You know God is talking to you when four out of the five conversations you have about spiritual matters (which is every aspect of my life) circles around to the theme of suffering. Often, Young Life or Wyld Life friends will ask me why there is so much suffering in the world, someone will bring up the meaning of suffering, or the conversation of how Jesus suffered greatly for us will arise.
There are many Bible verses that talks about suffering. Here are a few that come to mind:
Romans 5:3-5: More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
James 1:2-4: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
2 Corinthians 4:8-10: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
In all honesty, when I am suffering, my first reaction is to complain and grumble. If we believe the above verses and the holiness of Christ’s suffering on earth, then it’s important to acknowledge that suffering is a real part of our journey.
And when I say real, I mean messy, oh crap, this sucks, I want to beat somebody up or beat myself up messy. It comes like a tsunami wave, and my tendency is to try to control this massive force coming at me so I don’t have to deal with it in me. When I experience or witness injustice, cruelty, insensitivity, fear, I want to wrap it up in a neat box with a bow; I want to package it.
Through reading Brene Brown’s work in Rising Strong, I’ve discovered that I am the ultimate conspiracy theorist. So, when this tsunami wave of suffering comes my way, I wrap it up in a story; Brene calls it “the story I’m making up…”. I want it to make sense, so I don’t have to feel and process the full weight of the experience. What happens is my brain will start to connect dots that may or may not really connect in truth; it’s just the story I make up in my mind to make sense of a situation. Ultimately, it’s my sinful desire to want to control, to feel like I have a leg up on perspective. It’s the desire to wrap it up nicely, so I can put it up on a shelf and not have to deal with it.
What I’ve come to realize in this, is that once you know this about yourself, what you’re (I) really doing is using it as a defense mechanism to not feel and allow something, especially something hard and big, to break your heart. And why do we not want our hearts to break? Because a) it sucks and b)then we have to change. The truth is that once our hearts break, it can never go back to being the same, and change is freaking hard and scary.
And now I am processing this…
that suffering is a way God carves our heart to look more like His, and anytime our lives and hearts go through a dramatic change and shaping, it hurts and involves grieving- a time of experiencing a letting go of what we once knew. When I was teaching, I experienced a few times when I was grieving, and it hurt so bad. One time was over the letting go of the identity that I had wrapped myself in- I am an educator, hear me roar. It was a beautiful shaping process where God was using some disappointments in my career to teach me that I am His child first and foremost. I suffered with the lack of control I felt and ultimately the lack of faith I had in what God’s bigger story that was unfolding in my life and the situation.
My first reaction to those situations and others like it was to grumble and create a story of why I thought people and circumstances were playing out the way they were… you know, create a conspiracy theory. Rather than opening my arms to the massive tsunami wave, I fought it off with grumbling and my own conspiracy theory. Fortunately, God didn’t allow me to use my defense mechanisms for too long; He ultimately made me feel the pain of letting go the identity that I had wrapped myself in, and let me tell you, it hurt. I had invested years in creating this identity for myself. By unwrapping those grave clothes (much like Lazarus coming out of his grave clothes), I had to be vulnerable, be scared, feel grief, and then ultimately feel the sun shining on my face.
I’ve found that if we don’t unwrap those grave clothes of how we think things should be, then we become bitter and dead in our binding. Oh, what a process.
Interestingly, the Bible is far from silent on the topic of grumbling and using these defense mechanisms. Here are some examples:
Philippians 2:14-16: Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
James 5:9: Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
I think back to the stories I’ve spun in my mind rather than rejoice in the suffering. The beautiful thing about waves is that over time they change the shape of the shore, smooth sharp edges of rocks, and break elements down to create sand. Putting up walls to hold the waves back will last for only so long; eventually those will fall away too. His power is large and beautiful and ultimately leaves us different for a greater purpose.
I am learning to recognize when I spin theories to make sense and allow the mystery and power hit me hard and do its best work. It takes courage and great faith, but I think it’s worth it.