Suffering Well

snowy lane

Ian MacLaren, a noted Scotsman, once said these wise words of counsel, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.”

I think back to a time when I was going through a lot of suffering. It was a point in my life when I wanted to do so much, but I didn’t have enough strength to tie my daughter’s shoes. It was a time when my days were mostly spent in bed, and I literally had to remind myself to breathe because I could hardly wear my own skin. It was, in many ways, a time of deep shame.

By no means do I feel I have suffered more than others, or that I have unique insight into pain. I trust we have all walked through difficulties- an illness, injury, loss, injustice, barrenness, loneliness. Suffering is sadly a part of our experience.

But when I was at my sickest with Lyme Disease, I began to contemplate this question: what does it mean to suffer well?

It wasn’t that I felt suffering was somehow in itself a virtue. I didn’t want to suffer; there was no hidden need for attention or pity. I had tried everything to get better. I had, at this point, seen so many doctors and tried countless treatments. I had prayed and believed so hard for God to take my pain away and heal me. But there I was, one, two, three years later, still sick as ever. I felt I had no other choice but to accept that this was something I needed to go through, and if I had to go through it, I wondered how to do it well.

The Bible tells us that God’s grace is sufficient and made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and that we should consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2-4).

The idea that we should know “pure joy” in the face of pain because of the fullness of God’s grace is still a deep and profound mystery to me. I realize now though, it’s something we can only comprehend in faith.

I admit, it was hard to be honest about how much I was struggling. I didn’t want to tell others that I was overwhelmed and still flailing about. Where was my faith in a sovereign and good God?  Where was this joy I was supposed to have?

It has taken a while, but I understand more clearly that this “pure joy” cannot be pretended. It cannot even be rushed or produced with sheer will. It really doesn’t come from our own strength or doing.

And this joy doesn’t always look like we expect it to look either.

The challenge, however, is that many have come to see the Christian call to “suffer well” as to somehow suffer without struggle. There is an unspoken belief that if we trust in God’s sufficiency, we should no longer hurt or have questions. God’s grace is enough, period.

It is enough, but we are oh so human.

And it can be a process to get to this joy – a messy, sanctifying, burning away the dross kind of process, let me add.

I see now, Jesus came for the very ones in process, the ones still dragging themselves mid-journey, the unwell, the misunderstood, the weary, the greatest sinners of all. Jesus’ words were this: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

Ultimately, finding joy in and despite afflictions is possible only through grace. It has very little to do with our own fortitude and all to do with surrendering to Him.

I believe suffering well means being brave enough to admit we are indeed weak, and yet in that same cry, proclaiming with faith in the unseen hope that no matter the circumstance, God is greater.

Let’s remember Jesus’ own words on the cross. His words of exhaustion, pain and despair: “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

And before that in the garden of Gethsemane, His words to His disciples were this, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” (John 12:27)

This is not an absence of faith or disobedience. He had emotions and didn’t deny them. Jesus expressed His need for the comfort of His friends in His distress, but this was not weakness. He knew the outcome would be victory, but still, He cried out to His Father in that moment – in honesty, humility, humanity. In the face of suffering, we so often forget, that Jesus struggled.

And who has suffered more perfectly than the Savior Himself?

If you are seeking Him and yet still struggling, did you know? You are needed.

Ann Voskamp has summed this up well. “It is the wounded ones who makes us heal. And it is the hurting ones who make us honest and it is the broken ones who put us back together again and it is the scarred ones who make the Body of Christ sensitive.”

snowy cross

My friends, remember, everyone is carrying a heavy burden. No one has truly, completely arrived.

And if the world has needed the One with the greatest scars…who are we to be ashamed of ours?

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Suffering Well

  1. I’m glad that you’re not going through all of that alone and that you’re here with us to make us look at some things through your eyes. Sufferring is not easy, and the more poeple I meet, the more I agree that everybody is carrying a heavy burden, but aren’t we here to help each other or, if we can’t help, at least to support?

    1. Completely agree. While I wish there was less suffering, I am thankful that we can share in each other’s joys, hurts, and all else in between. Yes, that’s why we need people and can’t really exist as an island. Thanks so much for your comment here.

    1. Thanks so much! So glad to that you stopped by here. I see that you have gone through your own journey as well… keep getting stronger! 🙂 I am actually doing well these days (except for the normal exhaustion of being a mommy and all that!). I wrote this as more of a reflection of what it once was like for me a couple of years ago. I guess once you go through this kind of suffering, you don’t want to forget the lessons you learned!

  2. I love this, Kim …”I understand more clearly that this “pure joy” cannot be pretended. It cannot even be rushed or produced with sheer will. It really is a result of pure grace.” It’s amazing how so often we try to manufacture joy, when we feel anything but. You are so right – it’s a journey, not a destination and it’s God that leads that process. Pure grace … yes. So glad that you’re here and writing again. Blessings, friend.

    1. Thank you Tiffany! I feel like I am still growing in my knowledge and understanding of the “consider it pure joy” passage. I do agree that we can often try to manufacture an appearance of joy on the outside … just to seem like we have it all together and to perhaps avoid judgments… but on the inside, there is still a lot of hurt and unrest. There is a lot of pressure to seem strong- and sometimes we are and sometimes we aren’t right! God has been showing me that it is okay to admit when we struggle because it is then that He can redeem us!

  3. Kim, I so appreciate your post, and your insights. The truth that suffering well does not equal suffering without struggle is such an important one to embrace. We ARE human. We are going to struggle when God allows suffering. The important thing is, what do we do with the struggle. You’ve given me so much to think about. Thank you!

    1. Yes Jeanne, the important thing is what we decide to do with the struggle. I have been talking to my kids a lot about what it means to face trials and losses… and how really, in life, if we depend on everything to go our way 100% of the time we will be miserable people. Since this is not reality, God asks us to find joy in and despite… a hard thing to learn as an adult and a kid!

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