It had been a hard day.
I had been fighting deep discouragement all day about some things going on in my life. And on that weathered old adoration chapel kneeler that had held up so many saints and sinners before me, I poured out my heart to Christ.
I spent the first part of my prayer apologizing to God for being such a wimp. I knew so many people dealing with terribly hard things, and I felt guilty that I couldn’t handle my own struggles with a more steadfast heart.
St. Gemma kept coming to my mind, though, for some reason. I had been asking for her intercession for my mom, who had been dealing with severe back pain for months. I had learned that St. Gemma suffered from a terrible back condition that gave her horrific pain and discomfort for years. She suffered heroically, by all accounts, and she is actually the patron saint of people suffering from back pain (among other things). She apparently had a sweet temperament, extraordinary love for Christ, and sense of humor that made her a joy to be around.
I knew I could probably crank out a blog post or give anybody else an impromptu pep talk about how God is in control, and worthy of trust, and works everything out for our good. And I was so discouraged that I couldn’t seem to sustain the kind of heroic patience and perfect peace in God’s will that I wanted to have–that St. Gemma seemed to have.
But then I got this in prayer.
The truth is that St. Gemma probably struggled to suffer well too. Just because her biographers don’t know or recount every internal struggle she had in dealing with her own crosses doesn’t mean she didn’t have moments of deep fear, doubt or exhaustion.
For that matter, I’ll bet the early Christian martyrs fed to hungry lions in the arena struggled a little with God’s plan for them.
I’ll bet the saint who starved to death in a Nazi concentration camp dealt with some fear and dread.
And I’ll bet the guy who stood up to a king who tried to change the definition of marriage worried about what would happen to him and his family.
I don’t believe God permitted suffering in the lives of the saints only after they were strong enough to smile in the face of danger, ridicule, illness, or indefinite waiting. They were people, just like us, and learning to suffer well was a process for them, too.
I think you can suffer in a way that is pleasing to God even if you have moments when you rage, snap at your family, or water that old kneeler in the chapel with your tears. Maybe suffering well is sometimes just giving yourself permission to have a hard time, but surrendering yet again in prayer to the fact that God works all things together for our good, and deals with us according to His mercy.
And now bless the God of all, who in every way does great things, who exalts our days from birth, and deals with us according to His mercy. -Sirach 50:22
St. Gemma wrote that if we really want to love Jesus, “first learn to suffer, because suffering teaches you to love.” I’ve picked up a few tips on suffering over the years, but I’m no expert. I can tell you, though, that I really do love Jesus more because of the things I’ve been through in life.
The tapestry that He has woven together in my life all these years is amazing to me, especially the fruit that he has brought forth from times of suffering.
Sometimes we can only see God’s fingerprints in hindsight. Walking through suffering has taught me firsthand that I can trust that He is working everything out for His glory and my good—and that helps me to suffer just a little more heroically than I used to.