We all have a natural tendency to seek comfort and avoid suffering. This is especially true
of children, who have limited delay-of-gratification skills, meaning that it’s difficult for
them to not have what they want, right when
they want it.
But suffering is a part of every life. Along
with the good times, we also experience illness, hardships, disappointment and eventually
death. The faith practices we observe during the
season of Lent can help prepare our hearts and
minds for the prospect of suffering in our lives.
Pope Benedict XVI was once asked by a young
girl from Japan why people must suffer, as they
did in her country during a catastrophic tsunami
in 2011. He answered honestly, saying that he,
too, had trouble understanding why suffering of
this magnitude is present in the world. He then
echoed the words of Pope John Paul II, explaining that one thing we can be certain about is that
God is always on the side of the suffering.
Children’s experience of God’s presence often takes the form of their interactions with friends and family, and
especially their parents. After all, God reveals himself as a parent, so all mothers and fathers are icons of God for the
child. For this reason, it is important that they experience empathy from mom and dad, even when their suffering
seems small by our standards. Reflecting their feelings by saying, “I know you’re frustrated that you can’t play outside today,” or “I’m sorry your stomach is hurting” lets them know that you care about them, and it helps give them
the strength to bear their sufferings and build self-discipline.
Another lesson to hand on to our children is that suffering can have meaning because it is not the end of the
story. The suffering of Jesus is transformed in the Resurrection. The Easter story is so very meaningful precisely
because at the moment that all seemed lost, light broke forth. The one who was dead was alive again. In our human
suffering, we have smaller, more everyday experiences of dying and rising as one ending gives rise to a new beginning or opportunity. We also see how suffering can be transformative in the way it can make us stronger and more
Suffering also takes on an additional spiritual significance in light of our
God does not will suffering, but he can miraculously make
good come from bad circumstances, just as he brought salvation from the
suffering of Jesus. St. Paul refers to this in Colossians 1:24, as he points out
that through offering our sufferings for the sake of others, we are joined to
Christ’s redemptive work. This is what Catholic parents and grandparents of
prior generations meant when they said, “Offer it up!” Offering our sufferings
for the good of others can be a beautiful and meaningful thing.
God is with us, and all darkness, all mourning and every sorrow will one day
disappear in the light of Christ.