We would all, in an ideal world, prefer a life that was happy and full and lacking nothing. We wish for and desire happy endings that reward us for the toil that we have undertaken in our lives, relieve us of the unpleasant aspects of the burdens we are all called to carry, and imbue the struggles of our existence with dignity and meaning. We desire the fulfillment of the deepest longings of our hearts, and to leave the world around us a better place than we found it, even as we work out our own salvation and deal with our own issues and the repercussions of our own experiences and backgrounds. So, the fact that we desire ultimate and lasting happiness in worthwhile lives is something that we ought to openly admit at the outset.
Yet even as we seek happiness, it is worthwhile to discuss at least sometimes why it is that suffering is so important. Life is not necessarily about the pleasant, but about the good. To use some somewhat common metaphors, in our lives we are ores that are in the process of refining as well as fields that are planted and tended to bring forth rich crops. Both of these metaphors provide an emblem of toil and labor that is not always pleasant. To refine ores requires a great deal of heat or often difficult chemical processes that involve a large amount of effort and pressure. In the end, the result is precious and beautiful, but only because of the labor one has undertaken. The same is true with crops. No farmer can gather crops without months or even years of preparing the soil, rotating crops (if he does not wish to be dependent on NPK fertilizers), and seeking balance in what he can do, while at the mercy of the sun and the rain, the wind and the snow, and the balance of critters around. In both of these metaphors, there is toil, there is great effort, and there is risk, but there is also great reward.
So it is with our lives. We do not begin life as we are to become. We are part of a process that is to make us into something so much better than where we began that we cannot often even imagine what it is that we shall become when we look at what we are now. One of my favorite metaphors is that of the butterfly. A butterfly starts out life as a grubby caterpillar before spending time in its cocoon and ending up as a beautiful and somewhat delicate butterfly, fluttering around the flowers and brightening up the world around. Sometimes it is hard when one is inside of one’s cocoon or when one is a grubby caterpillar to recognize the beauty of what one will one day eventually become, if one is persistent and a bit fortunate.
We appreciate the beauty of these things, and other matters, because of the sorrows and sufferings we endure. We should not dwell on the sorrow, but rather appreciate that the sorrows we face and the difficulties we overcome are what allow us to appreciate the seriousness of refining and growth and what it involves. I appreciate innocence all the more and treasure its fleeting presence in my life because of my own life, not taking it for granted because of the savage life I have endured. No doubt others too appreciate life all the better for what they have lost, or what they have suffered. Our suffering teaches us what is precious, gives us compassion for the suffering of others, and fires the flames of justice inside of our hearts. There are some things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried, and one of those things is the Kingdom of God. Let our suffering not be without meaning, or without ultimate victory.