by Mike Dellosso
Normally, we recoil from suffering. I know I do, and I'm not sure I know anyone who actually welcomes pain, outside a few exercise fanatics who live by the creed of no pain, no gain.
At best, suffering slows us down; it's a hindrance, a hurdle to climb over, a speed bump to bring us to a crawl. At worst, suffering is debilitating. It knocks us to our knees, maybe even pushes us to our bellies, and holds us there, the bully with a knee in our back.
No one likes real suffering. We avoid it, run from it, hide from it, try to escape its awful clutches any way we can. And when we see it coming, stalking us like some creep stranger in a dark alley we either pretend we don't see it and hope it goes away or start praying it somehow overlooks us.
We tell ourselves that suffering is not our friend, in fact, it's our enemy, our foe, our greatest villain. It's a great big, blistered and bleeding, bug-eyed, greasy-haired, stench-emanating monster that wants to shred our happiness and make our life as difficult as possible.
But what if we're wrong? That's right, I just asked that. What if we're wrong about suffering? What if it's not so much a monster as it is a blessing? Or at the very least a conduit through which blessings may pass . . . if we allow them passage, that is.
I've been through cancer, a monster in its own right. And that monster brought with it a hefty helping of suffering. Surgeries, chemotherapy and its awful side-effects, illness, depression, you name it, cancer was good for it. And one thing I learned is that while suffering is not man's best friend, it's not a jolly neighbor who brings laughter and happiness, and it's no where near roses and lollipops, it is useful and can serve a very important purpose.
During my year of cancer battling I experienced God in ways I honestly didn't think were possible, in ways I certainly had never experienced
Him before and most likely never would have. Suffering did that. It introduced a new room in my relationship with God, opened my eyes to see Him in a different light.
See, during suffering we are most vulnerable, our emotions are closest to the surface, and we see the contrast most distinctly between our own fragility and God's omnipotence, between our humanity and His holiness, between our weakness and His strength.
And it is during those times that we are driven to Him, to His arms, His comfort, His love, His security. We see Him as that loving father who tenderly cares for his child and protects her and comforts her and, while not taking the pain away, holds her in the midst of it.
Suffering does that. It opens our eyes and shows us our Father in His true light. It shows us the intricacies of His love, the dependability of His watchfulness, the gentleness of His care.
When we are sick, He is our physician. When we are depressed,
He is our counselor. When we are lost, He is our shepherd. When we are frightened, He is our protector. When we are weak, He is our strength. When we are lame, He is our support. When we are bombarded from every side, He is our fortress. When we are burdened, He is our help. When we are lonely, He is our true friend.
Suffering does that. And without it we may never see God as He desires to be seen, or experience Him as he should be experienced, or trust Him as He deserves to be trusted.
Suffering does not need to be an obstacle. It doesn't have to be something to elicit our repulsion. Suffering can be a blessing. A strange, odd, rarely understood blessing.