(Disclaimer: I will say at the forefront that I do NOT suffer well. I don’t like to suffer; and I really don’t know who does. And I have also learned much from writing this post. So, I hope this post is a blessing to you as well. Thank you for your sweet comments on the last several “faith and life” blogs I’ve written. You have been sweet community to me.”)
Probably in the world’s eyes I’ve not suffered a lot in my life. But, I’ve learned that suffering is indeed felt and experienced differently by different people. I’ve people in my life who:
– have children who have suffered long with different forms of cancers or disabilities
– have wombs that are barren and can’t have biological children
– have lost parents or grandparents
– have adult children who aren’t living for the sake of the gospel
– have family members lost in a natural disaster
– have lost jobs or friends
– aren’t sleeping because of babies in the home who are struggling to get on a schedule
– have absent spouses who don’t pursue Christ and their marriage
I wrote this post while waiting for a women’s event to start. When I got home from the women’s event my husband was holding our infant and said something was wrong. He never goes to sleep on him and his breathing was very labored. He had inhaled a small teething tablet into his windpipe and now it is stuck beyond the coughing it up point. We all had a restless night pondering what to do – and decided this morning to take him into a pediatrician. She immediately requested x-rays. Now we are waiting for the results and a plan of action. That is a form of suffering. Just as an example.
Below are 6 things that I’ve learned as I’ve pondered suffering for the last several months:
1. Suffering is inevitable. (John 15:20, 1 Peter 4:12) No matter what form your suffering takes – suffering will come to you (whether you are a Christian or not). For Christians, the Bible says that since Jesus suffered, we will suffer too. We should expect it. We should not be surprised when it happens – whatever “it” is. Suffering isn’t necessarily because of our sin. Jesus was perfect, but knew suffering. We may suffer for righteousness or we may suffer because of our sin. Either way, suffering will be in our lives. That is why we pray all the more fervently “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 21:1, 4)
2. Suffering should lead us to humility. The reason I don’t suffer well is because I have come to the realization (through the help of the Spirit) that I don’t think I should suffer. My point of reference is other sinners around me. I don’t think I should suffer because I’ve not sinned as much as other people. But, thankfully the Spirit is showing me that I am indeed a sinner, and my suffering is sometimes because I sin and sometimes it is just because that is the will of God for my life.
3. Suffering has two ends: God’s glory and my good. God gets much glory in our lives when we suffer well. Tim Keller, NYC pastor and author, writes in his book on suffering: Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you.” (58) When we suffer well – God gets glory in this sin-filled world. And what do I mean that it is for my good? I’m learning as I study the Bible not to take verses out of context (something I learned mostly while in seminary and still practicing the discipline today). Philippians 1.6 says God will complete the work he began in you at the day of Christ Jesus. Mainly…Paul is meaning that since God the Father sent Jesus to purchase your salvation on the cross…that he will sanctify you and you will be perfect when Christ returns. We won’t look perfect here because we will still dwell in this sinful world – but once Christ comes we will be like him! Praise the Lord. I look forward to the day when my sin will no longer hurt me and will no longer hurt those I love.
4. God wants us to suffer well with joy. Note: I didn’t say with a smile on our faces. Joy is something that is of the Spirit and is only found in Christ. Joy runs deep. Joy is not based on our circumstances. Joy is something that can seldom be explained. I think of a mom of two adopted littles who is not able to have biological children of her own. Her hope and joy in Christ hasn’t decreased over the 7 years I’ve known her. She focuses and perseveres in Christ and His Word. She is hopeful and thankful. I think of a set of parents whose young son has struggled with cancer for over a year – and in that time the father has lost his dad and he himself is suffering with intense back pain. His hope stays on Christ. His joy doesn’t come in the fact that his son has cancer – but that his Christ is bigger than cancer.
5. Suffering is meant to bring us to Christ. When we suffer, we tend to look inward, find hope and strength or comfort in things that we can supply for ourselves. That is not the point of suffering. Christ, when he suffered, went to the Word and went to his Father. When we suffer – do we run to Christ or do we turn to other things that we think will bring us comfort. For me, the thing I turn most to is food (or shopping). Christ is kind to me when he gently reminds me that food will not make me feel better when I suffer, but ultimately it will leave me shameful and more deep in despair. John Piper says this of my favorite male author Jerry Bridges, “he writes with depth about suffering because he has gone deep with Christ in suffering.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
6. We should serve others even in the midst of our suffering. I’ve known so many families over the course of my life who live this out well. I know families who constantly have their door open and their home filled with people, even when going through immense struggles. I know women who love on others in their lives even when they are hurting. Paul, who was in prison during the writing of some of his letters, served the church (and not himself) by writing these letters even when his hands were in shackles. 2 Corinthians 1:4)