Suffering can be a tremendous opportunity—if we view it within the context of love and eternal life. I did not appreciate this in my earlier years, but have come to realize that suffering is the highpoint of wisdom—if we have faith in a loving God.
Suffering through my failing eyesight
I have struggled with my eyesight since I was thirty years old, and can now understand the incredible value and opportunity of that struggle in my journey to draw closer to God in love.
For many years, when my eyes would take another turn for the worse, I would go through yet another bout of frustration and anxiety—frustration, because I made the fatal error of comparing my diminished abilities with what I was once able to do—and anxiety, because I was not certain whether the new level of disability would end my productivity or people’s respect for my capacity to “deliver.”
Suffering from a different perspective
Looking back on it, I can honestly say that those frustrations were nothing more than an exercise in futility, and the anxieties, in every case,were completely unwarranted.
Let me say for the moment, that this initial negative reaction to suffering was really about perspective (how I viewed suffering and challenge), and not so much the suffering or the challenge itself. I was not able to help myself: when the next level of disability came, I looked at it from a self-centric point of view. It seemed that the shocking development of “one more dreaded decrease in eyesight” caused me, despite my faith, to turn into myself.
I suppose that this was just human nature, but it taught me that the sooner I get over it by putting myself into the hands of God (i.e. looking for the opportunity in suffering that will come through His guidance), the better off I am.
If I did not have faith in a loving God, and hope in eternal life with him, I don’t think I would have this positive outlook on suffering—and I certainly would not be able to view it as an opportunity.
Seeing the value of suffering in spite of personality type
I am not a stoic. That is, I am not prone to seeing suffering as a way of cultivating strength, courage, self-discipline, self-sufficiency, invulnerability, and autonomy.
Some of this supposed value in suffering mentioned above runs contrary to my empathetic and interpersonal nature. Therefore I view them as negatives and not benefits.
The other stoic characteristics—strength, self-discipline, and courage—can be positive, but they are not ends in themselves. They are only means to greater ends, such as contribution to others and the common good.
I can see positive value in suffering through the lens of love which may be initially defined as a “recognition of the unique goodness of individuals, inducing a sense of empathy and unity with them, and making it just as easy, if not easier, to do the good for them as to do the good for myself.”
Inasmuch as suffering can lead to greater humility, compassion, and empathy, it can also free us to contribute to others and the common good without counting the cost, advancing the purpose of love.
For me, this is a much higher purpose in life than the stoic characteristics mentioned above.
To read more about finding value in suffering, view my article Suffering, Love, and Eternal Life
Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D. is a Catholic Priest in the Jesuit order (Society of Jesus) and is currently the President of the Magis Center and the Spitzer Center. He has made many TV appearances including: Larry King Live (debating Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow), the Today Show (debating on the topic of active euthanasia), The History Channel in “God and The Universe,” a multiple part PBS series “Closer to the Truth,” and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Currently appearing weekly on EWTN in “Father Spitzer’s Universe“.