I’ve always loved the story of Job in the Bible. He’s an analytical kind of guy, and he asks lots of questions about why God lets people suffer. In fact, he demands to know—and he gets an answer. From God. The story of Job begins with a meeting between God and his posse of evolved souls, called Sons of the Gods. I imagine them debating how much they should alleviate human suffering or whether suffering provides opportunities for immense spiritual growth. They discuss Job as a case study, and the alternative-thinking “Satan” (who is included in God’s posse) agrees to cause Job great suffering to see if it stretches him to love more and to grow spiritually.
Job’s life falls apart: Nomads steal his herds, fire consumes his sheep, wind destroys his home and kills his children, and he becomes infected with a disfiguring disease. He loses everything he loves. Friends arrive to comfort him and discuss his plight. Job doesn’t agree with their reasons for his suffering and demands to speak directly with God.
God suddenly appears and gives him a tour of this complex universe. Job’s eyes are opened to the bigger picture of human consciousness unfolding. He sees the goodness inherent in all beings and understands the greater view of our collective evolution. His mind expands, his heart opens, and he grasps the ultimate truth that this is a loving, all-good, all-God universe, and we’re on a magnificent journey of growth together.
With his new loving awareness, he’s able to create a wonderful life with a heart full of gratitude. Everything lost is restored. His story is a sort of biblical version of the beloved 1946 Jimmy Stewart film It’s a Wonderful Life.
MY OWN JOURNEY
Lately, I’ve been eager for my own personal God-tour of this complex universe. There have been days when I just can’t seem to “shift up” to embrace the divine goodness in all things. Like political insanity. Or mass shootings. Or pandemics. But mostly like my husband Gene getting an aggressive prostate cancer diagnosis. I lost my first husband to colon cancer years ago and was hoping I’d never face that kind of suffering again.
So I’ve been struggling with this question that Job asks: “Why do people suffer?”
And yet, I know that I have already been lifted into the divine realms. I’ve been shown the bigger view of this ridiculous world of ours. It’s just been a few years. Maybe I need a redo. In 1980, when my young husband Paul died of cancer, I was 29. He died in my arms after a year of crazy suffering. For days afterward, maybe weeks, I was lifted up. Exalted. Held by the angels. I saw this luminous universe for what it truly is—a temporary reality we choose to experience to open our hearts, to lift us into love while we’re still standing here in the dirt.
There’s a clinical name for this transcendent experience: shared-death experience. It happens to people who are very close to someone who dies (and sometimes to hospice workers and nurses, as well), according to Raymond Moody, M.D., Ph.D., author of the classic Life After Life (HarperOne, 2015).
I understood during my shared-death experience that my husband Paul had been guided through every minute of his physical pain and was not in his body for the worst of it. I saw and understood that we’d agreed to the journey, that we’d both needed a soul awakening.
For weeks, this realization held me above my tragic story of a husband dying young. It lifted me far above the ordinary perspective of physical life. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I vibrated with the sacred. I was on the Job-tour with God, the tour that illuminated things beyond earthly comprehension for Job and left him with a heart full of gratitude—until I crashed back into this physical reality and began my life as a widow at the age of 29. I was still here for a reason. My work was just beginning.
LESSONS FROM THE MERCY NUNS
I’d been groomed for this heavenly realization for decades, educated and nurtured by Catholic nuns who knew suffering—knew it in their bones. Nuns who encouraged me to know God intimately and to look deeply at life.
Inspired in high school by these Sisters of Mercy, I created a sort of mantra: Suffering is good for the Soul. It makes us strong and wise. I spread those words across my bedroom wall and thought about them every day. After leaving home and the Catholic Church at 18, I immersed myself in my own personal God-tour studying Hinduism, Buddhism, Native- American spirituality, New Age metaphysics, and A Course in Miracles—until, that is, I stumbled into Unity of Boulder, Colorado, in the early ’80s.
There, I discovered a profoundly compassionate, loving God who dwelled within, who was the light of the world and lived inside all of us. Wow! Here was a whole congregation of people who were affirming that God lives inside of everyone! That Jesus taught unconditional love and forgiveness as “the way” to attain God consciousness here on earth. This gobsmacked me. Knocked me over. I’d found my people! I realized that the moments of pure, unconditional love I’d experienced in my life were God dancing around inside me. Oh, yes! my soul cried out, More of this, please!
The story of Job ends with Job grasping a new truth: His rational, physical-world mind may never understand how and why things work the way they do, but there’s a higher consciousness in charge (the one he connected with during his tour of the universe), and somehow it all works out in the end. So Job decides to be grateful, to continue his daily life without blame or anger. And his life gets better and better. His mind-set goes through a sort of reboot, just as Jimmy Stewart’s character does at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life.
I feel you, Job. After my shared-death experience 40 years ago, I can attest to your profound questions and your realizations. It’s true that we all suffer, and it’s often overwhelming, with a kind of “knock you over and suck the life out of you” pain. But the moment we stop resisting, the moment we fall on the ground in surrender to how things are unfolding—even when we can’t understand why—the moment we reach for a grateful thought in the midst of pain, everything changes for the better.
I’ve definitely hit some rough patches in my life, just like Job. I’ve learned that God lives inside my brokenhearted moments, not in my sadness or struggles. But in the part of me that shifts up for a higher view, that inhales a breath of fresh air in the midst of chaos, that reaches for love in the midst of hate. That’s God dancing around inside of me.
I’ve learned to forgive myself for my pitiful moments, for the times when I don’t seek the love inside the pain, and for those lost days when everything seems too hard. I accept that sometimes I need a new story to break me wide open when I get stuck.
Maybe Gene and I needed to be broken open as we navigate his cancer journey together; maybe we were stuck. I’ll accept that. And I’ll be grateful for wherever this new story takes us. I’ve made a commitment to seek the divine view of all things; to pursue the It’s a Wonderful Life reboot of my mind-set, no matter how sad or lost I feel. To honor that commitment, I’m becoming a Unity minister. (I think Job would be happy about this.)
I’ve met the best folks along the way. Last summer, when my fellow ministerial students and I were at Unity Village, we spent hours sharing our personal pain journeys. One of us had lost a child to suicide, another to cancer. One had battled addiction for 40 years and was in and out of jail and rehab. We had all intimately known the world of low-bottom suffering and had somehow found our way through the pain to love. We’d discovered the only way out was through. Once we’d stopped resisting the grief, rage, and fear—and just let it rip our hearts out and destroy us—we got better. To our great surprise, the pain didn’t destroy us.
It’s true we cried until we threw up, until we passed out, and until our loved ones gave up on us. We railed at God and lost friends until one day, when we were going about our business—maybe at the grocery store buying dinner, or talking to someone on the phone—we suddenly realized we were different. We were happy. We were full of love. That sounds absolutely ridiculous, but it’s the gobsmacking truth.
We’d found a kind of unconditional love for this crazy world and all the struggling people in it. God was loving the world through us! God had gotten hold of us in our grief and remade us into something better. This realization caused us to shift our entire lives in a new direction. Just as it did for Job.
Maybe some people don’t need to suffer to know love. But I did. And I don’t think I’m the only one. Maybe it’s more accurate to say my heart was reshaped by grief, rebuilt to become a reservoir of unconditional love. If my path breaks me open again, if Gene’s cancer takes a turn for the worse, I’ll know exactly where to find God.
I’ll start with surrender. I’ll start with gratitude. I’ll start with love.
Me and Job. We got this.
-By Sue Frederick, author of I See Your Dream Job
Excerpted from Unity Magazine Sept 2020 Issue