Have you ever had a less than ideal day? If you are human (which I hope you are if you’re reading this), then your answer should be “Yes!” In fact for most of us, myself included, yesterday wasn’t ideal. Today hasn’t been ideal. And let’s face it, tomorrow probably won’t be ideal either. Rather than wallowing in our less than ideal days, author Jeff Cavins in his newest book When You Suffer: Biblical Keys for Hope and Understanding challenges his readers to see these days for what they are – opportunities.
I’m going to be completely honest. When I found out Jeff had written a new book and was looking for people to read it and review it during Lent, I didn’t look too closely at the title. My experience with Jeff Cavins and his incredible series of bible studies was all I needed to know that whatever he had written was going to be worth the read. Still, when the book arrived I was a little hesitant. Is this going to be one of those how to handle the really big sufferings in life like signficant loss, cancer diagnosis, abuse, etc.? What do I know about suffering? I’ve experienced some loss in my family, but nothing compared to many. My marriage is healthy and intact, my kids are thriving, my parents and siblings are doing well as are my husband’s. I was worried I wouldn’t really be able to connect with this book.
If you had similar thoughts when you read the title I’d like you to read the following quote. It completely changed my perspective on this whole topic:
If you took a step back and were really honest, you might admit that a certain percentage of your life could be classified as a kind of low-level suffering…I’ll show how all of us have an opportunity for our daily (i.e., real) lives to be transformed, whether it is through intense suffering or a dull, nagging type of suffering. When life gets uncomfortable, unpredictable, when you feel weak and empty – that’s exactly when you have an opportunity to become more like Christ (9).
This book showed me that I was suffering. It challenged me to look at my life and see the places where I am hurting, where I am struggling, where things aren’t going great.
Ben is deployed – suffering.
I currently have a cold – suffering.
I really would like to have a 3 hour block to write and research every day without needing to pay a babysitter – suffering.
I hate cleaning the bathroom – suffering.
And mopping the floors – suffering.
I don’t like arguing with Rosie over trivial things because right now she is trying to see how far she can stretch her control – suffering.
It would be great if someone invented a baby changing machine so I didn’t have to change Clare every few hours – suffering.
Need I continue?
What’s more important than this list of ways I’m suffering is how Jeff explores what I am supposed to do with it. He cracks open that oft used phrase “Offer it up.” To truly “offer it up” means uniting your will with that of Christ. It means connecting your suffering in a real way to the suffering of Christ on the cross. Biblically speaking, pain and suffering are not just opportunities for growth, they actually are capable of bearing fruit.
Sharing in the suffering of Christ involves an act of your will. It’s saying, “Yes, I will offer up my suffering in union with the sufferings of Christ.” St. John Paul says that if you do that, if you offer up your suffering, you are going to share a very special particle in bringing about the world’s redemption…Through your sufferings, you can actually love the way Christ loves, and you are not limited by distance or time (95).
This book has done 3 things for me:
- It helped me acknowledge that I do suffer
- It taught me that suffering is capable of bearing fruit in my life and the lives of others
- After acknowledging my suffering, it immediately turned my gaze away from myself and fixed my eyes on Jesus.
Moral of the story: Get this book. Especially if you don’t think you suffer, then maybe you should run to the nearest bookstore or click the expedient shipping option. Your daily sufferings, be they intense or part of daily life, can be used to transform the world in a manner beyond our comprehension. I’ll leave you with this last quote that I loved:
It is as if pain is a tyrant with a whip, crying “Look at me, look at me!” every moment. And in those moments, you can either turn to yourself or you can turn to God. The situation can become all about you, which is going to result in nothing fruitful. Or it can turn your attention to God, resulting in an abundance of fruit. Instead of your inner dialogue being a continue “Look at me, look at me,” change your perspective and begin to “look at him, look at him.” (112-113).