by Deacon Sam Trujillo
“A trial is described as the fact of condition of being tried or tested or regarded as trouble, hardship or affliction. We all experience these trials; no one is exempt; from the moment of our birth until our last and ultimate trial, which is death.”
Trials are times in our lives when somehow certain events or crises disrupt our being in a very traumatic way. For instance, the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a divorce, etc. It is usually the loss of someone or something very important or valuable to us. There is a disruption in our daily lives. We either have something taken away from us or we are forced to give it up.
As Christians we see our trials and sufferings as a means to grow in virtues. They strengthen our character and can be moments of grace. The beautiful thing about Christian suffering is that it is an important and indispensable part in our growth and spiritual development. Christ made it very explicit when he said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34-36.
To suffer and to be able to accept it, gives us the opportunity to also share in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. In Ecclesiasticus 2:104 it says, “My son if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honored at the end of your days. Whatever happens to you accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state be patient, since gold is tested in the fire and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation.” I believe that to suffer without a purpose is a real tragedy. “The man of faith, no less than non-believer, needs meaning to support him in the dark moments of his life!” The Mystery of Suffering & Death, Michael J. Taylor.
Suffering or trials in the Christian life can be a blessing in disguise or moments in which we can be more open to God’s grace and presence. It is in moments of trial that God sustains us and gives us the strength to carry our cross. “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” Mt. 11:28-33. If we are to learn about trials and suffering, Christ is certainly the model to follow. He lived out what he preached; he was without a doubt the “suffering servant.” As it says in second Isaiah: “…pierced for our faults, crushed for our sins. Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly; he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is lead to the slaughterhouse, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers. If he offers his life in atonement, he shall have a long life. By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults upon himself.”
Our natural instinct is to avoid suffering at all costs. Unfortunately, individualism seems to be the mode of our society. (Look out for number one.) Egoism can be a stumbling block to self-discovery. We shun our crosses and trials; therefore, deny ourselves authentic growth and development.
Trials are a reality of life, there is always a constant change taking place. A crisis is a dying and rising of ourselves. We die to many things in a crisis. We come to a crossroad and the crisis convinces us that out of darkness comes new life. “Death and resurrection are parts of the Paschal mystery. People come to a deep personal awareness only in crisis. Dying is an essential part of our Christian life.” (St. Francis de Sales).
Trials are life’s growing pains, whether we accept them or not. “Crisis must bring us to a new way of thinking The absence of a freedom that should be present.” (St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul). It is through trials that we come to recognize our own limitations and helplessness. It allows the Holy Spirit to break through our ego and self-control. It renews us and remolds us into our true selves which are made in the likeness of God. We are called to leave slavery for freedom. We become lost so that we can learn to depend totally on God. We are thrown into the desert. It is a change, and upheaval, a transition which accompanies pain, frustration and loss of control. In the book of Exodus, the Israelites found their existence in the desert. There they found their identity. They learned to let go of everything that was secure. Even Jesus was led out into the desert to discover who he was. To discover his identity as the Son of God. He was tempted by the evil one in every way. To follow Jesus is an invitation into the desert, by allowing him to lead us through this experience. We will then be able to discover Jesus’ love and peace.
It is through trials that we find meaning in these events in our lives. We might feel abandoned as Christ felt as he hung on the ross. “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” Mark 15:34. It also reminds us of the story of The Footsteps in the Sand, where we question the Lord. Where were you when we needed you the most? In which the Lord answers, “It was in times of trials and suffering, the darkest moments in your life that I carried you.” It is in carrying our cross that we see a call to transformation. In trials we can see an invitation of grace to a conversion experience. We can discover who we are, where we are going, and the knowledge of self and God. We shatter the false self and those things that bind us and enslave us. It is letting go the masks and illusions that fill one’s life, and the bindings of materialism to find the tings of God. This is essential to the conversion experience.
In trial we become wounded in order to be transformed. We learn to let go of those things that are so important to us. It seems that in trials God is always trying to tell us something. Our helplessness brings us to god and an awareness of who we are. Hope returns when we return to God and we wait for him. As we look at our helplessness, we find that we are not in command of anything and we can identify with Jesus who became helpless and submitted to God’s will. “Let your will be done, not mine.” Mt. 26:42. Only those who are helpless recognize that we cannot do anything alone. We come to God in our emptiness and allow God to enter our heart that has been shattered and broken.
Trials generally allow us to look at life in a new way, since they usually share our inner self and may drive us to a state of meaninglessness and perhaps depression. It drives us to let go of what was and go to the unknown. To let go of what is secure for what is insecure. It forces us to look at the meaning of the events or situations that confront us. What is it telling me about myself?” Life is not easy; it is full of daily stresses. Some can be helpful, others perhaps not. Nonetheless, we have to learn to adjust to these stresses. We recognize these instances as part of our living experience and try to learn and profit from them.
In trying to help and direct others going through trying times in their lives, we need to rely a lot on our own experiences and God. We must be aware that every situation will never be the same. There are personal and unique circumstances in each event that affects people in different ways. To be able to help others going through trials, we first have to recognize that we do not have all the answers. There are many things in life that we do not understand, much less try to explain why they happen. All we can simply do is be there for these people, to be available for them, so they have someone to talk to. We must be able to listen to them openly and give advice only when we are sure that is the right thing to do. We should always try to see what options people have. Many times there may be none, like during the loss of a spouse or relative. Perhaps all we can do is encourage them to go on living and make them aware that only time and God can heal certain wounds. Many times good seems to come out of bad times and God can bring good out of evil. We need to encourage others that God is always present. God is here now and understands their hurt or grief. God did not spare the death of his own son. He knew that through his death, he was to conquer death once and for all. It was his death that brought eternal life to all who are to believe in him.
Faith is very important in trying times. Many times that is all we have to hang on to and there will be better days. Our lives are like the weather. We have our stormy and drearly days. But we also have pleasant and sunny days that follow the storms. I believe that there are things that happen in one’s life that we will never be able to forget. But, the important thing is to come to a point in our life that we accept whatever it may be that affected us. It will be I this acceptance that we begin to be healed. Just as Jesus accepted the will of his Father, we too need to recognize God’s will for us and in doing so, we will experience liberation, peace of mind and heart. We need to be realistic in the fact that life is just a brief and temporary experience. E are limited in our understanding. Only the Creator of life knows the reasons and answers to life’s mysteries. “Our knowledge of God and self-go hand in hand. But as we began to realize what we really are and what we might be, the breaking which is necessary for transformation, while still painful, is no longer threatening. As we grow a bit more, we even desire this breaking because of the longing deeply in us. We want the cross because we have glimpsed the glory to which it leads.” When the Well Runs Dry by Thomas H. Green, S.J.