By Derick Cranston
Joy springs forth from the soil of suffering, and suffering will always dwell just outside of our joy, threatening to penetrate it at any time.
“My tears have been my bread both day and night” Psalm 42 tells us. Suffering does indeed feed us in a certain way, nourishing us and making us stronger if we let it. I once read somewhere of a woman who had lost all that was dear to her. She commented, “My despair is the only thing I have left. It is mine; no one can take it away from me.” Sometimes that is the only way we can live with the suffering we encounter in life. It is real. It is there. It belongs to us.
Joy and suffering are intertwined like a DNA strand, revolving and wrapping around each other. This gives us reason to hope in times of darkness. It also cautions us in times of joy, not to take our happiness for granted. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we see this pattern repeat itself many times. The ancient Hebrews “do what is evil in sight of the Lord;” they are punished; they repent and are forgiven; they find themselves in God’s grace. Then they do what is evil, and the cycle continues.
What is our Creator telling us? Must joy and suffering always be linked? I do not know the answer to this question, but perhaps I can shed some light on it. On a recent camping and canoeing trip in northern Minnesota, we experienced both joy and suffering. Although on a much smaller scale, the lesson is still the same. You canoe for five or six hours to get to your camp. It is a long, arduous trip and the constant paddling takes its toll on your body. When you finally get to camp and set up your tents, you are immediately surrounded by a thick cloud of mosquitoes. After sleeping on the hard ground, you wake up very sore. Not a pleasant picture.
But joy is also found here. The night sky is filled with sparkling stars overhead, the most you have ever seen in your lifetime. When you look at the smooth, glasslike surface of the lake, not only do you see the full moon reflect off the water, but also the stars in the sky.
You wake up to a glorious sunrise that bathes in a golden light, the most beautiful scenery you can ever imagine. You are surrounded by nothing but pristine green forests and clear blue lakes as far as the eye can see. You are able to jump off a rock and swim in the white foam of a small waterfall. You are 42 years old, but feel the rush and exhilaration of a 12-year-old kid without a care in the world.
I don’t think we can ever find a concrete reason that will explain to us the mystery of joy and suffering. This is where we have to “walk by faith, and not by sight,” as St. Paul writes. God does not prevent suffering. Why he doesn’t, we will never know in this lifetime.
But we can have faith that the Lord sanctifies our suffering, makes it holy, and gives it meaning. We can look at the trials and tribulations of our life and curse God for letting them happen to us. Or, we can view our suffering as leading to a final destination, a destination in the eternal presence of the Lord, where we will bask in the light of everlasting joy. The choice is ours. What will we choose?
(Derick Cranston is youth minister for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He is going through diaconate formation and can be reached at email@example.com.)