“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but 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.”
Romans 5:2-5 ESV
“One thing you can’t hide – is when you’re crippled inside.” John Lennon
In addition to ourselves, another major obstacle we allow to block the “Path to Freedom” is ‘suffering’. Suffering itself takes many forms and occurs as the result of a variety of reasons, and while we may not be able to hide when we are ‘crippled inside’, we can look to God for the strength to deal with it, grow as a result of it, use it to help us come to the aid of others who are hurting, and, ultimately, use our suffering to glorify God.
I had been ‘working’ on this series of articles for a week and had not progressed very far, and I could not figure out why. I wasn’t even sure for a while that this was a series I wanted to do. I mean, obviously there is much suffering around, and I have endured plenty of my own, but was it something that needed to be dealt with as a part of finding our way along the path that leads us to freedom?
The very first sentence of this article illustrates the answer I arrived at. Still, the subject itself is a difficult one. After all, in the end, what we really are asking God to do is help us to embrace our suffering.
Say what? Embrace our suffering?
The truth is that we often allow our suffering to come between us and our relationship with the Lord: We blame Him for the suffering; We get angry at Him when He doesn’t remove it immediately upon our praying for relief from it; We allow ourselves to doubt our faith. After all, if we are followers of Christ and we treat others as Christ would have us treat them, bad things should not happen to us, right?
Of course, we all know the correct answer to this question is not the preferred one, and knowing that God does not spare us from suffering simply because we are His faithful followers is the first step we must take on this particular path of learning to embrace our suffering. If we look to the Holy Bible, we can find a vast amount of Scripture that will help us understand why God allows suffering at all, but we can also find God’s wisdom that will help us find the strength to deal with it, and guidance to help us use it for His glory by helping us to embrace it and use it to help others.
In recent days, I have been posting a series of articles in “The Oakdale Chronicles” titled “Giving A Voice To The Victims”, in which a young woman named Diane S. painfully describes her suffering in the face of her husband going to prison for 10 years. Diane suffers daily for something she had no part in, was not responsible for, and could have walked away from. Her story is testimony to how we can look to God for the strength to deal with our own suffering. I commend her for her determination and her courage, but she gives the credit to God for that and I thank God and praise Him for His faithfulness to her during this most difficult time.
While she continues to suffer, she seems to have embraced that suffering and through her writing is using it to help others, and that is not an easy thing. Let’s face it, it is hard enough to think about God when we are suffering, let alone other people.
Also in recent days, a man in his 50’s by the name of Darren McManus passed away. Darren entered the Spiritual Transformation Program at Central Union Mission around the same time I got out of prison and made the Mission my home. He was a short, wiry man with a serious expression and a deep, gravelly voice who had lived a life that few of us could imagine and suffered immeasurable physical pain as a result of that life. In addition, he had severe degenerative arthritis which greatly increased his overall suffering.
He and I lived for a time in the same dormitory at the Mission. I had my bunk tucked away at the end of the last row in the room, and his bunk was at the beginning of the middle row. Darren would have relatively good days where he could actually be quite physical, but there were many more times when the pain he experienced was quite debilitating and he would be relegated to bed rest. There were times when I would be in my bunk reading or writing and Darren would be unaware of my presence. I could hear him pray to God for relief from his pain, but the form the prayers took was quite powerful and humbling.
Darren always thanked God for opening his eyes, for allowing Him to see the path he should walk, and for His forgiveness, mercy, and grace. Not once did he ever blame God or display anger for his circumstances. At times, though, he would ask God for the death that would bring him to his Father and release him from his excruciating pain. He knew his pain would be removed from him upon entering the Kingdom of God, and it was that entry into his eternal home that Darren prayed for in what he thought were private moments. I never let him know that those moments were not as private as he had thought.
Darren did more than pray for release from his suffering. He embraced it. He used it to try to hold himself up to others as an example of how we can turn to God when we have completely turned against ourselves and, in doing that, we can live new lives with confidence of a future reward worth far more than anything we could possibly experience in this life.
In my book, “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, I write daily devotionals with varying themes. It is impossible to adequately compose such a book without at least one mention of suffering. Following is one such mention:
the ideal day to embrace your suffering.
“…for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name.” Acts 9:16 NASB
The subject of suffering comes up a lot in the Bible. It is a significant theme and it plays an important role in many of the lessons we must learn in order to grow in our faith. No one escapes unscathed. Suffering is present in everyone’s life to some degree. How it is viewed and how it is dealt with are important matters to consider in a Christian’s life.
Sometimes it is allowed to be a cause of doubt that creeps into our minds, casting a dark shadow on our hearts. “Why me, Lord?” some of us may ask. Or we may think that if God were truly kind and loving, He would not allow us to suffer at all. The importance of rejecting these and other negative thoughts cannot be stressed enough.
The truth of the matter is that regardless of what we experience in this life, it can be used for good; it can strengthen our faith and it can prepare us for a life of service to God. Rather than feel sorry for ourselves or doubt the Lord, our God, we should embrace our suffering, pray to God for strength to see us through it and ask Him to give us wisdom to learn from it and use what we have learned in service to Him.
We have all suffered. Some have suffered more than others and sometimes it is difficult for us to understand why we, in our faith, experience so much suffering while others of little or no faith at all seem to experience none. We cannot always understand why God does what He does. It is not always possible to fully appreciate why He allows certain things to occur in one life or another.
One of the most important people in the history of Christianity was the apostle Paul. His efforts to spread the Word of God are an amazing testament to his unwavering faith in Jesus Christ. However, studying Paul’s life teaches us that Paul endured indescribable persecution, pain and suffering as he traveled extensively, trying to show the way to the salvation Christ gave the world when He died on the cross.
Paul was stoned and left to die. He was whipped several times, beaten with rods, set adrift at sea and was shipwrecked three times. He spent time in prisons, was faced with robbers, dangerous weather and was often thirsty, hungry, cold and tired. He asked for nothing material from anyone. All he wanted for the suffering that he embraced in Jesus’ name was for the people he spoke with to open their hearts to Jesus Christ. “…I don’t want what you have – I want you…” (2 Corinthians 12:14b NLT).
Paul embraced his suffering because he knew what he was suffering for. He knew that the salvation of his soul and an eternal life in the presence of God was worth infinitely more than the inconvenient pain or sorrow of mere human suffering.
Embrace your suffering, even though it may be difficult to do so. Use your suffering as a tool to help you serve the Lord and you will turn that suffering into a gift of love for God. In so doing, you will thank Him for the suffering that Jesus endured as a gift for eternal peace, joy and happiness for you.
As we learn to embrace our suffering and use it to help us continue along the path to freedom, we must also learn to be thankful for people like Diane and Darren who show us where we need to turn in times of our own suffering and how to allow our own suffering to enable us to help others embrace their own.
No one really wants to suffer, but, like Jesus, we must drink from our own cups of suffering at various times in our lives and for various reasons. Some of those reasons are totally beyond our control, and others are brought upon us by ourselves.
When this series continues, we will look at some of those. In the meantime, may God bless you all and keep you safe, and if you are suffering at this moment in any way, for any reason, look to God for His guidance in how to embrace it.