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What my Grandmother taught me about suffering

Suffering is a part of our lives. I had a grandmother who said she was never sick a day in her life and never experienced a headache. She told me her secret was to eat a lot of Jell-O®. The same grandmother had to cope with the emotional pain caused by the death of her mom and dad at an early age, the separation that ensued from her brothers and sisters, and the grief from the death of her first husband while their first child was still in her womb. Later in life, Grandma also suffered a stroke, lost her eyesight and hearing, and her ability to move her right side. She was bedridden for many years, but never complained. Even though she could barely swallow, she always wanted to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. And she did – all the way to her death that occurred on her birthday.

Grandma was one of the most peaceful and joyful persons I have known to the very end. When I would go and see her, I felt so much love. In her suffering, she was united to Jesus Christ. Even though she could not talk well, she still communicated God’s love through her peace and attempts to offer love to those who came to visit her. When I would see her there on her bed completely helpless and unable to do all the things she had done in her life for others – and her acceptance of it all – I saw Jesus. One of the most amazing things that she said had to do with the suffering of Jesus. She knew she was on the cross with Him. She was accepting her suffering because she knew it was going to help someone else. She told me not to worry, that she was not suffering for me. It was her way of comforting a young man who had not seen anyone suffer and die before. My grandmother even died like our Lord did. She lost her breath because her poor lungs filled with fluid.

My grandmother knew about a great mystery which many people never come to know ... that is ... suffering can be redemptive.

Suffering is a part of all our lives and it was a part of our Lord’s life. Suffering can bring people closer to God and one another, but it also can have the opposite effect. Sometimes people lose faith.

How could God be loving if He allows suffering?   

People tend to think of suffering as a bad experience. It is not good in itself, but our Lord, by embracing the suffering in His life, has made suffering redemptive.

Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would come and be God’s suffering servant. “He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity ... Yet it was our infirmities that He bore, our sufferings that He endured ... But He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon Him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5)

Our Lord saw His own suffering and death as central to His mission. “ ... unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit ... I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” (John 12:24, 27)

How does Jesus’ suffering impact me today?

Jesus saved us not by His great awesome miracles when He had all the crowds behind Him, but at His weakest moment. He saved us when He suffered and died on the cross.

Our suffering, then, can be holy and good because it will help us be like Jesus if we accept it. Does that mean we should not pray for our own healing, or the healing of others? No! Jesus healed many, and His healing power continues to be exercised in the Church through the sacrament of the sick and through gifts of healing that people have or pray for on behalf of others. I have been very blessed in my life to witness people being healed through the power of prayer. Such healing has brought many people to a deeper faith and trust in God. The bottom line of it all is that God is sovereign. We pray for healing, but we also pray like Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemani: “ ... still, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)