Why do we suffer?
It’s one of the most pressing we may ever ask.
We all suffer. We can’t avoid that, and yet how often we do everything we can to avoid that reality. In running from our suffering, we can prolong and compound it. But in facing our suffering, we can learn to overcome the things that cause it.
Suffering is like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. Avoiding the warning signs of suffering would be like placing a piece of tape over that warning light and forgetting about it. We need to get under the hood of our inner life and address the root of what our suffering is pointing to, instead of attempting to cover it up and hide it through coping or disassociation.
We need to learn how to pay attention to our suffering, to sit with our pain and listen to what it would teach us. Suffering can begin to be our best teacher, helping us learn how to live better lives, by revealing the things inside that are not healthy.
In 2015, just one week before Christmas, I had a breakdown. That breakdown was like a wall of suffering I couldn't get around, or run away from. It knocked me down and left me shattered in pieces on the ground. My breakdown was the culmination of a life-long struggle with depression and anxiety. Though I didn't realize it, I had learned more how to cope with that struggle than overcome it. I had adopted depression and anxiety into my life and made friends with it, instead of making peace with it by learning how to leave it behind. Hitting the wall of a breakdown was a gift that forced me to face a lot of inner dysfunction I didn't know was there. I'm glad I was forced to deal with my depression and anxiety instead of continuing to live with it under the surface for the rest of my life.
Suffering is a gift.
Suffering is a gift that helps us get past suffering.
There's no greater symbol of the gift of suffering that Jesus on the cross.
The Prophet Isaiah described Jesus as "a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," and as one who was "despised and rejected" (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV). Jesus knew what it was like to suffer. And yet, He shows a way through suffering to healing, wholeness, and greater life. Jesus faced suffering head on because he understood the good things that it could produce. The book of Hebrews speaks to this when it says this about Jesus, "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2 NASB). Following Jesus' lead, the Apostle Paul wrote, "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:3-5 ESV).
Suffering is a gift, not because of the suffering itself, but because of what it produces. Suffering produces the things that get us out of suffering.