Soul Food


“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…”

                               Romans 5: 3-5, Revised Standard Version

We’ve all been there – suffering, struggling through life’s problems.  Perhaps it’s a health problem, a financial crisis, an acrimonious relationship, the loss of a loved one, difficulties at work or, worse yet, being out of work. The list goes on.

Who among us hasn’t wished that we did not have to struggle and suffer through these hardships of life? And, yet, we read in Romans that we should rejoice in our sufferings. WHAT?  Are you kidding?  Why should we?

Consider this: Is a drink of water more thirst-quenching to a person who hangs around the cooler drinking water all day or to a person lost in the desert without water for hours, maybe days?  Would a good job mean more to someone who already has one and didn’t have to struggle to get it or to someone who was previously unemployed and had searched for months to find this job?

It is our suffering that gives us the capacity to experience need and, therefore, to hope. Without down, there is no up.  Without lost, there is no found. 

Rejoice in our sufferings? Yes. Why?  Hope.


For years, for as long as I can remember, really, I did not know my purpose in life. I agonized, “If I just knew what my purpose was, I could get on with my life and have inner peace.”…. “If I only knew my purpose, them my problems, worries, fears (I’ll call them all sufferings) would go away and I would have a good life.” 

I saw my sufferings as evidence that I had not discovered my purpose yet, but I was sure that, as soon as I did, then things would be fine. I thought finding purpose meant being matched with a certain vocation, a particular role, a mission or specific goal and, once discovered, the mystery would be solved, the log jam would be broken loose and my life would flow freely thereafter.  If only I knew, then I could live.  I thought, “Where’s the burning bush when you really need it?  Just tell me what to do, God, and I’ll do it.”

I have learned that, ultimately, what I “do” in the sense of vocation or role in life is not my purpose. My purpose is to “be”, not to “do”.  To “be” a child of God. To live life in relationship with God, trusting in God’s care. That’s it – pure and simple. We all share the same purpose.  We are all part of creation like birds of the air or lilies of the field.

I am grateful for a wonderful insight about purpose that I learned from others.  It is this: A person can be living his life in poverty and yet be living his purpose.  Another person can be living with many worldly blessings and yet not be living his purpose at all. Success and failure are just different circumstances, different places to “be” in life, and each person, each soul, is exactly where he or she needs to “be” in order to grow spiritually.  We are, after all, not human beings with a spiritual life, but spiritual beings with a human life.  That life is our laboratory for life lessons, our chance to learn and to grow, to be in relationship with God.

This insight has given me the inner peace I hoped for. It has enabled me to let go of a lot of self-doubt and fears.  No more public smiley face and private despair. I can be present with my sufferings rather than avoiding them or resenting those who send them my way. If I choose (we all make choices), I can see my sufferings in life as the important clues to finding my path of spiritual growth, and I can see God’s love and healing poured out in them.

The same is true for the sufferings of others. We can choose not avoid the sufferings of others.  We can acknowledge them. We can be present with them. We can seek God’s love and healing for them also. We might even be asked to handle the delivery. Another person’s suffering can create discomfort in the comfortable and, so, give a complacent person a chance to learn a spiritual lesson in compassion or forgiveness or selfless service.  When we tend to the needs of others as fellow travelers on life’s journey, we get back more than we give.

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