Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Catholic Book Club: When You Suffer

Happy Wednesday to all of you readers out there, and today we have a special Lenten edition of the Catholic Book Club! Just after Ash Wednesday, I embarked on Jeff Cavins' When You Suffer: Biblical Keys for Hope and Understanding, and I delightedly made my way through it quickly on my Kindle. This is an ideal book for Lent not only because of the topic, but because it is a quick read and you still have plenty of time to fortify yourself before Easter.

Here is the excerpt from the back cover, so that you can get a sense of what is covered therein:
To be human is to suffer—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In addition to our own suffering, we also encounter the suffering of those around us. While the world of medicine attempts to relieve suffering and the media tries to sell us on a life without pain, only the Church offers the perspective that suffering has meaning. St. John Paul II  said that suffering without meaning can lead to despair, but if we can attach meaning to our suffering, we are capable of going through anything.

When You Suffer is a refreshing look at the mystery of pain and suffering and how to find meaning and even joy in the midst of it. Jeff Cavins discusses why we suffer and how our suffering can draw us closer to God. He explains that suffering is the greatest opportunity to love as Christ loves and how, by “offering up” our suffering, we join in Christ’s mission to redeem the world.
When Mike and I settled in to read prior to going to sleep the first night I picked this up, he hoisted over the hardcover time travel mystery he picked up from the library, and I had When You Suffer opened on my Kindle. He looked over at my very serious reading face:

"Wha'cha reading?"

"A book about suffering. It's for Lent."

"Oh.That sounds kind of...intense."

He gave me a sympathetic pat on the shoulder before turning back to his happy fiction tale. ;-) This whole exchange was very cute, but in fact this book was not depressing nor burdensome to read at all.

The author begins with a chapter entitled "Your Ideal Life," and he writes in a very down-to-earth, conversational way about his idea of a perfect day. For everyone this would be different, but for him it involves slipping out of the house on a beautiful morning for a hot beverage at his favorite coffee shop, which he would quietly sip while doing his devotional reading. Later, after spending some time with his wife and children, he would go for a long motorcycle ride in the country. For me? Gosh. I suppose it would involve lots of quiet time. I am indeed an introverted person who cherishes SILENCE. Quiet time to knit in front of a crackling fire. Quiet time to read outside while listening to birdsong. I'd incorporate some uninterrupted dance practice that didn't involve twirling awkwardly around our small kitchen and accidentally stubbing my toe on the microwave cart. Then I'd want to go out to dinner with Mike and the kids, during which both children would have halos on their heads the entire time and not fight, and we'd enjoy excellent food and conversation.

This is all well and good, but the point that the author is making is that our life is never like this. Some days may include one of these items, and part of another, but they will also include many unexpected and challenging things. We all deal with obvious instances of profound suffering, such as death of a loved one or a difficult medical diagnosis, but we all also deal with small sufferings in our daily lives related to tasks at work that we do not particularly enjoy, or interactions with people we may find unpleasant. Suffering is something that we all face, and it's likely only going to become more frequent as our lives wear on.

Not exactly an uplifting thought, but there is safely in numbers, yes? It really helps to recognize that we're all in the same boat on this one. And I really like how the author does this in this book, using a writing style that makes it feel as though you are having a discussion about this with him over a drink. Indeed, such books are *always* my favorites in terms of non-fiction.

He goes on to discuss a handful of different aspects of suffering, such as attributing meaning to our suffering, redemptive suffering, a historical look at suffering through the scriptures, offering up our suffering, and participating in the suffering of Christ. He concludes with a practical chapter that I *really* enjoyed that includes ten suggestions for coping with suffering:

You know me, I love the practicalities. I am already a huge fan of the rosary, but his suggestion to physically carry it with you when you're going through a difficult time really resonated with me. It was an important reminder not to allow the rosary to become rote and routine in our lives. He also mentions Saint John Paul II and his very public approach to managing suffering, and well. You all know how I feel about him.*heart* Going to confession when encountering suffering? I hadn't connected those two things in the past, but it makes perfect sense to me now.

This is a small book that is chock full of excellent information, and I highly recommend it for Lenten reading or when otherwise going through a challenging time. I got a lot out of reading it, for which I am most grateful. Have any of you read this book? Do you have any thoughts on handling suffering, large or small? How is your other Lenten reading going? I would love for you to write in. :)

If you'd like to continue to read with me, my next foray into spiritual reading is Marcus Grodi's Life From Our Land (which I'm aiming to review in March before Easter), and my current secular selection is Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. This is a re-read, and it's one of my favorites! We just watched the newish film "Everest," which is why the topic is on my mind again. I have the illustrated edition, and it's positively *gripping*.

Let me hear from you, dear readers! I am looking forward to your comments. :-)

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review


  1. That sounds like a good book to keep tucked in the back of my mind for a future read. I've been enjoying my Lenten reading. I'm reading Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Fr. James Martin and I'm about halfway through. He weaves together his visit to the Holy Land, years of biblical study and the Gospels. I finished the chapter on parables today and I was struck by how they were drawn from the surroundings of where Jesus was telling the story. He relates a story from his trip where there is a area that has rocky, thorny, and good soil just like in the parable of the sower.

  2. Hi Melanie! As ever, so grateful for your insight. *heart* I do hope you'll keep this book in mind, I think you will get a lot out of it. In the meantime, the Fr. Martin books sounds *outstanding*! I may have to take a look at that one myself!


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