when you are suffering. Praying is all I want to do when it seems like my spirit is caving in...


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