Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Suffering...Just Because

We talk a lot about suffering for the name of Christ, and as our culture becomes more hostile towards Christianity I think a lot of us are thinking about it and talking about it all the more. I've long prayed that if, while wearing clerics, I receive abuse for what I stand for, I would have the grace to respond as Christ did before his persecutors: with humble strength. If I'm wearing clerics or some external sign of my Christian identity, then I can make sense of sufferings received from others much more easily.

So much opportunity for grace
But what about sufferings that come just because? What about sufferings that come just because the other person is, quite frankly, a jerk (and who is also a beloved child of God and infinitely worth saving, but who is acting like a jerk). While out for a run the other day, some teenage boys drove by and yelled something at me (dear teenagers in the truck your parents bought for you: I can't hear your full insult when you drive past at 20 m.p.h. over the speed limit). While their insult was lost due to the doppler effect and they very quickly moved beyond my concern, I was reminded of stories of other runners who have had things thrown at them and the like by disgruntled passing drivers. So then I got to thinking about how we handle suffering inflicted on us from people who are just jerks. I really shouldn't be allowed to run more than three miles at a time, because this is what happens.

At such a moment (or fill in your own, like getting cut off in any sort of line, from the supermarket to the freeway), can I rejoice with the apostles at being "found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name" (Acts 5:41)? The apostles were flogged because they refused to stop preaching about Jesus. This seems different. Do I retaliate against unjust suffering from jerks? I think the Christian answer is pretty clearly "No." So what then? Just offer it up? The phrase is a bit overused and trite, but there might be something there.

C.S. Lewis
First, it's worth saying that I don't think we should seek out additional suffering in our lives. I think the Christian life lived rightly opens each of us to just the right amount of suffering to identify us with the Suffering Christ. Sometimes there are luxuries we should deny ourselves. So we buy one less Starbucks every week to increase our tithe and we call it suffering (middle eastern Christians are not impressed), but that's different than seeking out suffering at the hands of jerks.

We don't seek out suffering at the hands of jerks. When I was driving through the school parking lot in high school, I would choose this aisle instead of that aisle, because that aisle is where all the jerks parked. It's wasn't going to be useful to me or them to subject myself to that kind of misery. Don't seek out that kind of suffering.

But sometimes jerks come intruding right into our happy little Starbucks-decreased, tithe-increased, pseudo-suffering lives. Then what? Well one, get away from it if you can. Even if you endure it gracefully, the chances of them saying, "Wow, you endured me throwing my soda at you really gracefully, what is the source of your inner strength that allows you to do that?" and then you getting to preach the kerygma to them are really slim.

So, get away from unnecessary suffering. Avoid jerks until such time as you can convert them. But suffering, any suffering, can be fruitful. Jesus, through his Passion, endowed suffering with meaning. Now that we have a God who has suffered, our sufferings can bring us closer to the divine. So, those who suffer innocently can unite their suffering with Jesus, the ultimate Innocent Sufferer. There is grace in this, grace to grow closer to Christ in a way that can only be done by experience, not by learning.

But there is so much grace in this that there is grace enough to share. There's grace enough to share, and we shouldn't be selfish in the grace that comes from suffering. That's what is meant by the oft-used phrase, "offer it up." If the grace that comes from my little sufferings comes from uniting them to the most important hour of Jesus's earthly life, then the grace from His monumental suffering magnifies the grace from my little suffering and makes it enormously effective. So I do indeed "offer it up" to Jesus (ideally through Mary, in a Marian Consecration) and by doing that I participate in Jesus' all-sufficient work of redemption, and I "fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church" (Col 1:24).

Yes! By being heckled by obnoxious teenagers in their truck, I can participate in the sufferings of Christ! Go out, and suffer fruitfully, my friends.

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