(2010 was the year of suffering for the Benjamin family. I want to gather my thoughts on this topic over a series of posts before Lent.)
Suffering is what separates the men from the boys in the spiritual life. I'm way too much like St. Peter, I talk big "Oh Lord, I'd die for you", then a few hours later when I'm asked to endure a hang nail for my Catholic faith-- I'm like "Jesus who?"
Suffering makes absolutely no sense without a concept of the afterlife. If this life on earth is "it" and we vaporize into a bunch of carbon molacules at death, then why not be like the seeker in Ecclesiastes and say "Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself . . with silver and gold, . . . and singers, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines." (Ecc. 2: 1 & 11)
As Catholics, however, we are forewarned about "the last things": death, judgement, heaven & hell. As cool as laying in a bed with clean sheets, for a straight uninterrupted 10 hours of sleep (I'm the mother of 4 non-sleeping Benjamins kids. I long for sleep the way a drunk craves beer)
my current sacrifice of comfortable sleeping habits for the past 8 years (and the foreseeable future!) has great long term results:
a) I get to co-create more friends on earth and more souls for heaven
b) I get to work off all my purgatory time
c) I'm more likely to be in a holy place during the discomforts of my final sickness if I've got some previous practice,
d)by learning how to be nice without sleep, I'm a better person
AND e) this mysterious thing called "redemptive suffering" which basically means that IF I remember to suffer cheerfully for God (a very difficult virtue for someone as naturally whiny as me) THEN I can offer up my pain to help out other people
I hate suffering. I'm a sensitive girl. I'm like the modern the princess and the pea. I feel miserable after a new cavity filling in a back molar for 3 days straight. I hate it when my shoes pinch, or my legs are cold. I wince with agony when the "bug guy" has to step over mounds of smelly diaper trash in 15 separate Target bags in my front hallway in order to get to our kitchen.
The misery of life goes on and on.
But I love people!
For me, it helps to wind up dreaded future suffering with specific people. As a Carmelite, my prayers are for priests and sinners (which is a wide category which includes every human being on earth except for the Virgin Mary.) If I hear about someone in trouble, or who is hurting, or has a sick kid in the NICU-- I like to offer up the yucky parts of my day to them.
Just a simple way to feel connected to the wider world while in my little apartment tending to my little Catholic family.