With their patience worn out by the journey,the people complained against God and Moses,“Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,where there is no food or water?We are disgusted with this wretched food!”What happens is quite interesting. The people are in the dessert. They are hungry and thirsty. They are complaining. What does God do? He makes their suffering worse. He sends snakes that bite the people and many die.
In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents,which bit the people so that many of them died.Then the people came to Moses and said,“We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us.”So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses,“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.”Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole,and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
It seems strange yet when I think about it it rings true with me. Little sufferings can damage my spiritual life. I can complain. I can get impatient. I can lose my joy. I can really start to resent God. Big sufferings have a different effect. I tend to cry to God in my pain and embrace Him. I find peace in prayer. It ends up making me spiritually stronger.
God seems to have that figured out in this story. God sees the complaining and knows the problem is they just are not suffering enough. They are uncomfortable but they are not dying. They are stressed but still at a stress level where they are focused on their pain and pleasure. They are not at a place where they are worried about their existence.
People say that a lot after they go through major suffering. They see that God brought them into a place of suffering because it was the only way He could bring them to their knees. The little ups and downs of life were not enough. They needed to experience something that would bring the deep questions to the surface.
People can see that when they actually accepted the invitation to come closer to God. They don't always see it. Sometimes they just remain angry at God. They get even angrier because they have to suffer. It is a choice.
The picture in the story is beautiful. What do the people have to do to be healed? They have to look at a bronze snake. That is they have to look at their suffering. Yet not just look at their suffering. They have to look at their suffering put on the cross. Jesus explicitly associates the pole with the cross. This is a picture of the Catholic teaching on uniting your sufferings with the sufferings of Christ.
When the Israelites did so they were healed. Will we be healed when we do it? Not always physically. Still spiritual healing is much more important. The damage that suffering can do to your relationship with God is healed. You can suffer with a real joy because you know that by His holy cross Jesus has redeemed the world and you are helping to make that happen.
That brings us back to our small sufferings. We let them damage us because we don't see them on the cross. We don't see all the annoyances of life at things that can bring us and our loves ones closer to Christ. So they become the opposite. They take out attention and put us in a bad space. We can get impatient and angry.
The only thing that prevents us from lifting up those little sufferings is us. God does not require our struggle meet some minimum requirement to be united to the cross of Christ. Anything frustration will do. You think of St Therese of Lisieux. She brought herself into the present of Jesus through the most minor struggles. We don't need to have a major crisis before we get on our knees and beg for God's grace. We have enough trouble now. Just take whatever it is and bring it to the cross. Then tomorrow, when you have more struggles, you can do it again.
The other thing to consider is that if we learn from our little sufferings we might not need the big sufferings. I am not saying if you do this no big tragedy will strike you. Yet in this story we have a least one example of a major disaster that only happened because they didn't learn enough from minor frustrations. If even a few of our pains can be avoided by suffering better that can be yet another benefit.