Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

Nope. Not interested in enduring hardship. Sorry. Feels too much like self-flagellation. Suffer! Suffer! It’s good for you! I don’t want it. But doesn’t hardship come with life as much as joy? It is the human story.

Hebrews 12:7
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

Perhaps it’s the coupling of the word “discipline” with hardship that sticks in my craw. I want to roll my eyes and say, “don’t do me any favors.”

I suppose, then, whether I like it or not, I need to examine my knee jerk reaction to discipline. I always think of discipline in terms of mistakes and wrongdoing. I get disciplined because I screwed up. Yuck.

But there is an aspect of discipline that I rarely consider and that’s regimen or training. My son recently finished Navy boot camp and he pretty much hated it. The constant demand for detail, for accuracy, for precision, and of course, long hours and hard work, were more than he thought he could handle. But he made it. He completed the challenge and once it was done, he knew he was better for it. It was rigorous and unpleasant at times, but he learned many lessons from the process.

There is a type of training that comes with becoming truly human. Not the human that is self-absorbed and striving for personal achievement and power, but the human who discovers the paradox of living like Christ. That human is different. And those hardships have to do with letting go.

These are the true hardships and once those are endured, the other perceived hardships like sickness, death of loved ones, broken relationships, loss of jobs, hunger, whatever . . . they are more easily lived through.

How can I keep this in my mind today? Discipline.

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Us. Not just Paul and not just Timothy, us. And just like those two followers of old, we can’t earn a place in the “holy club” either. If God has a purpose and a willingness, then there is also enough grace, because of the work of the Christ, we’re in. And all of this happens “outside of time.”

II Timothy 1:9
He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, . . .

I know this verse doesn’t really say “outside” of time, but Paul does write “before the beginning of time,” and I ask, what’s the difference? Because if something is before time, then it’s beyond the control and increments of time. It could be happening “now.” Call is not part of time. That’s amazing!

And if call is not part of time, then service to the Christ is also unhampered by the march of the years of my life. I can be used by God when I am 15 or 90. I can manifest the holy life for a minute, a day, or a lifetime. Those moments are not about me and more than likely, no one will necessarily point at my life’s work or example and say, “oh look, a holy life.” My holy life is in the hands of God’s purpose and grace.

I have skipped the previous verse that articulates the importance of suffering as a portion of the call. This aspect is always a challenge to me. Is suffering a testimony to holiness? I know there are some I can attest it’s true, friends who have walked the suffering pain of cancer and many to their death. Their courage and their abiding love for God during their illnesses humble me still today.

Is that time still to come? I don’t know. Will I choose with courage? If I can just hold on to one truth: suffering in time is finite while the holy life is eternal.

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There were many deep and wonderful discoveries in the book of Colossians and I thank Paul for the words and prayers that came from it. And yet, I forgot he was imprisoned as he wrote this epistle. Who else have I forgotten in their suffering? Who else have I taken for granted?

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

I found this poem by Laijon Liu and give it as a remembrance to those long suffering, to those whose hearts or bodies have been broken, to those I know and to those I don’t know. With this poem, I say to you that I will remember you in prayer. I will remember your distress, your chains, your cries.

Will you meet me in my death?
O Deliverer of my hope,
Will you free me in my peril?
O Healer of my soul,
Will you cure all my disease?

When I cry, shedding tears
Do you taste my bitterness?
When I strive, struggling to survive
Do you stand by and offer your hand?
When I give up, with shattered dreams
Do you pick up all the pieces?

O Listener of all my prayers,
In silence and thunders I wait for your answer.
O Comforter of my broken heart,
In lonely night I search for your solace.
O Helper of my weakened strength,
In unbearable burden I seek your relief.

O Maker of heavens and earth,
May I call you my God?
Even if I never know your name,
Even if I’ve done some shameful things,
Even if I betrayed you and ran away once.

But will you forgive me for all my wrongs?
Will you help me when I reach toward you with my tiny hands?
Will you grant me peace even though we battled all our lives?

People say you set the rules,
But I know you truly love.
When others judge my covers,
You attend my heart and mind.

When my road leads into dark storms,
You will light up my eyesight.
When I fall on hard ground,
You will lift me up to rise.

When I face hardship and scorn,
We will together share our portion.
When I suffer in a hopeless sickbed,
We will together battle in each breath.

When I’m lost alone and lingering,
You will be with me, and guide me home.
One day I’ll die and depart,
But I truly believe
You will lift me up.

O God, our Savior, listen to our prayer.
Fill our hunger, heal our sickness,
Comfort our souls.
If you wish not to answer,
Then please wait for us,
Because we are about to shut our eyes.

–Laijon Liu

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Who am I kidding? I have not suffered for Christ and between you and me, just the idea of it scares the bajeebies out of me. All that comes to mind are the lions , the Christians, and the Roman Colosseum. Not a pretty thought. Or people thrown in prison or crucified. Or Mother Teresa.

Philippians 1:29
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, . . .

The word “suffer” always conjures up extremes.

And not only that, but this verse indicates that it’s a privilege to suffer. The implied implication here is that “not suffering” probably means we’re not doing it right. One author even said it’s because we’re keeping silent and not preaching/telling the gospel message. We’re not suffering because we’re not doing our jobs.

All right, I need to settle down here. I am not suffering, true. And so this message is intended for those who are suffering. Somewhere, in their pain, there is a truth that is intended for comfort: Christ suffered and followers throughout the ages and even today, have suffered. Hold fast to the truth of that because there’s a promise that no one else can receive. That’s hard to believe but we must remember the complete paradoxical nature of our faith. What we presume is the logical way, is not the best way.

I don’t believe I am to seek suffering as a way to test my faith or glob onto some kind of a blessing. But when that day comes, then I will remember that hope rests in the One and my pain can be a gift.

Paul Brand and Philip Yancey wrote a book called Pain, the Gift that Nobody Wants. This is a fascinating book and opens up this idea of pain and what it means both to the body and to the soul. I recommend it.

And I thank God for the words of grace that may be preparing me for that day of pain, that day of suffering. For life is unpredictable and we can never know what tomorrow holds. But I am not to fear the unknown and I am not to fear pain. Forgive me Lord God for giving fear such power in my life.

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Every time I hurt someone within the Body of Christ, even inadvertently, I am actually hurting myself. If I gossip against someone, I am dishonoring myself. If I ignore someone intentionally, I am cutting myself off. I am committing a slow suicide by poison.

I Corinthians 12:21, 26
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” . . . If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

I used to think of these verses as sharing in the sufferings of the saints. In other words, as others experience pain or sorrow, I share in that pain and thereby help the one who is hurting. But today, I see that I am part of the problem. And, more than likely, this truth applies to more than just the body of believers.

Psychologists say that the very things we complain about in others or “see” in the behaviors of others, these are our own bad habits as well. If we observe selfishness in others, we are probably acting selfishly ourselves. When we blanch at someone’s rudeness, chances are we are equally rude.

So, what do I do more than anything else? Judge others. And sure enough, I am also being judged. [Matthew 7:1] When am I going to get this?

I have never understood people, particularly teens, who cut themselves. They say it’s to “feel something” because they have become so numbed by emotional pain and depression. Am I hurting others with my judgments and “tongue” for the same reason? Do I think I will feel better by continuing in this habit?

Don’t I want love as much as the next person? Of course. Then, it’s time to radically change my weapons. It’s time to heal, to love, to mediate, to listen, to accept, to trust. It’s time to really love unconditionally the unlovely, the seemingly dishonorable, the broken.

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In this passage from Romans, Paul writes that suffering goes hand in hand with glory. On this Ash Wednesday, it seems befitting to ask “what is suffering?”

Romans 8:17
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Much attention is paid to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross as his primary moment of suffering. And of course, that is true. He gave everything he had that day and died that we might become “heirs,” eligible for direct relationship with the Father–children.

But is that the suffering we are to duplicate? Some answer that we are to understand that Christ’s death on the cross symbolizes the sacrifices that we are to make on behalf of others. The implication is that those sacrifices will cause suffering. And that can happen.

I am thinking of simpler things today. I am considering other examples of Jesus’ suffering like the pain of rejection, sorrow, misunderstandings, false accusations, hatred, and attacks by crowds. His every word was scrutinized and his enemies were always trying to trip him up. Oh sure, the crowds followed and adored him but they were fickle. They marveled at his miracles but missed the message. They accepted the free food but missed the bread of life. For me, his greatest suffering was the pouring out of himself each day with little to nothing in return. He suffered in his love for us.

That’s right. Loving the unlovely is painful. Loving those who don’t want to love you back is a struggle. Loving when we are tired, feeling sick, or lonely is a challenge.

But there is a promised reward for loving in this way: glory. Our pastor says that glory is really the light or expression that comes from a fully formed character. Perhaps that is true.

Certainly, loving unconditionally brings change within. Loving unconditionally requires authenticity. This kind of love cannot be faked. As I become more transparent, even translucent, only then can the true glory, the Spirit of Christ become evident.

Teach me your Way, O Christ.

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I actually selected this verse on suffering and hope yesterday but couldn’t bring myself to write about it. I don’t go easily into the realm of suffering and pain.

Romans 5:3b-4
. . . we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I suppose I’m doing better. For years, my mantra was “avoid pain at all cost!” And as a result, I would run away from challenges and opportunities. I was afraid. Primarily, it was emotional pain that kept kept nipping at my trail, trauma from my past. I suspected, if I acknowledged the pain in any way, I would be overwhelmed. At one point, I though my body would explode. I had pushed down so much sorrow, disappointment, resentment, and fear, that the pressure on my soul was severe; it was like a geyser preparing to erupt. That’s chaos. It is not the road to hope.

What is suffering then? We recognize it most easily by example. Surely, the people of Haiti are suffering after the great earthquake. So many have lost everything including loved ones. They are sick, malnourished, exposed to the elements, and grieving all at the same time. And yet, we also know, that recovery from such a horrendous ordeal, can only be done through perseverance and hope.

Perseverance is the human piece of the equation. To get to hope, we must choose to press on. As soon as we decide that we will not give up, then hope can find purchase in the soul.

This is the story of Haiti as well. How else could a young woman survive beneath the rubble for 15 days and come out alive.

Hope, by its very nature, is hope in God to intervene. Since hope is about the unseen, the future, the unknown, only God operates freely there.

Why does God allow so much suffering? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. But God has provided a way out of suffering, step by step. Every time a person can make a choice toward healing, perseverance grows in strength. And as perseverance grows, that person’s character is formed and built on the backbone of faith.

In the past two years, two of my colleagues from work have died of colon cancer. Both walked the journey of suffering and although they died, their struggle was a testimony to the survivors who saw perseverance and character and hope never falter. They are the heroes. They are my teachers.

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