Only You Can Suffer This Much
“But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.”
1 Peter 4:13
I was in the chapel at a retreat feeling a bit nauseated for some reason. All of a sudden, the phrase, “Only you can suffer this much,” formed in my head. I knew exactly why this phrase came to me in the chapel. God was calling me to offer up my suffering for something only I could suffer for.
I have an auto immune disease called Lupus, which basically causes my immune system to attack the rest of my body. Sometimes my joints will feel sprained, or I become extremely exhausted. I have been fighting this disease for five years. I don’t really complain too much about the pain because I’m so used to it. For the first few years after the diagnosis, I attempted to pretend I didn’t have Lupus, but usually the disease made its presence known. Some days it was too painful to get out of bed because of my own neglect the days before. After a while, I was put on some medicine that helped me combat the Lupus.
My freshmen spring in college, the Newman center was taking a hiking trip to North Carolina. I decided to go (bad idea, I know). It is the best trip I have ever taken, but also probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. My lungs did not adjust well to the elevation, so I was the slowest one on the trip. When the trail became steep, every step was a challenge for me. My breathing was heavy for almost the entire way. I felt awful holding everyone up, but they had no problems taking breaks. After many breaks, we made it to the top of the mountain. This was the most rewarding sight I had ever seen. The sun was setting behind all the other mountains and trees. There was so much peace at the top of that mountain. All that suffering I experienced was worth that moment of beauty and peace.
Over the past year, my Lupus has been acting up. I have been neglecting it hoping it would go away, but it just comes back two times harder. “Only you can suffer this much,” this phrase has been repeating in my head over and over. This call to suffering is hard to accept, but we all have it. God has called me to a life of physical suffering with Lupus and other things, but He knows that only I can handle the suffering I have been given. I had a friend in high school who needed to study for at least 2 hours a day everyday just to make a B. She always went above and beyond and made A’s throughout high school. Because of her suffering, she formed amazing study habits, and she is breezing through college. Unlike me, she knew where her weakness was and made it her strength.
We all suffer differently. Suffering can be a weakness if we allow it to, but it has much more potential to be a strength. If we learn how to live joyfully with the suffering we are given, then it can strengthen us. With Lupus, I must allow myself to rest for a day almost every week. Although I may miss out on something, I am given the joyful gift of being with my family. Sacrifice has many gifts we do not recognize until after they are given.
Why should I suffer? For others. In Pope Saint John Paul II’s “A Meditation on Givenness” he writes about the gift of others,
“God believes in you, trusts that you are capable of receiving the gift, that you are capable of embracing it with your heart, that you have the capacity to respond to it with a gift of yourself.”
We are all suffering with something, so why not offer up our suffering for our fellow brothers and sisters? Some of my friends are going to Jamaica for a mission trip this summer. I am not able to go because of my physical ailments. As much as it hurts me to not go, I know I can be there spiritually. I can give the gift of my suffering, so that they can suffer for the people they are serving. When they return, I will be able to receive the gift of their joy as they tell me of their many triumphs.
Each of us is incomparable to each other. I could not handle the suffering you are given just as you may not be able to handle the suffering I am given. That’s alright, it’s great actually. God made us for a specific suffering, so we should embrace it joyfully. With this joyful embrace, we can reach the beautiful and peaceful mountain top. Not only will we reach the mountain top, but the people we suffer for will be invited to climb with us. Make your greatest weakness an even greater strength.
Only you can suffer this much.