In 1974, when Colbert was 10, his father, a doctor, and his brothers Peter and Paul, the two closest to him in age, died in a plane crash while flying to a prep school in New England. “There’s a common explanation that profound sadness leads to someone’s becoming a comedian, but I’m not sure that’s a proven equation in my case,” he told me. “I’m not bitter about what happened to me as a child, and my mother was instrumental in keeping me from being so.” He added, in a tone so humble and sincere that his character would never have used it: “She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us. What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.”
I was impressed both at Colbert's words and at the fact that these sentiments could make it into the New York Times. Part of my work these days deals with trying to explain how unchosen suffering can be beneficial as mortification on behalf of others or as penance for one's own sin. Colbert's mom was right on when she taught him to be grateful for his life regardless. It is so common these days to deal with challenges, whether minor ones like being kept awake by a little one at night or big ones like losing someone we love, by becoming bitter and failing to use these as opportunities to grow closer to God. Colbert is right that God offers deliverance from pain, but "the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain." "The pain is actually a gift... God doesn't really give you another choice." Indeed, we can see suffering as an occasion for anger and resentment or we can see it as a gift, a moment to recognize our dependence on God and a lack of control that allows for a vulnerability and receptivity to the grace of God.
I'm not aiming for one of my children to be a famous comedian, but I hope that I can be like Colbert's mom and give my kids an understanding of pain and suffering that takes them out of the realm of the pointless and into the realm of transformative.