When Judy was in her midforties, she was involved in a serious car accident. She survived, but her injuries led to hospitalization, months of intense pain, and rehab. During that time, she was unable to work or care for herself or her family. She missed her favorite pastimes—tennis, hiking, and biking—and realized as time went on that she would never be able to enjoy these activities again.
As Judy saw what her new life was going to look like, she began to feel more and more depressed. “Why would God let this happen to me?” she asked. “Doesn’t he care about me and my family?” But instead of shutting God out of her life, Judy kept on praying, and as she did, she slowly became convinced that God would be with her through it all.
Gradually, Judy also realized that she needed to change her way of thinking. On some level, she had always believed that because she was a faithful Christian, her life would be easier than the lives of those who didn’t believe in God. But now she was coming to understand that following Jesus meant walking the way of the cross with him. She began to see that Jesus’ way included times of hardship and trial but that it also led to a deeper experience of his resurrection. In other words, Judy was gaining a heavenly vision.
It’s this vision that we want to explore in this article. We want to see how having a heavenly perspective can sustain us through the hard times of life.
Jesus, the Man of Sorrows. “In the world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Jesus could say these words because he was intimately familiar with sorrow and suffering. Think of how difficult his life was. Think about all the miles he walked, all the meals he missed, and all the uncomfortable places where he slept. Think about how it must have felt to heal someone on the Sabbath and then be criticized for it (Mark 2:24). Or to know that his enemies were trying to find a way to kill him.
Think too about how Jesus’ closest friends ultimately let him down. Judas, who was one of the Twelve, betrayed him, and Peter, his closest disciple, denied even knowing him. And when he most needed their support—as he endured the agony of the cross—all but a few abandoned him.
How did Jesus persevere? By staying close to his heavenly Father. “I am not alone, because the Father is with me,” he told his disciples (John 16:32). He drew strength from his Father by spending long periods in prayer—sometimes all night. Jesus kept his eyes on heaven, the place he would return to, where he would be surrounded by the multitude he would redeem by his death and resurrection.
The Final Word. Jesus’ first followers were no strangers to suffering either. In fact, they knew that by embracing him, they were also embracing a life that could include persecution and martyrdom.
Jesus had warned his disciples that this might happen—and he told them to consider themselves blessed when it did! “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me,” he told them. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).
Similarly, the apostle Paul, who was no stranger to hardship, wrote, “This momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And St. James wrote, “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him” (1:12).
Do you see a pattern here? All three of these passages place suffering and hardship in an eternal perspective. They’re not minimizing suffering in any way; they’re saying that it doesn’t have the final word. The final word belongs to God, and it is a word of eternal life with him in heaven.
How to “Suffer Well.” So how can we develop and strengthen our own eternal perspective? How can we learn to “consider it all joy” when hardship comes our way (James 1:2)? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Lean on Jesus. As we said above, Jesus was able to endure suffering because he stayed close to his Father by being faithful in prayer and by seeking always to do his Father’s will. The very same is true for us. Every day, Jesus invites us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:28-29). Especially when life gets difficult, we can lean on Jesus and ask him to help us find rest for our souls. Just sitting quietly in prayer and imagining him sitting next to us can calm our fears and ease our anxieties. It’s at these moments that we can listen for Jesus’ assuring words.
2. Trust That the Holy Spirit Is in You. At times you may feel that you are at the end of your rope. But remember, you received the Holy Spirit at your baptism. Remember that the Spirit is faithful and still lives in you. This isn’t meant simply to be a comforting thought. The fact that the Sprit is in you means that you have access to God’s own wisdom. It means that you have Someone to pray with you—even to pray for you—when words fail you (Romans 8:26). It means that you have access to God’s own power to lift you up, fill you with hope, and help you see your life through a heavenly perspective.
3. Don’t Journey Alone. Jesus never intended his disciples to walk alone, and this is especially true when we face times of struggle. It can be very tempting to try to isolate ourselves when life gets difficult. We feel we shouldn’t talk about our problems, or we don’t want to burden other people. But quite often, the exact opposite is the case. We find that there are people who want to help us, even if it means just listening to us and offering us words of encouragement. Don’t go it alone! Reach out to a family member, a friend from your parish, or your pastor. Ask that person to pray for you and maybe even to pray with you. If you can’t think of anyone who might be able to help, ask God to send someone into your life. Jesus didn’t walk his road alone, so he certainly wouldn’t want you to do it.
4. Hold Fast to the Hope of Heaven. Heaven is all around us because God is all around us. It’s not always easy to see, but Jesus promised us that the kingdom of heaven is in our midst. We may see it only in a veiled and hidden way, but that’s where faith comes in. We can believe, even when we don’t see. And if we can hold fast to our faith, we will experience today a taste of heaven in the Eucharist, in a beautiful sunset, or in the embrace of a loved one. All of these “tastes” point us to the future. They tell us about the joy that awaits us when we finally experience heaven in its full glory.
All Things Work for Good. God wants us to keep the promise of heaven always before us, no matter what our situation may be. If you are finding it hard to believe this, recall all the ways God has already blessed you. Think of your favorite saints and their perseverance. Or think of Jesus, who experienced the sorrow of the Garden of Gethsemane and then a few days later the joy of the resurrection. If nothing else helps, just keep repeating this promise from Scripture: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). God is faithful, and he will see you through. For the citizen of heaven, in the end even our sufferings will produce heavenly glory.
Scripture promises that “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). It may be hard to believe that at times, but it truly is a promise you can count on. Believe God’s word more than your feelings. Trust in his promises. You may not be able to imagine any good that can come from a difficult situation; you may not even see all of God’s promises fulfilled over time. But in the end, you’ll discover—with every other citizen of heaven—that it was all worth it. Hold fast, and one day you will be welcomed and embraced by your heavenly Father. And on that day, all of heaven will rejoice with you!