God loves you.
I don't think anyone's hearing this for the first time, but I know that it's something we all struggle to really believe. The first year I taught high school religion, there were no atheists in my classroom. There were, however, a lot of students who wanted to know why, if God really loves them, life can be really hard.
Maybe you've wondered the same thing. I don't think as many people struggle with belief in God as they do with belief in a God who loves them yet allows them to suffer.
Pope Benedict XVI was in Madrid last week for World Youth Day -- a gathering of 1.5 million youth from all over the world. World Youth Day is actually a weeklong celebration that consists of talks, cultural events and liturgies. One of the final stops Pope Benedict XVI made was at the San Josè Foundation for Disabled Youth. I followed the visit, streaming from the Internet, wondering what the pope would say to these children who have such difficult lives.
"Youth," he explained, "is the age when life discloses itself to us with all its rich possibilities, inspiring us to seek the lofty goals which give it meaning. So when suffering appears on the horizon of a young life, we are shaken; perhaps we ask ourselves: 'Can life still be something grand, even when suffering unexpectedly enters it?'"
That question, "can life still be something grand?," is the heart of what we wonder when things go wrong. When we are disappointed by the failures of others or even ourselves, I think at the heart of it is the fear that somehow we've missed out on what life was supposed to be.
Some Christians will even blame a lack of faith or trust in God as a reason for suffering, telling those in pain that if they prayed harder then God would take it away. While prayer is important, especially in the midst of difficulty, it's not true that a lack of faith leads to suffering. Rather, suffering is an opportunity to deepen our faith through understanding what Christ went through to bring about redemption.
Pope Benedict XVI explained, "Jesus and, in his footsteps, his sorrowful mother and the saints, are witnesses who show us how to experience the tragedy of suffering for our own good and for the salvation of the world."
Scripture reminds us that, "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
When bad things happen, it's not because God doesn't love us. Rather, it is an opportunity for us to understand just how much God loves us.
Christ suffered the betrayal of his friends and a horrific death out of love for us. While no one wants to suffer, it gives us a unique opportunity to grow in our understanding of how much Christ loves us and what he went through to offer us salvation.
Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her on Twitter @alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.