Some words don’t translate well from one language to another. One of those words is the Greek word that is usually translated as “brag” or “boast”. It means to lift oneself up, usually with some vanity involved. However, when we see the context of it in Scripture it seems to avoid the vain aspect of boasting. We can feel lifted up and talk about ourselves with greater self-esteem when we realize we are loved and accepted by God just as we are.
To “boast in our suffering” is not to compare hernias or talk about how bad your last operation was or to claim a higher misery index than anyone else. It means we are lifted up even in our sufferings because they cause us to keep going, persevering as we seek relief or a change. Counselors will tell you that pain is a good motivator for change. We will put up with a status quo situation until we experience enough pain to make a change desirable. The imagery is probably better expressed as being pushed forward rather than lifted up in this case.
Martin Luther observed that suffering does not give us patience, but reveals whether or not we have patience. Our true character is revealed in times of suffering. When that character is grounded in the acceptance by a loving God, then we will be reflecting that love in the core of our character.
Justice, however, demands that we do not react simply to our own pain. “Justice will not come to Athens until those who are not injured are as indignant as those who are,” is a quote attributed to Thucydides. A spirit touched by love cannot be callous to the suffering of others. Change for society as a whole will not happen until we are as motivated to change by the pain of others as we are by our own pain.
There is certainly enough pain in the world to motivate us to change. If we leave out the elevated by love aspect, the change is likely to be for the worse. When we love one another, granting each other dignity and worth, then our boasting in our suffering will compel us forward to solutions that are good for society as a whole.