Meaning can come from more than one direction. The sufferer may be overwhelmed by his or her own suffering. But the one who chooses to face that suffering can find real joy in serving and caring for themselves and others. So when we suffer, or just when we see suffering, do we turn away or run from it? Are we overwhelmed by it? Worse, do we choose to not even see it?

Or do we open ourselves to suffering? Do we walk with others who are suffering? Do we touch them, listen to them, even suffer with them? That is the definition of compassion after all: to suffer with. Why would we do that?

Another good question, with a great answer: We do it because to love and to desire to care for the other is natural.

Therefore, it is in serving the suffering other out of this love that we find the true meaning and purpose that we are all called to as human beings. The first set of questions above arise out of fear and doubt, even selfish pride. The latter set of questions arise out of faith. Here is where we can look at Jesus as our model.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew he was in danger of arrest and prosecution. He took the Apostles, his closest friends with whom he had just eaten the Passover meal out to the garden with him. He asked them to stay awake and to pray with him, but they all fell asleep. He was utterly alone in his suffering, though surrounded by friends. He went through the intense throws of fear that we all will go through thinking about real, impending, and unknown suffering – especially of his own death or failure. He prayed earnestly, his face covered with beads of bloody sweat from the intensity of his own fears: saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, (c) Icon Productions

Have we not had times in our lives when our suffering was so great that we begged God to take it away from us? But how many times have we been humble enough, had the faith to say, “but not my will, but yours be done?” Only faith will give us the strength and the courage to do that.

Jesus’ fears come true and he is arrested. He is taken to the Romans, who introduce physical pain, each stroke of the whip burning into Jesus’ every nerve, the skin being torn open with each lash. Almost none of us have never been treated with such barbarity, cannot imagine the pain, and worse, the loneliness of Jesus in those moments, no one there to comfort or to defend him. Only someone who has been held captive and tortured could even imagine such things. This is the kind of suffering that seems to be meaningless to most people. But not to Jesus.

In the fullness of his humanity, Jesus suffered this, in accord with his Father’s will. It was his willingness to accept the Father’s will, to bear that suffering silently, was necessary to begin the process of our salvation, the forgiveness of all of the sins of humankind. This was the start of something incredible, but more suffering was to come.