To suffer is to know God

We lost a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a wife, a mother and a friend in October. Joni Cardin was only 57 years old when she passed away from the effects of a 9-year battle with dementia. By the world’s standards, Joni lived a quiet life. Growing up on the Westside of Evansville, she did not stray far from her childhood roots. She was married for 37 years to her first love, Terry, and has 3 grown children, Doug, Beth and Greg. She remained close to her Westside Grade School and Mater Dei High School friends, enjoying a social club with them since their 1980 graduation.

Joni loved children – her own, her nieces and nephews, and all those fortunate enough to cross her path. For 27 years she ran a daycare in her home where countless children benefitted from her nurturance. She made lunches, wiped noses, kissed hurts away and gently corrected misbehavior. Her legacy to all who knew her is love. Author Elisabeth Lesser sums up Joni’s life in this quote: “We are convinced that our smallest actions and our most unnoticed sacrifices have a lasting effect in time and space….” Through all those she touched, Joni’s love will continue to radiate.

It has been a year of loss for both my husband’s family and mine. In eight months we have lost a nephew, two cousins, an aunt, two uncles, a father and now a sister. Some were fortunate to live long and full lives; a few died suddenly and tragically. Some deaths were easier to accept. Some have left loved ones wrestling to find answers. Each loss brought sorrow to those close to the deceased.

Suffering – emotionally, physically, even psychologically – is a part of every life. For some people, it seems to be a constant. For others, it is sporadic; but for all of us, it is inevitable. Why did a woman in the prime of her adult life become another victim of such a debilitating disease? Why was a healthy father and grandfather struck down by a sudden, inexplicable aneurysm? What causes someone to be so miserable they choose to leave this world?

If you are hoping for answers in this column, stop reading here. I do not have them. The answers may come only when we are face-to-face with God in the next world. If there are no seemingly understandable explanations for such tragedies, then what are we to do with our questions?

We can turn away from God, deciding that He is uncaring and bears the responsibility for our adversity. People who choose that tact often saturate their lives with an endless stream of worldly activities, sleep, alcohol or drugs. The pain may abate temporarily, but lasting peace remains outside their grasp. The healing option is to turn toward Christ, placing our hurt at the foot of the cross. Mother Theresa said, “Suffering is a sign … that we have come so close to Jesus on the cross.”

When we remain close to God in prayer and worship, our suffering will foster positive growth in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Suffering humbles us. It reminds us that we are not in control. Armed with that awareness, we are more likely to act as the wise virgins, always prepared for the next world.

Suffering teaches gratitude. Our usual good health, our friends and our families are more appreciated. It can also lead to forgiveness, reminding us to release our anger and resentments before it is too late.

Suffering teaches us patience and perseverance. Often, the event or illness causing our distress does not have a quick solution. However, as we struggle through our difficulties, we become aware of strength and fortitude we may not have previously recognized in ourselves.

Suffering opens our hearts to others who are struggling. Turning outward, we become more compassionate toward those less fortunate and act to relieve their burdens – which, in turn, eases ours.

Finally, our suffering allows us a glimpse of how much God truly loves us. He sent His only beloved Son, a man innocent of sin, to suffer and die on the cross for us, the much-loved sinners. Ultimately, if we turn toward Him, suffering draws us closer to God, who is perfect love. Amen.