Within our communities of happy, blessed people are also those who are quietly suffering. Some people feel a crushing loneliness. Some are in a painful marriage. Some have constant physical pain. Some people cry every day of their life. There are those who miss a husband or wife who has died. Or agonize over family members who wander in dangerous paths. Some people struggle with their faith. Others have an endless battle with finances. Some feel that they are a disappointment to everyone. Some people think about taking their own life.
Is it possible that someone in your family is secretly unhappy, while you and everyone else thinks life is just dandy? Some people’s struggles are easy to see. Other people struggle much more privately. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are the only one who struggles. That is a dangerous lie that will make you feel isolated, helpless, and unworthy of God’s love.
Everyone you see today is struggling with something. Every person you see – every rich and famous celebrity you see on television, every member of that seemingly perfect family sitting in the front row of your church congregation – is suffering with something.
Frustratingly, God doesn’t often explain to us why we need to suffer. When the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, was crying out to the Lord from the terrible conditions in Liberty Jail, the Lord basically just told him those 5 words that no one wants to hear during adversity, “It’s for your own good.” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8)
These words seem so painful and wrong when we are in agony.
After Job had suffered horrible losses and pain, God didn’t even explain to him about the devil challenging Job’s faith and devotion to God. Instead, the Lord just spoke about the goats, stars, ravens, oxen, and a bunch of other things that might have made sense to Job, but leaves the rest of us confused.
Even Jesus Christ asked the question, “Why has thou forsaken me?” and He wasn’t given an immediate answer. No one is exempt.
Why do good people have to suffer? Why would a compassionate God allow so much pain in the world?
Much of the adversity we face in life, isn’t a trial, but the consequence of sin. These are not punishments, these are the results of our own choices. However, poor choices don’t cause all suffering. The Bible teaches us that difficulties rain down on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)
Sometimes we respond to this innocent suffering with resentment, bitterness, doubt, or fear. It isn’t easy to keep an eternal perspective while we are going through the hard times.
“Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone. For some, the refiner’s fire causes a loss of belief and faith in God, but those with an eternal perspective understand that such refining is part of the perfection process.” (James E. Faust, “The Refiner’s Fire,” Ensign, May 1979, 53)
Trials are unfair and pointless if this life is the end. If all you ever did was watch the middle part of every movie, they would all seem unfair and tragic. We wouldn’t understand the motives or the results of the character’s actions. We wouldn’t understand who people were or what they could become.
Buzz Lightyear and Woody would be homeless and hate each other.
Rocky Balboa would lose to Mr. T, get depressed and take it out on his wife.
Dorothy Gale would be locked up in the witch’s castle and the scarecrow’s guts would be thrown around by flying monkeys.
Joseph would be sold as a slave by his brothers and he would end up thrown into a prison for something he didn’t do.
The middle part of a story is almost always about pain, suffering, and hardship. Similarly, every trial in our lives seems unfair and pointless if we view it in the short-term perspective of this life.
The truth is this: Suffering is good for us, and we should be grateful for it.
“…God-fearing people worldwide will never pray for freedom from trials. They will not surrender or panic. They will strive to put themselves in condition to meet and master troublesome trials.” (Marvin J. Ashton, Ensign, Nov. 1980, 54 )
I would like to countdown the top 10 reasons why we should thank God for letting us suffer.
#10 We must have suffering in order to have agency
The freedom to choose is the heart of being human. It is the basis of God’s plan of Happiness for us. To preserve agency, the Lord also at times permits the righteous to suffer the consequences of evil acts by others . We would never be free if God always stopped us before we hurt ourselves or someone else. This is why we have commandments. This is why some things are called evil. Heavenly Father didn’t just arbitrarily call some things bad, because he wanted to control us. Stealing isn’t against the commandments just because God wanted to say so. It’s against the commandments because it hurts people. Sin always hurts someone. That’s why it is sin.
To be honest, there have been a lot of times when I’ve asked God to ease my suffering, when what I’m really asking is for him to take away the consequences of sin or bad choices. It showed a complete lack of understanding of why we have consequences.
#9 Pain warns us of Danger
We hate pain. But without pain, the sick would never go to the doctor. When our bodies got tired and worn out, we wouldn’t stop to rest. Children would only laugh at correction. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Without the pains of guilt, we would never repent. Without the pains of loneliness, we wouldn’t seek companionship. Without pains of boredom, we might never do anything. And without the pains of emptiness, we might never seek God.
#8 Suffering can bring us closer to Heaven.
Again, if this life is all there is, then a life of pain is not fair. But the reality is that those who grow closer to God through pain, are more prepared for the next step. Those who let their hunger, grief, and poverty drive them toward the Savior, will find the truth in his words, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
“Those who yield to adversity become weaker. To the valiant it is a stepping-stone to increased power. (Marvin J. Ashton, “Adversity and You,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 54 )
#7 Suffering reveals what is in our Hearts.
Every story of greatness and achievement is generally the story of a person overcoming handicaps. There are lessons that can only be learned through the overcoming of obstacles. The Scriptures are filled with stories of prophets – ordinary men with extraordinary callings – who are faced with trials. Sometimes, the real trial of our faith is just to remain faithful without murmuring. Our own capacities for love and compassion, or even envy, hatred, and pride often lie dormant inside of us until brought to the surface by some sort of adversity.
Howard W. Hunter told of a young man who asked him why his mother had to suffer through a painful life if God is all-knowing and already knew how she would handle it. His response was, “God already knows how your suffering mother will handle it, but she does not.”
And this is a principal that we often get. wrong. Heavenly Father didn’t send us here so that HE could find out what we are made of. He knows the beginning from the end. He knows our potential and our weaknesses. This life is for US to learn the depths of our OWN love, compassion, and humanity. It is for US to learn what our weaknesses are, and then make them strong with the Lord’s help. This Life isn’t so much a test with a pass or fail grade. But more of an aptitude test, to show us what areas of ourselves that need work. We can never learn how strong we are, until we are tested with resistance.
#6 Suffering builds our faith.
I mentioned earlier that God rarely reveals why we suffer. Job never learned why he lost all he had. There is a good reason for this. Job was left to conclude that if God had the power and wisdom to create everything, then it makes sense to trust Him in times of suffering. (Job 42)
If we always got the answer, then it wouldn’t really be suffering. It would just be annoying. When in crisis, our feelings make us THINK we need an explanation. However, what we really need are the resources to get through the trial.
#5 God always suffers with us.
Any parent who has had a child in the hospital knows the agony. Any parent who has watched their child make dangerous choices, understands the frustration and sorrow. Anyone who has felt the pains of a loved one, has a small taste of this principle. If we, being imperfect and worldly, can feel these feelings so strongly, how much more does a loving and perfect Fatlierin Heaven suffer along with our pain?
#4 God’s comfort is always greater than our Suffering
In 2 Corinthians 12, The Apostle Paul pleads with the Lord three times to remove an unidentified source of suffering that he compares to a thorn. The suffering isn’t removed, but the lord says, “my grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”
Paul said, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul was comforted. He felt better.
Elder Richard G. Scott said,
“To the sightless or hearing impaired, God sharpens the other senses. With the loss of a dear one, He deepens the bonds of love, enriches memories, and kindles hope in a future reunion. You will discover compensatory blessings when you willingly accept the will of the Lord and exercise faith in Him.” (Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, July 2003, 16)
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Paul writes, Blessed be God, who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
Which brings us to …
#3 Suffering helps us find and unite with our fellow men.
If you have ever been through a tragedy with someone, you know the bond that can form through suffering. Army buddies, missionary companions, spouses. Those people who have endured with us, understand us like no others.
The Jewish Community is bound together by thousands of years of persecution and hardship. They share a common history of trials that allow them to relate to each other in a way that outsiders can not understand.
Similarly, Mormons stand on a mountain of history that is filled with people united by suffering. Kirtland, Jackson County, Carthage, Haun’s Mill, Clay County, Nauvoo, Winter Quarters, Zion’s Camp. They all are synonymous with suffering. It is their history. The suffering helps create a feeling of brotherhood.
#2 God can turn our pain around for our good.
Remember, don’t only look at that middle part of the movies. There is an ending that makes us understand the hardships. Buzz and Woody become friends and find their way home. Rocky Does get back up after being knocked down. Dorothy does find her way home. Joseph of Egypt becomes the King. There is nothing admirable about a person who overcomes nothing. If we give up during the struggle, we will never know what happy ending might have been in store for us.
#1 Pain loosens our grip on this life.
As we get older, our bodies become worn out. Our joints get stiff and ache. Our eyes grow dim. We feel obsolete. Sleep is difficult. Our problems seem larger and our options seem smaller. I have spent a great deal of time with people as they get close to death. And I have come to see pain as blessing. Each new trial makes this life less inviting and the next more appealing. In a way, pain paves the way for a graceful departure. We stop looking back, and begin to look at what is next.
Each of us will have a time of suffering. No one is exempt. Each of us will, sooner or later, have to pass through that garden gate as our savior did, kneel, alone in darkness, and fiercely battle despair.
When we do, hopefully we will knowingly say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” And be thankful for what our suffering is helping us to become.