"For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the cross, despising its shame..." Hebrews 12:2
Why embrace suffering? Jesus was called a fool or at least looked like one by embracing his cross. What is the point of feeling the pain of the past or some injury in the present? Suffering brings upon the great question of 'why?' And I don't pretend to have all the answers. My own suffering has taught me wisdom. The suffering of my clients has taught them . So where do we start with this 'why' question?
Let's be simple. What is suffering? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as 'the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship.' But since I am a therapist, let's define it as emotional pain, psychological distress. This type of mental hardship is more painful than physical pain (Bradshaw, 2005). When approaching this type of pain, the visual is a trench. You can enter the trench or you can build a glass ceiling over it and stay on top of the trench, 'controlling' and 'managing' it. But the divorce, the sexual abuse or the bullying are still underneath, below the glass, in the trench. As long as these traumas are unresolved, the sufferer, or potential sufferer, has a glass ceiling of growth as potential. For instance, I was only able to relate to men on a surface level until I went into the trench of the bullying I went through. After confronting my anger, pain and potential to forgive, only then was I able to come out of the trench and enter more deeply with men.
It seems that we all have those moments right before the crest of the trench. Either I can enter in or build the glass ceiling of a mask, feeling insecure along the way and constructing a false self of striving, perfectionism or hiding. I'm blessed to have walked into my trench with a Jesuit priest when I was in seminary. We can't be in the trench alone. I'm honored to watch, defend and strengthen my clients who willingly enter into the trenches of their own pain, intentionally breaking the glass, trusting that when they come out of the trench, they will grow more than they could imagine. Biologically stated: new genes are actually turned on when you put yourself in challenging situations. Then, they code for proteins that produce new neurological structures. (Peterson, 2018) Thus your brain is growing and maturing when you walk into the trench and face the unknown of it.
"Jesus is most present to those who are suffering," said my Jesuit priest back in the day. He wants to go there with you. There might be anger because some trenches you didn't create and he let you fall in, but he can't control human will or the family system that was so powerful in your life. So let Him catch you when you fall into it. There are puzzle pieces that are being put together that you cannot see. He will send you a Simon to carry you, the women of Jerusalem for comfort and Veronica to wipe your face.
I don't know the answer to the 'whys' of suffering. But I do know that if you go through it, things will never be the same. You will grow and there will be a sweetness to your suffering. This will only be known between you and the great Father who loves you, sees you and leads you out of the trench.
Michael Ciaccio MS, LPC SATP