“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24)
We are all given a cross that we are bound to carry, whether willing or unwilling. Most of us are left to offer smaller sacrifices, like headaches, stubbed toes, the occasional cut, or the frustration of traffic or a difficult job or co-worker. And many, perhaps most, of us reject even those smaller opportunities. But, for the rare and truly blessed soul, God sometimes sends acute suffering, in whatever form, along with an invitation to crawl up on the Cross with him and, in so doing, help him to save the world. For those who know – really know – what to do with this opportunity, the growth and purification they merit for their own souls and the graces that are showered upon the world as a result of their offerings are enormous.
Perhaps the difficulty we have with this teaching is that the connection is hidden from us this side of the grave. It was sometimes hard for me to see why God, if he really loved my mother, couldn’t just give her a break every now and then, and protect her from the chemical burn, or the mutant bacteria, or the wretched nausea, or the month-long bout of constipation, or the edema, or the pancreatic malfunction, or the gallbladder pain and surgery, or the cancer itself, or at least the nightmares she had of demons attacking her. You see, there is often no clear line drawn for us between this particular suffering and that particular soul. Even so, there remains a bright line drawn across the ages and it reminds us boldly that Christ did not suffer in vain and it is his revolutionary mandate that neither must we. It remains our destiny to suffer because mankind fell into sin, but even that suffering can and should be redeemed by uniting it with his
Participation in Christ’s suffering is immense honour and joy. It’s hard to see, hard to accept. But once seen, we discover the immense grace He has bestowed upon us.
Don’t get me wrong. We ought not pursue suffering. Neither ought we wallow in it. But when it comes, and it will, just as the Cross was powerful, our suffering can be as well if we will suffer with Christ.