Can suffering be a gift from God? It sounds contradictory. The word ‘gift’ is usually associated with something positive and cheerful, while the word ‘suffering’ denotes grief and sorrow. So how can anyone accept that there is anything good about going through pain and misery, let alone be thankful for it?
But for centuries, saints and mystics have testified to the fact that suffering is a great blessing because in one fell swoop, painful as it might be, God pulls us closer to him.
They explain that when we are happy and life is perfect, our remembrance of God is at best lukewarm because we are mesmerized by worldly life. Sure, we pray. We remember the Lord. But we are also engrossed in worldly affairs – occupied by work, family, friends, food, the internet and endless obligations.
On one hand, it is called living a life of balance. While travelling on the road to God, we engage in all the necessary activities of life. We play our various roles to fulfil the destiny that has been crafted out of our own past actions.
But inevitably, at some point, the scale tilts in favour of the world and subsequently in favour of the mind. And slowly, the Lord seems less important. The mind thinks, “I will take care of it. I will figure it out, I will keep everything under control.” We are empowered by the strength of our ‘human being-ness’.
Until we get hit by the storm of suffering. Then, the mind does not think about food or the internet. The mind turns to God. When we come face to face with our helplessness and our spiritual poverty, we realize the depth of our need for the Divine.
Then he becomes our only friend, our only hope. Everything else takes a back seat. And for that entire excruciating period of uncertainty, fear and doubt, the almighty Father has our full attention. He becomes our top priority. It is just him and us. And whether we are begging, fighting, surrendering or pleading, the point is, we are with him and him alone. And as long as we are in that space of deep and focused remembrance, our communion with him is perfect.
If our suffering can pull us towards the Father, that’s a blessing. If our suffering can keep the Lord in our heart day and night, and we have been able to tune ourselves to him, it’s a blessing.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I
Adversity also teaches us that we have no control over anything; that karma and destiny are not just concepts. They are part of the natural law that applies to every living thing on this plane of existence. It is the reason why everyone’s life is a mixed bag of happiness and sorrow.
The fact is, we are at the mercy of this law of karma. The saints say, the only thing we can do is make ourselves strong enough to face whatever is going to come; to turn to the only Power that can fortify us so we can survive on this plane of existence and, one day, escape.
So an episode of suffering should be considered a milestone for a seeker of God. It is the bitter medicine that cures the disease of complacency. It teaches us that we cannot afford to have our prayers become a formality.
It is a definite turning point because after the storm passes, our relationship with the Lord is not the same. Our faith is not the same. Our appreciation of his gifts is not the same.
They are stronger. They are deeper. And not because we survived; not because things turned out the way we wanted them to – but because we experienced him. And that’s the gift. That’s what we have to be thankful for.
All these trials that come to us in life, if taken in the proper spirit, as a satsangi should take them, will develop strength of character and make one throw himself absolutely at the feet of the Satguru within…. Life was given to us for a definite purpose and that, as a satsangi, you know well. It was given to us in order that, by complete surrender to the Satguru and daily spiritual exercises, we might be joined to Shabd and rise above this valley of tears. That is a privilege which nobody can take from you unless you yourself, in a fit of petulance or despondency, give it up or cease to make use of it. Even then, no satsangi’s life is hopeless. But the road is much easier for us if we do our bit.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Light on Sant Mat