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Pain Worth the Gain?

Finding meaning to suffering
by David Barton, LC | Source:

Suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. On this warm afternoon, it came in the shape of a small round ball. The dads were losing against their sons six to four, and their instinct for survival had taken hold. As little eleven year old Luke released the kickball and Mr. Lawrence wound up for the kick at home plate, all were silent as the dads stood by with fingers crossed. As the sound of foot meeting rubber ball echoed on the tennis court, little Luke barely caught sight of the ball hurling towards him before it pelted him below the belt. Agony and pain. As I walked towards the crunched up Luke writhing on the ground, he looked up and told me through his tears: “It’s Ok…I’ll offer it up from my sick grandma”. When Catholics use the phrase “offer it up”, they are referring to turning pain or a difficult situation into a prayer. As we got Luck back on his feet, I was amazed that Luke had learned the potential value of suffering.

As a seminarian I receive many requests to visit sick people, and later on that evening I found myself on the other side of San Diego in the house of a terminally ill man whose daughter had requested that we stop to pay him a visit. He was both wealthy and intelligent I suppose, for he was one of the inventors of the “answering machine”. He was not a happy man, and upon learning of his illness had tried various times to drink himself to death. He simply could not bring himself to believe in a God who would permit suffering in this world. If a God like this did exist, he certainly wanted nothing to do with him. We left his house having offered him our prayers, but unable to help him see any possible gain from his pain.

How is it possible that a simple sixth grader could understand so clearly that suffering must be capable of receiving meaning, while this aged engineering genius could not? It is true that everybody suffers at some point in this life without exception – some more and some less, but all suffer nonetheless. It also seems that a life without meaning is not a life worth living, even those who don’t believe in God will say as much. Therefore in some way suffering must be capable of receiving meaning.

Man is capable of bearing suffering when his eyes are fixed on something that in his estimation is a greater good worth more than the pain caused by his suffering. He is willing to lose hours of precious sleep in hopes of advancing his company forward. He is capable of giving up his time off from work on weekends to go and help coach his son’s basketball team. But what happens when suffering comes knocking on the door of his life unannounced and seems to force its way into his life on its own initiative?

This is precisely where we have to step up and open the eyes of our soul to see how this unsought suffering can help push us toward a good. Maybe the purpose is found simply in continuing to love in the face of suffering despite apparent motivation and, as a result, our love grows deeper and more resilient. Maybe we can take our suffering and use it as a prayer which cries out to God with intensity. In the Bible, Psalm 18 says: “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”

Suffering will always remain a mystery to us. As Christians however we can begin to find an answer in Christ as he turns suffering into love. If nothing else, maybe we are being invited to simply suffer in silence as we glance up at Christ suffering for us as he dies on his cross. In this silence we can realize that indeed the pain is actually worth the gain – for the suffering of Jesus Christ opened for us the gates of heaven.

David Barton, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome. He can be reached at  

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Post a Comment
Published by: Br David Barton, LC
Date: 2011-01-11 12:00:10
Glad that you enjoyed the article and thanks especially for the assurances of your prayers...much needed and appreciated!! God bless.

Published by: Jonathan Sanchez
Date: 2011-01-09 09:45:26
Wow - I really have never thought of it like that before. Good job on the article...keep it up and count on prayers!

Published by: Jim Smith
Date: 2011-01-07 08:33:00
Great article! I wish that more people would realize the amazing power of suffering when it is lived with love!

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