Suffering is a part of life that all must face -- but why? Here are a few thoughts about why suffering may, in the long run, be good for us. First, hardship is needed to keep the ego in check. In the Quran, Muhammad states, "When we bless the human being, he turns away, and drifts farther and farther away, and when he suffers any affliction, he implores loudly."
In a sense, ego means “edging God out.” I certainly have noticed the tendency to edge God out and edge selfishness in during times of “smooth sailing.” I forget that I am a spiritual being with a divine purpose of learning, loving and serving.
Abdu'l-Baha, a central figure in the Baha'i Faith, was asked if the soul progresses more through sorrow or through joy in this world. He said:
"The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is plowed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plow furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness."
When the mind becomes released from the petty things of life, divine happiness follows quite naturally. According to Buddha, "When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves."
It may not be easy to see, but there are lessons to be learned from every trial we face. The pain of interpersonal conflict, for example, can be stimulus for growth. How can I redirect sour thoughts about other people? Are things worse because I am drifting away from my spiritual nature and toward my ego nature? What good qualities can I employ to help my relationships, such as compassion?
Sometimes, however, suffering feels overwhelming. We may be tempted to give up before life’s lessons are learned. Other qualities are called for -- patience and perseverance. In the book of James in the Bible, it states, “Trials of many kinds …develop perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” We are called to embrace life’s many hardships for good reasons. Many storms are needed before the tree bears its fruit.