This morning, my alarm went off way too early. It was set for the correct time, I just wasn’t ready for it. So of course, I hit the snooze button. Nine minutes later, the alarm went off again and as I silenced it, I noticed the date, which jumped out at me like a jack-in-the-box. It was January 17th.
Many of us have dates in our personal history that we cannot forget, even if we try. If you have gone through a divorce, you know exactly what I mean. It’s hard to forget the day your spouse walked out or the day you signed the papers. I’ll never forget January 17th because although it began with extreme anxiety, it will always be a reminder to me of how good God has been to me, even though I don’t deserve it.
For me, this date was a game changer because of what I was about to go through. At 4:31am on January 17, 1994 I was asleep on the couch in the living room of my second floor apartment in Woodland Hills, CA and was suddenly lurched off onto the floor by the jolt of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake, centered 5 miles away in Northridge. And as the shaking and breaking and crumbling ensued, all I could think of was why was God adding this insult to my injuries?
My husband had left me 6 months before. I lost my home, many of my friends and was struggling mightily to keep my head above the financial waters that were getting ever deeper. And now, this. I had only been in the apartment for two weeks when the earthquake struck and as the shaking stopped and began again just seconds later with the first powerful aftershock, I saw broken dishes that had jumped out of the cupboard and crashed on the countertops, shattered glass from pictures that had fallen off the walls, and believe it or not, my refrigerator had bounced completely out if it’s place and was blocking the entrance to the kitchen.
Eventually, I was able to make it down the broken cement stairway to the lower level where residents who were not trapped in their apartments were gathering and checking on each other. I didn’t know anyone so I just sat on a lounge chair by the pool hanging on through more aftershocks and choking on smoke from a fire that was raging down the street. It was one of the very low points of my divorce and, although I didn’t doubt God was present in my life, I just couldn’t understand why He let this happen when I was such an emotional mess already. Why was He allowing so much suffering in my life? But my problem was I was asking the wrong question.
In my estimation, I was a good person, a practicing Catholic, and a faithful spouse. I assumed living a good life was an insurance policy that would protect me from suffering. But although I was living a good life, I was still a sinner. Even though I did good things, I still offended God on a daily basis through my pride and selfishness; through my indifference and laziness; through my judgmentalness and gluttony. Despite my offensive behavior toward Christ, He gave me the gifts of waking up every day in good health, with all my faculties. Finances may have been tight but I had two jobs during a time when the state unemployment was 9%. All my family members were alive and well. So the question I really should have been asking was why does God let good things happen to me, a sinner.
A Bridge Between Crosses And Blessings
Suffering plays an essential role in a Christian’s ability to understand redemption. There is no change without pain. There is no growth without discomfort. But even more important than this basic understanding, is recognizing the true glory of suffering when it is united to Christ’s own suffering. Offering up your struggles and sufferings, no matter how big or small, changes you, strengthens you, builds a higher level of virtue.
Bushidō, literally “the way of the warrior”, is a Japanese word for the way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. The Bushido embraces suffering and wears it as a badge that signifies personal integrity. This is what suffering should mean to us everyday people. It is not God frowning upon us, it is not a curse. It is the way God turns our face toward Him and beckons us to come closer to Him. It is a spiritual refinement that can be brought about by no other means.
Suffering is a means to an end, and the end should be the conversion of your heart. Let your trials change you into a better, stronger, more perfect person.