Tim Keller, in his excellent book “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering” says that suffering is necessary. That it’s an important way to grow. That people who escape suffering are typically lacking in terms of resiliency, of knowing their strengths and weaknesses, of understanding the human experience with a depth of wisdom.
Interestingly, the same devastating or traumatic experience can destroy one person, yet strengthen another. We have to approach it in an effective way, specific to our particular variety of suffering (whether it be illness, physical pain, facing possible death, experiencing the loss of a loved one, suddenly imposed physical limitations, lack of basic needs, even a nasty break-up) to glean growth rather than bitterness. Our hearts will be broken now and again in ways mostly small, but sometimes big. My big one is cancer. Some days that feels a little like this:
Maybe your “big thing” is totally different. And maybe it’s from the past. Or it hasn’t come yet. Not trying to scare you. But my hope is each of us can do a little “prep work” to help us be armed against suffering totally destroying us.
This is by no means an exhaustive list for how to deal with suffering…if you want that, start with Keller’s book. However…
Some ways to prepare ourselves to be pointed in the direction of growth and away from the direction of bitterness:
Let’s expect that we will suffer. Ok? Something upsetting is going to happen at some point. So let’s not fear or be overwhelmed by it but let’s notice that chances are, something devastating will occur in our lifetime. That’s life. Life is full of joy and fun and boredom and annoyance and tragedy. It just is.
Let’s deal with our illogical notions that if we are well behaved, we will escape suffering – it’s not Biblical, and it’s just not true if you look around. You know perfectly nice people that have suffered.
Let’s wrestle with the difficult reality that encountering suffering does not mean God does not love us. Because, umm, like Jesus totally suffered and he’s God’s favorite.
Let’s believe that suffering can produce many things: perseverance, character and hope, to name a few. But also glory. Straight up glory. When all seemed lost, as Christ died on the cross…they must have thought “game over.” A skinny naked teacher hung there dying. A crude and tragic sight. What fools they must have felt like, following him around for those years. But little did they know what was happening. Little did they know the spell was being broken. That Death was being defeated. That God’s love was pouring out.
Maybe God’s love is pouring out in the midst of your suffering and mine. God can be quite subtle in His ways. Look for the evidence. I bet it’s there.