No one wants suffering. I’ve certainly never greeted the pain and trials in my life with open arms. However, the reality is that even though we don’t want to, we all must carry some type of cross in this life. If Jesus himself didn’t escape suffering, how can we expect to escape it?
Here’s the golden nugget though: without the crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. The resurrection- the most important, central event of our faith- would not have happened without the cross, without suffering. It can be an uncomfortable reality to accept, especially when society constantly gives us the message that nothing good can come out of suffering. God teaches us something different though, something far more profound. God is more powerful than the cross. God isn’t limited by suffering, but instead brings good out of suffering and uses it for His glory. We see this in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and if we look closely enough, we can see it in our lives too.
Personally, I grapple with the “why” question on a regular basis, and many people in my life also struggle with it while witnessing the chronicity of my situation. Why does God allow suffering and challenges? How could all of this have happened in my life? Life’s just not fair. No human knows the mind of God, but the bottom line is that the things we have to endure on this earth are the result of our fallen world. God didn’t cause my situation- it is the result of natural cause and effect. In the playing out of it though, there must be a way that God is using it for His glory. I certainly wish that this had never happened, but I know that I have grown tremendously as a person through this ordeal. I have cultivated a greater sense of empathy and understanding for others, and my spiritual life has strengthened to a level that I did not even know existed before this illness. I know Jesus in a much deeper and more real way than I ever did previously. I am not happy about the situation I’m in at all (and I tell God that often!), but I do see ways in which He is using it for His glory.
Jesus says in Luke’s gospel, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” It’s a verse we hear often, but when I take the time to prayerfully reflect on it, the word “daily” is what jumps out at me. Here Jesus tells us that we will have to pick up our cross daily, yet for some reason, I’ve been surprised at times when I’ve been asked to pick up my cross daily. Our crosses can come in the many different shapes throughout our lives, but no matter the cross, we are asked to carry it and unite it to Jesus’ cross. Jesus tells us outright that it won’t be easy, but He will always be with us.
What’s completely mind-blowing is that Jesus willingly chose to suffer for our sins so that we could have eternal life. What love is that! I’ll never be able to completely wrap my head around such an astounding gift. But what do we do with that gift in the here and now? We have the opportunity to unite our sufferings, challenges, and inconveniences to His cross and to grow closer to Him in the process. We also have the opportunity to offer up our sufferings for the intentions of others. As my mom and grandmother always told me about suffering, “Don’t let it go to waste!” Through Jesus, there is purpose in suffering.
It doesn’t mean that we will like our crosses or want to endure them though! I’m surely fed up with my situation, and Jesus certainly prayed for His cup to pass. The good news is that Jesus triumphed over the cross, and that’s a done deal! There’s always hope because we know how the story ends. Jesus is more powerful than suffering. It’s how we choose to deal with the inevitable challenges in life that matters.
Our ultimate goal here on earth is to grow in holiness and get to heaven, and to help others do the same. Our world can easily distract us from that goal, but we have to consciously keep eternal life in the forefront of our minds, because that ultimate goal is the lens through which we should see everything else. Things and accomplishments of this world seem so much smaller when compared to a deeper relationship with God, the only thing that can bring us true happiness.
As we approach Good Friday, we reflect on Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion and how that was the springboard to the greatest gift we have ever received. We reflect upon how we can unite our crosses to Jesus’ cross, grow closer to Him, and become the best versions of ourselves in the process, as well as how we can offer up our sufferings for the intentions of others. We don’t have to wait until things in our lives are better or more settled to deepen our relationships with God. How can we use our crosses to glorify God and serve others now?