The dictionary meaning of suffering is ‘the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship’; ‘suffering is the bearing of pain, inconvenience or loss, pain endured, distress, loss or injury incurred’. Is suffering something bad which should be avoided by all means? It seems that generally there is a misconception about the concept of suffering.

A student seriously preparing for an examination will be going through some pain, distress and hardship but with the picture of becoming successful and the ensuing benefits in mind, the experience is also one of hope and expectation. An athlete or sports person sacrifices a lot of things with the expectation of winning but it would be unfair to call this experience suffering. Often we hear about actors undergoing pain and resorting to extraordinary measures to sustain their capacity and to do justice to their character in a film; for example by losing or gaining an extreme amount of weight in a very short span of time to play the role perfectly.

Thus what emerges is that, it is not the experience we have in our life which matters but our attitude and response that make it suffering or a joyful experience. I am told that the most painful experience a woman goes through is childbirth. However, if asked what their most joyful experience is, most women would answer that it is becoming a mother, considering the pain they experienced as nothing in comparison to the joy they have received.

When we go through the Acts of the Apostles, we come across many situations where the apostles had to ‘suffer’ however, they were not upset by this rather we see them joyfully praising God.  It is very encouraging to read about the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7. In verses 59 and 60 we read, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’. Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord do not hold this sin against them’. And when he said that he fell asleep”. We can see that Stephen found meaning in his suffering and knew it was not in vain.

St Paul who went through innumerable difficulties in his ministry, in his letter to the Philippians (4:7) talks about how the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.

In short suffering, pain or difficulties are not negative. It only becomes painful and difficult when we lose focus on what is beyond it. If our focus is on God, the kingdom of heaven and the life beyond the present, the pain finds meaning and becomes bearable.  As ordinary human beings, I am sure that, this realisation is not at all easy and that many may consider this proposition as absurd.

I wish that in the lives of all the readers of Kairos Global, there is no suffering and that everyone is able to experience the peace of God which transcends all understanding.

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