…the measure of every man’s virtue is best revealed in time of adversity — adversity that does not weaken a man but rather shows what he is. ~The Imitation of Christ by Thomas aKempis
We know what it is, we are beginning to understand why we are called to suffer, but do we understand how? Is there a formula for suffering well?
First, I think it’s important to address what it does not mean to suffer well. It doesn’t mean a stoic absence of emotion. It’s not a holy “sucking it up” and getting over it. Tears are perfectly legitimate, as is verbalizing to God how we feel:
I feel vulnerable/embarrassed/humiliated.
It’s too heavy…I can’t do this…I need help.
I don’t like this.
How much longer?
Where are you?
Suffering well is not passive. You can’t crawl back under your covers until the trial has passed, ignore it, or will it away. It doesn’t work like that. For an excellent example of this, check out Psalm 88. This is not a quiet, passive, peaceful suffering; neither is it quiet resignation. But check it out, in the middle of the complaints, questions, and tears, there is prayer. He knows where his help comes from; he addresses that Help in the first verse here “O Lord, God of my salvation”. He recognizes the hand of God in his suffering, and even though he doesn’t understand, as he cries out in desperation “why?”, there he is “every morning” and “every day”, approaching the God of His help in prayer. I can relate to this, can you? I go through periods where God is silent, I don’t feel His presence, I feel alone, forgotten and burdened.
It’s easy to be distracted by the pain of the burden, but in learning to suffer well, you learn how to offer up that pain to the Lord, and join Him in his sufferings. Remember, “He suffered, died and was buried”. We can–are encouraged to, in fact– join Jesus, or “go to him” in his suffering, and bear the same abuse he endured. Check it out:
Hebrews 13:12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.
13 Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.
14 For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
And I love the practical application. Not only is there an exhortation, but a “how to”–
by the fruit of lips
offer up a sacrifice of praise
do good and share
...I know why it’s called a “sacrifice” of praise. Because when I’m in the “depths of despair”, the last thing my natural person wants to do is to praise. I have to give up my natural, selfish desires…and offer a sacrifice of praise.
I don’t want to sing, I want to cry.
I don’t want to be thankful, I want to complain.
I don’t want to think of others, I want to pull the blankets back over my head and feel sorry for myself.
But I believe that suffering is active. And honestly, before God as my witness, deep down, in the Spirit that He has placed in me, is a strong desire to follow Jesus. And His own words echo in my soul, that if that’s what I really want, then I need to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him. We hoist that cross…whatever that cross may be, whether it is physical or emotional, financial, or relational…up on our backs and carry it, willingly. The road may not be a short one, it may be one that takes years to walk, and the cross is heavy.
But we are not alone. We are united to Him in His suffering. We are carrying His cross with Him. We are imitating and becoming one with Him in His sorrows and sufferings. In knowing this, we can offer up our sufferings, cries, complaints and selfish desires to Him by the fruit of our lips, in praise to Him, and in doing good to others.
I thought I had finished this post, but as I do with many of my pieces, I scheduled this so I could sleep on it, so to speak. Often, I will publish a post and afterwards think “Oh, I should have included thus and such”, and the thought itself is not enough for a blog post, so it is not really included. By waiting, I can work in those stray thoughts and new examples. This happened with this post, when I read 8 kids and a businness’ post on Tuesday. She brings up a couple excellent examples of suffering well.
In many people’s eyes, committing assisted suicide is a brave choice. What I see as brave is the elderly woman with a chronic debilitating disease who cries out in pain at something so simple as having her leg lifted but she tells the nurse to lift it anyway. She fights for a dignified life each day. What’s brave is the person whose body, ravaged by cancer, is unrecognizable even to family members. In her lucid moments she continues to offer up to God her pain and suffering. Brave is the family of the terminally ill child who lovingly minister to his needs until his final breath. Brave is the family of a disabled child who sacrifice finances, time and career in order to provide the best quality-of-life for their child.
Read the rest for yourself, it is so good, and a message we need to hear today.
This post was edited to add links to my other posts about suffering.