Life can be hard at times. One of the consequences of the fall due to original sin is that life will contain its share of difficulties and pains. We earn our living now by the “sweat of our brow” and even the gift of life in birth will come with its share of pain. Most of the things that are worth something in life require that we not only work hard for them but that we also at times suffer for them. We must make sacrifices and give a part of ourselves to the things that we want to achieve. God did not originally intend for life to be that way. He gave life as a gift and he wants us to share in his abundant life and joy. It is our heart’s desire to share in the joy of a full, abundant and meaningful life. However, with the fall our flesh no longer cooperates fully with the interior guidance of the spirit. God does not leave us alone in this unfortunate state but he gives us grace to strengthen us in our weakness and to complete what is lacking in our human abilities.
The ascetical life (ascesis is exercise, aimed at discipline and self-control, spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, almsgiving etc.) teaches us to accept difficulties and small sufferings in order that we might discipline and train our bodies to cooperate more fully with the desire of our spirit. Proper asceticism helps us to recognize our weaknesses and limitations and to trust more fully in God’s grace to perfect us in love. Spiritual disciplines open us more fully to the work of God’s grace in our lives. We do not engage in ascetical practices to become self-reliant but to rely more and more on God’s grace to perfect our human nature. God gave us our bodies and life in the body as a gift and therefore we realize that it is a good. When we cooperate with God’s grace then we can learn more fully how to use that gift to glorify God and share in his joy. Our weaknesses do not need to be a cause for despair but for a greater reliance upon God’s grace to lift us up beyond our weakness and help us to accomplish his will for our lives. Thus, paradoxically we can turn our weaknesses into strength, not by giving in to weakness but by offering our weakness up as a sacrifice to God and allowing his love to perfect us in spite of our weakness.
There are always small challenges that we all must face in our daily lives. These are part of our lives. It is easy to cry out to God that it is not fair that we should have to suffer these annoyances and small humiliations brought about by our physical conditions, our physical characteristics, our social state, our health or other physical or mental limitations. However, God does not promise that life is going to be fair or played on an even playing field, he only promises justice in his mercy and love.
Reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (2Cor 12,7-10) helps us to reflect upon this mystery of strength in weakness. Paul talks about a “thorn in the flesh” that he was given that amplified his weakness. God helps him to see that it is a cause for grace in his life and that he should find joy also in weakness because as God tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor 12,9) Paul learns to be content in his weakness as well as in his strength.
Pope Benedict, in his encyclical Spe Salvi, reminds us of the ancient spiritual devotional tradition of offering up our weakness to God for the good of others: “There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practiced today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves.” Good advice to consider in order to find meaning in the daily challenges of life. We don’t need to ask God to give us an easy button for life rather, we need to ask him to give us grace and strength to overcome our weaknesses and to rely more often on his help and strength when life gets difficult.