Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lessons I've Learned: Part 7

I wrote a post last week about suffering being a gift and about choosing to fall on God's grace so that God may bring that gift to fulness as He desires it to be for us. I want to better spell a few things out in regards to this than I did last week.

Suffering is a gift in a few ways. For us personally, it is a gift in that it gives us reason to come to God, asking for His help and His Grace. It is too easy, when everything is going well, to set prayer aside and to let our relationship with God remain or become stagnant. Suffering can either be a reminder that we do indeed need God, or, for some, it can be a first step in a journey toward faith. Suffering is a vehicle by which God draws us, His beloved, to Himself.

Suffering is also a mode by which, after we ask for His help, God sends graces down upon us. Through suffering, He prepares our hearts, if we allow Him, to receive His graces: His love, peace, and joy and all that He desires to give us. It is through suffering that we are able to see the power of God at work in our lives, that we are able to experience His ability to turn a bad situation to good and to growth.

If everything in our lives would go smoothly and if everything was always easy, and if God would simply turn good into more good, we may take that good for granted, doubt God's power to create good, or not realize our need for God. We would not have such a chance to realize the depth of God's love for us or of His power. We would not be so inclined to draw so very close to Him and, thereby, to receive all of His gifts He wants to give us.

Suffering gives the opportunity for growth in faith and in virtues. By exercising our faith in God, our faith becomes stronger and deeper. We are likely to become more humble and more docile to God's will, among other things. Our concern for others and our charity is likely to grow, as is our desire to and ability to help others and compassionately support them in their suffering. As I wrote about also a couple weeks ago, our endurance, character, and our hope increases through suffering (cf. Romans 5:3-5).

We also have an opportunity in suffering to join our sufferings to that of Christ and to participate in His redemptive work. We are given the opportunity to allow the graces God pours out in the midst of suffering to be also used for a specific or general purpose by offering our sufferings up to God, in union with those of His Son, for a specified person or circumstance, or for general graces to be poured out on our family, church, or community. I hope to be able to write about this and explain it better in the future.

Regarding our response to suffering, we have a choice to allow ourselves to fall into frustration, anger, despair, worry, and discouragement or to fall on the grace of God. What I want to make clear is that the choice to fall onto God's grace is not a one-time decision, and it's not always an easy decision to make or carry out. We often must make a conscious decision to ask for God's help and to trust in His grace many times each day, especially on days that come with more challenges. The tendency to fall the other way will always be there as a part of our human condition, though the more often we make the decision to fall on God, the easier that decision becomes. Still, discouragement can pull us backwards, away from reliance on God, if we allow it to. It is easy, especially for someone who, like me, has a more melancholic personality, to see the more negative aspects of a situation and to see problems that need to be solved and to become focused on that. It can be very difficult to fight off that tendency in favor of a more optimistic attitude and of trusting that, with God's help, everything will work out well. When frustration and discouragement hit, this decision to fall onto God's grace must be a very conscious and prayerful one. And I frequently need to ask God's help to fall onto His grace and to hand over my problems in trust and in faith that He will indeed work through them. I also find I often need to sit quietly in prayer, handing over each problem and sitting with God for a while, before I am able to better let go and empty myself of the worry or frustration enough that God can fill me with His peace and grace. While making a decision to give problems over to God as I'm running out the door with a list in my hand is good, taking time in prayer to do so and to allow God to reach out and bless that decision is better and more effective.