Learning to Suffer

Last month I sat in church, listening to the testimony of a guest speaker whose two day old son had suddenly stopped breathing and died. His story struck particularly close to home as I stroked the soft hair of my own infant son, a blessing after five years of infertility. The speaker described the pain of losing his son and went on to discuss other tragedies as well – the deaths of young children battling cancer and the loss of a man’s wife and teenage son, to name a few. He was angry, understandably, that God had not prevented these tragedies in his life and in the lives of others. And eventually, he came to the realization that he feared suffering.

I think everyone fears suffering. You’d be hard pressed to find many people who would welcome tragedy – or even unpleasantness – into their lives. We make plans for smooth, convenient lives and when the inevitable tragedies hit we are thrown into a whirlwind of confusion and despair. To make matters worse, our friends and family often are often unsure of how to deal with our sadness and offer platitudes and neatly rehearsed responses in place of genuine concern.

The guest speaker, on that day in church, was talking about suffering as Jesus did. If you believe in Jesus – or at least know the story – then you’ll know that Jesus was said to be sinless. The only perfect person ever to live, and yet he suffered. He was homeless. He wasn’t liked by the majority of the people in his time. And at the end of his short, 33 years of life he was betrayed by one of his own best friends and murdered. If all of this can happen to someone who is perfect – what types of things can we expect to happen to us?

I used to get annoyed whenever I was having a hard time with something and a person’s response was “just pray and everything will turn out fine.” What they really meant was to tell me that things would turn out exactly as I wanted them to if I just prayed hard enough or had enough faith. But, that’s not true. God is not a genie who grants us everything we want. In fact, I have come to believe that God is not very much concerned with our happiness at all. He wants us to be holy. He wants us to be more and more like him. I don’t know yet if I believe that God causes us to suffer (some say He does), but I definitely believe that he allows it and uses our suffering as a way to help us build character.

There is so much that can be said on the topic of suffering, I could never cover it all in one blog post. It seems as though I am hearing of one tragedy or another every day and I often feel powerless to avoid it in my life and in the lives of others. But perhaps that’s the point. Maybe, instead of always trying to avoid suffering – we should embrace it. We should lean into it. We should allow it to build compassion, faith, and strength in our lives. Perhaps learning how to suffer is the key to easing the pain for ourselves and for those closest to us.

Photo Source: Elisabeth Renne

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