I believe, as the Church teaches, that the experience of suffering is both unavoidable and of great value in humbling our will and opening us up to receive and give compassion, forgiveness, and love. There is a very real and divine mystery of grace in Christ’s promise that “in this world you will have tribulation.”
But there is also a very prosaic fact that every experience of suffering resets our personal “pain scale.” The child who scrapes her knee wails in terror and agony because this is THE WORST PAIN EVER as far as she knows. I remember a wasp sting in my childhood as a bullet wound of burning pain; but then a few years ago I got multiple stings from an angry hornet, and thought, “Well, ow, but… is that it?” The person who has grieved the death of a spouse may have his pain scale reset so profoundly that many formerly-devastating experiences are now only saddening.
And this does not always, but ought to make us able to have patience and mercy on people who are at their “10” right now: the Worst Pain Imaginable. The 14-year-old who’s just had a break-up, the 8-year-old who’s had a bad birthday party experience, the twentysomething who has just realized the world is unjust. And some people’s pain scale doesn’t reset: To them it seems everything is an 8 or a 10. If we had any patience and kindness at all in us, we wouldn’t dismiss them for being so dramatic; we would accept that this is how they suffer.
And, while it is absolutely no comfort at all to the person now suffering, for ourselves it’s wise to remember that not only is today’s pain temporary; it is “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” in that we will emerge richer in gentleness, mercy, and love. Or, at least, we may do so, if we “let patience have her perfect work” in us.