Embracing Suffering

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Romans 5:3-5 ‘Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’

Suffering.

We all want to avoid it.

We all try to escape it.

Our flesh rises up to run from it.

The enemy tries to magnify it.

What if we embraced it?

What if we embraced it in others?

I walked yesterday in 70km gusts of wind. It wasn’t a constant gale, there were moments of the heavenly scent of crabapple blossoms assaulting my nostrils, baby ducklings waddling unhindered, stillness and calm, baby bunnies seeking safety.

And then gusts that blew me off-balance, causing me to put my head down and press into it to gain traction, my breath on hold until it passed around and through me. It struck me that life so closely resembles what a wind creates. We go along minding our own business, completely enamoured with all that is around, when WHOOSH our breath is sucked out of us. A death, a sickness, a temptation, a betrayal, a disaster, a disappointment, any kind of perceived set back to the path that was smelling amazing and looking hopeful.

My suffering presently comes in the form of hormones running amok trying to navigate this perimenopausal pathway. The symptoms have been presenting themselves for a few years slowly but surely and for some reason have decided to turn up the heat (sometimes literally) this year. To say that I feel like I’m losing my ever-loving mind is a great understatement some days. I vacillate between ‘normal’ to depression to crying to resistance to weight loss which causes crying to forgetfulness to anger to racing thoughts to crying to pains to sleeplessness, and oh did I mention crying? I have begun to seek help along with crying to God for direction and strength and clarity. I am doing my research,  keeping in mind that the comfort I receive may be to suggest it to many other women in years to come. I sense we do not need to have years of suffering.

Graham Cooke said, “The expectation of God can engulf your circumstances.” I want to walk with God through this, I don’t want my character lacking because I did not embrace this suffering.

There was a time in my life that I was less concerned with my character and more concerned with avoiding the suffering in my life. The more I have embraced that suffering is part of the human condition, the more life is about God and less about me. I think we all have a natural aversion to pain and sorrow. Who really wants to live in this place? How do we ‘glory’ in our suffering? I am learning it is a part of what makes us whole and sometimes a lot of our pain stems from trying to avoid what we think is a non-redeemable whole hot mess.

But God…

As you see in the Romans passage above, it doesn’t stop at the suffering. In ‘Through the Eyes of a Lion’, Levi Lusko says, “Whatever our cross to bear is, is not going to last forever. What God produces in us will.” We live eternally, either with God in heaven or in hell. It is our choice and so it is with our character. We can choose to live in the brokenness that comes and is in us and the world or we choose victory, knowing that what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross is enough. We are free. We can choose to live in the hope of that regardless of any sickness or pain we may endure. David Crowder band says it best, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t cure.” (Come As You Are)

Why are we so unwilling to face our pain? I think in the deepest part of us we know that we cannot handle it in our own strength. So does God. Are we missing the mark by enduring the suffering that we are given? A dear wise friend who has suffered with depression and anxiety responded this way,” I think it surrounds his Glory. It always comes back to Him. It’s not about us. LordemptymeThat is where we miss the mark. We can go through seasons of being free. But God also uses these ‘thorns in our flesh’ to draw us closer to Him. God knows us better than we know us and so in that he knows what will cause us to run to Him. He is jealous for our attention and I’m speaking out of my own experiences but it’s been in my worst depressions and deepest anxieties that my heart has sought after Jesus the most because I knew He was the only one who could save me.”

I think we have a tendency to judge things that we do not know or understand as we grapple with our unbelief when God has not brought the healing we seek. The truth of a God who allows suffering does not line up with our Sunday School understanding of a God of love. How can this be love?

It is in our own weakness and inability to grasp the depths of His love that we fight instead of embrace.

It is here that we throw out meaningless platitudes to those in the midst of suffering. It is here we are afraid to enter in. Yet, it is here that God invites us. To come without understanding, to sit without words, to hold up arms in prayer and practical love. For ourselves. For others. With Him.

You see suffering produces things. In the verse from Romans above, particularly perseverance, character and hope. James assures us to ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

One definition of perseverance is ‘a continuance of a state of grace to the end’. To me this means keeping our eyes on Jesus and walking in the grace he affords us freely, to continue to look toward Him and it is in this that our character is deepened. It is here we are given the strength to stand and have a testimony of God’s grace, goodness and glory. It is in this place hope is born. And Hope does not put us to shame!

So, we will all suffer in our lifetimes. How we respond to it is either key to our growth or our detriment. We have opportunity to choose and choose again. A godly response or a fleshly one.  ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ Romans 12:12

How we help other people walk through suffering contributes to the character God is building. When you think you have nothing left to give, God sends someone who needs a smile, a hug, an ear, a helping hand. It is in this season when I am afflicted that many have come needing all of these things and more and so I pray for the ability to walk through it all in a continuing state of grace in order that His glory be shown.

‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired and weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.’ Isaiah 40:28,29.

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How are you turning to God in your suffering and weakness?