Seasons of Suffering: Walking in the Shadow of the Cross – Healing 2023


God did not even spare His only son from suffering during His earthly life. What does Christ’s cross mean for our own experience of pain? Through Scripture and personal testimony, Debbie Herback helps you recognize how suffering invites you to deeper intimacy with Christ when we can embrace it as a gift. 

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Reflective Study Guide Questions

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:3-5

1. In the talk, Debbie Herback says: “Suffering, if we allow it to, can invite us into a relationship of trust.” Do you trust that in all things God works for our good? Do you believe, as Debbie said, that our crosses are always given to us out of love?

2. The Blessed Mother gives us a wonderful example of how to support loved ones going through difficult or painful seasons, even when faced with our own challenges. After the life-changing message at the Annunciation, Mary went to be with her cousin Elizabeth and offer her help during the final months of her pregnancy. Later, Mary suffered alongside her son as she stood at the foot of His cross as he died.

Is there someone in your life to whom you can offer a “ministry of presence”? How might God be calling you to support them or enter into their suffering?

3. Scripture tells us to “rejoice in our sufferings.” Why is suffering something to rejoice in? What does this look like in your own life?

4. Looking back on suffering you’ve experienced, can you see the ways in which God worked in your life through that season? How did God use suffering to purify your heart and bring you closer to Him? If you’re going through a painful season, how might He be inviting you to grow?

Text: Seasons of Suffering: Walking in the Shadow of the Cross

We Will All Go Through Suffering

Hi, my name is Debbie Herbeck and my talk title today is Walking in the Shadow of the Cross. I’d like to talk today about suffering, certainly not one of our favorite topics, but certainly something that needs to be talked about. I once heard a quote and I don’t even remember who said it, but it goes like this: “no one minds being surprised by joy.” It is the unexpected crosses that are generally less welcome. Now, as I stand here today, I absolutely cannot promise any of us that we will never go through suffering. People we love will die. We’ll be disappointed, hurt by others, experience loneliness, fear, disappointment, even disapproval for doing what is right. Our own bodies will fail us, we will experience mental anguish, and we all know that we live in a fallen, broken world. In fact, the scriptures tell us to expect suffering, and not only to expect it, but to receive it and to receive it with joy. 

How Can We Embrace Suffering?

So as we speak today about suffering, about walking in the shadow of the cross, I’m going to use a lot of scripture, and I want to do that purposefully because I want us to understand how much this is a part of our life, so much so that there are many, many scriptures that talk about how we can suffer and how we can suffer well. So, the question here today is not how to avoid suffering, but how With God’s help and God’s grace we can really embrace the suffering that He brings us. We can understand it and we can allow it to draw us into deeper intimacy with Christ. Suffering’s not only unavoidable, but it is good and necessary if we can receive it as a gift. 

A Relationship of Trust

So, I want to talk a little bit about how to do that. First of all, probably foremost, is suffering, if we allow it to, really invites us into a relationship of trust, to a belief that a good God loves us, to the conviction that He’s guiding us and that He’s allowing all things to bring us into communion with the Trinity. So I’m going to begin with the passage that’s very well known to all of us from Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” Just to repeat the beginning part, “And we know that in all things God works for the good.” 

So, I just want to challenge us each as we begin, do we know that? Do we believe that in all things God works for the good? And then Paul goes on to give this very powerful proclamation of the faithfulness of God’s love. “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 

Christ Jesus who died, more than that, who was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of God? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all the day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nor the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the end of Romans there. It’s a beautiful declaration of God’s faithfulness. 

Given Out of Love

So, we can believe that whatever the future holds, it will involve whatever our Heavenly Father allows in order to make us more like His son. And so we can believe that our crosses, our sufferings that we carry, are always given to us out of love, out of God’s deep love for us, and always given as an opportunity for us to learn how to express more deeply our love for Him. I’m going to say that one more time, because I think it’s important. The cross is always given as love. It’s given as proof of God’s deep love for us and an opportunity for us to express our deep love for God. 

All of God’s chosen ones are given trials, and often we find the soul that is most closely united to God, for sure in the lives of the saints, is one who has been given his cross or her cross and has learned to carry that cross well. What our suffering often does is it allows us, if we pay attention, to recognize our own limitations and our need and our dependency on God alone. God allows the suffering as a means and a way for us to stay close to Him, to be near to Him. And our suffering can actually bring us joy, because it produces virtue, it produces fruit in us that prepares us for heaven. 

This is from Romans 5:3, 4. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” And we can rejoice because we know that there’s a reward, that it is not in vain that we suffer. 2 Timothy 2:12, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” We shall reign with the one who has suffered. 

Teaching Us to Love Others

Suffering can also teach us how to love others well. This is from 2 Corinthians 1:3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction,” and then listen to this, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” And so God allows us to suffer and to receive his comfort so that we know how to comfort and help others in their sufferings. 

I think Mary’s example is such a beautiful example of what suffering looks like. In the very beginning, she was told that a sword would pierce her own heart, that she would experience tremendous suffering through what she was called to do and through her role as the Mother of God. And we see Mary at the cross there with Jesus, a mother’s heart who is powerless to change the destiny of her son, who is powerless to save him from his pain and from his suffering. 

Personal Experiences With Suffering

I love the sculpture, the beautiful “Pieta” sculpture where we see Mary actually holding the body of her son after the crucifixion. And this is what we’re called to do as well. One of the most difficult experiences that I’ve had in my own life is to witness the suffering of those that I love. My brother Mark was killed in a very severe car accident when he was 17 years old and I was 15 years old, and the suffering that I experienced was beyond words. But to watch my parents suffer at the loss of their child and their firstborn son was horrific. And when my mom died of cancer earlier on in her life, I had to go with my sister and to tell my grandmother that her daughter had passed away. And so to watch my grandmother carrying the suffering, not only of carrying the suffering from the death of her grandson, and also her daughter now. It was difficult to see. 

But to learn how to carry these people like the Mother of God, who cradled, who held the suffering Jesus in her arms, we are called to do that, to hold their pain, even if we have nothing important or significant to say, to be there, to have the ministry of presence, to be with people, to show compassion as they suffer. 

Sometimes it means going to be with people, like Mary went to be with Elizabeth in her time of need. I remember years ago when a very dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer and had a very serious operation. And I didn’t know what to do for her or how to help her and I felt like the Lord just said, “Go be with her. Get on a plane right now and just go be with her. Go help her with her children. Go read to her, help her wash her hair, help her do chores around the house. Just go be with her in her time of need.” 

And finally, often we’re called to love in a particular way with those who are suffering when it’s hard to love. As I mentioned before, my mom died of cancer. She was diagnosed and given six weeks to live. And I’d had a very difficult relationship with my mother, not only growing up, but after my conversion and my decision to follow Christ. It was very difficult. And when I received the news from my mom that she had only six weeks to live, I didn’t know how to love her and I didn’t know how to be with her in her suffering. And I remember going home that weekend knowing her time was short, and doing the 4 1/2 hour drive home, listening to worship music on the way home, taking the time to pray and intercede and pray the rosary, and really ask the Lord and ask Mary to help me love my mother. 

And I remember walking to the house and coming into the kitchen and my mom had her back to me. She was standing at the kitchen sink and already was beginning to look frail. I remember coming and putting my hand on her shoulder and feeling her pull back a little bit, because that was uncomfortable. It wasn’t the way that we communicated love or tenderness to one another. And I was afraid. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to love my mom in her time of suffering and her time of need. And as my mom turned around to face me and I looked at her and I looked in her face, and I saw in my mom’s face the face of the suffering Christ. And I knew in that moment what the Lord was calling me to do was to love Him in her, to love the suffering Christ in my mother, the one He had died for, the one He loved, even if she didn’t know His love. And so those next number of weeks, I was able to be with my mom. And the Lord did not heal her physically, but He healed so much emotionally in her and so much between us and our relationship, because I was able to love her and to love Christ in her. So, we are called to love others in their suffering and to bring them comfort, and there’s many, many ways that we can do that. 

How to Suffer Well

Well, how do we endure, or how do we suffer well? I think one way is to just draw strength and inspiration and grace from the one who suffered the best for all of us, the one who knew what it was like to suffer. That is to look at the cross, to look at Jesus, to follow Jesus in his passion and to ask him to teach us what it means to suffer well, what it means to suffer with obedience to the Father’s will, what it means to suffer in deep trust of the Lord. It doesn’t mean we don’t question, it doesn’t mean we don’t cry and we don’t cry out to the Lord, but to ask the one who knows how to suffer how to suffer well. 

It means living out our identity, living out of our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God, claiming and clinging to the promise of God that He is good, that He is faithful, that He brings good out of all things, leaning into those promises. And suffering and crosses and trials test how deeply rooted we are in those promises of God. It means having eternal perspective and remembering that this life is only a passing shadow. It’s only a breath, that we are not living for this world, but we’re living for the next. And death is a doorway and an entryway into life forever in love with God. So having that eternal perspective. 

It means giving thanks in all situations. It’s much easier to complain and to gripe and to mumble and to groan than it is to give thanks. But scripture tells us to give thanks in all circumstances, not in good circumstances only, but in all circumstances, so learning how to give thanks. It means to come before the Lord honestly with humility, and to ask him, Lord, what do you want to do in me with these sufferings? How do you want to use these sufferings to purify my heart so that I might be ready to meet you one day? How do you want to use my sufferings in the lives of others, to pray for them, to help alleviate their suffering and their pain? 

Obstacles That Turn Into Blessings

There are some obstacles I think that we all know are human obstacles to our suffering that we can encounter as we go through these different levels of suffering as we begin to receive and accept our suffering and to see what the Lord is doing. I think self-pity is a very common one. Why me? I’ve often heard people say, why is God doing this to me? And so, we can be overcome by a sense of self-pity. I think self-reliance, okay, this is hard, I’m just going to get through it on my own. I’m not going to ask God for help or anyone else, but I’m just going to put my head down and I’m just going to get through it. I think we can experience anger and resentment for a situation towards other people, even towards God. Again, why is this happening to me? And I think most commonly we can just fill our lives with distractions, even in the midst of our sufferings. We can look for other things to console us, to provide a sense of entertainment or distraction from what is really going on, not only physically or emotionally or spiritually, but what is God trying to get in my life as I’m experiencing this suffering? 

I do want to say that I think the fruit of suffering and suffering well is often seen in the rear-view mirror, so to speak. It’s often seen as we get some distance on it as we can look and see, oh, that’s what God was doing in that situation. Now I see how God brought good out of that really, really hard time. And I can honestly say looking at my own life as I was going through that tremendous suffering of my brother’s death when I was a young teenager and the family crisis that we went through, that trauma helped begin me on the pathway to asking the questions about where is God. And God used even that most severe trauma of my brother’s death to bring me into a deep personal relationship with Himself. I don’t know if I would’ve gotten there and asked those questions without that particular trauma in my life. 

I also remember one time my daughter had a very, very difficult miscarriage of her first child. And looking back now, the Lord used that time in their lives and in her married life to really help her husband be more in tune with the things of heaven and the realization that that child in heaven was in heaven now, and if he wanted to be with that child one day that he needed to get his own life on track and really come to know Jesus more personally. 

And so that trial and that suffering in their own lives was a way that really ignited their own faith in the Lord in a deeper way and helped them really seek after God. I know all of us have stories of watching and seeing sometimes in the rear-view mirror how God is working good even out of our suffering. Every time we walk in the shadow of the cross, we have the chance and the opportunity about, how are we going to respond to it? Are we going to give into fear, to discouragement, to anxiety, to self-pity, to self-reliance, or are we going to turn our face toward God? And in this instance, we can look at the Lord Himself on the cross, suffering, not only physically, but suffering the spiritual torment and the carrying of all of the weight of the sin of the world, and in that moment, turning His face toward his Heavenly Father and crying out to Him. And we too can cry out to the Lord in those times of suffering and trouble. 

Fear Not

As Christ’s followers, we can find peace even as we face the cross. There’s no guarantee that we will never experience the cross, that we will never be afraid. But on nearly every page of scripture is the command, is the reminder, is the promise that the peace that’s offered to us through Christ is enough. Jesus says “fear not” 365 times for a reason. We too need to know that He is with us in all things. 

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray. Lord, give us the grace to receive the sufferings and the crosses that you bring to us. Help us to walk in the shadow of the cross with deep trust and humility and faith in your promises. Help these crosses in our lives draw us near to you. Help them prepare us to be with you one day, and show us, Lord, how to be with others in their suffering. How to walk with them, how to hold them, how to be present to them. Lord, we thank you today for our sufferings, for all that you have done, and for all that you will do to bring good out of them. And we ask all this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

About Debbie Herbeck

Debbie Herbeck has shared with many her personal journey of faith from Judaism to Christianity and subsequent entrance into the Catholic Church. For the past forty years, Debbie Herbeck has worked extensively in youth and women’s ministry, speaking, leading mission trips,and mentoring high school and college age women. She is the founder and Executive Director Pine Hills Girls’ Camp. Debbie is the founder and Leader of the Be Love Revolution, a ministry that exists to help young women encounter Christ and be His love to all they meet. Debbie has written four books, and is a frequent author and speaker for Blessed is She and contributing writer for Undone: Freeing your Feminine Heart from the Knots of Fear and Shame.

Debbie and her husband Peter recently wrote a book together entitled: Lessons from the School of Love—Creating a Christ-Centered Marriage. They live in Ann Arbor, Michigan and have 4 young adult children and 11 small grandchildren.