I walked down a steep mountain last week and my legs let me know they weren’t happy with me for multiple days that followed. Yet as sore and uncomfortable as I was whenever I walked or stretched my legs, I didn’t seem to mind it. Can there actually be joy in suffering?
For a person who spends all day sitting behind a computer, touring Monticello and then walking back down to the visitor’s center (okay, the distance may have only been a bit over a half mile, but it was very steep!) is a feat that I’m proud to have accomplished. I could tell as I was descending the second portion of the trail that my calves were getting quite a workout, but it felt good to do it instead of taking the shuttle bus back. I wasn’t thinking about how sore I was going to be the next day (or several), but I concentrated on where I was walking because of the slope and the uneven surface. It was a nice day to be out in Virginia, not too hot and not too cold. Monticello has been on my bucket list of places to explore since I moved down here 3 years ago and found out how close it was.
In reflecting on why the protesting limbs of my body did not affect me, one obvious answer is that I knew, in time, the pain would gradually diminish to nothing. However, I don’t think that was the sole reason. Plus, when I was walking around in the days afterward, instead of making faces of discomfort, I realized I was smiling. The pain was serving as a reminder of what a wonderful day I had and how happy I was to have seen the landmark, learn more about its history, and enjoy a day off from work. Perhaps the key to finding joy in suffering is perspective.
In this time of Lent, it is a serious business that we undertake to sacrifice parts of ourselves in order to strengthen and improve our relationship with God. Lent is a penitential season, so we’re supposed to be grim and feel miserable, right? I don’t think so. It was only last Wednesday at the beginning of Lent that Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to be fasting.” (Matt 6:16) In the sufferings that we take on during this Lent, we also need to make sure we have a positive perspective so they can affect a positive change in us. Lent is only a few weeks, and while some days may be challenging, we can lean on God to help us through. The pain of our penance will not last forever. When we feel the discomfort it brings, we should smile and thank God for the opportunity He is giving us to grow closer to Him, to participate in a very small way the agony He suffered on the cross. We also need to keep in mind that we will be happier in heaven than we can ever be on earth, and that’s the whole reason we take our Lenten practices so seriously.
If we choose the right perspective with which to view the sacrifices we make during Lent, we will be able to find joy in the suffering, in the celebration of Easter, and in the eternal presence of God.