Friday, January 17, 2014

On Learning to Suffer

You know, when I look back on my time in Dallas and how I've changed, one of the primary things I think has changed is how I approach suffering.

I remember, as a highschooler in a group of girls, one of my dearest friends often asking for prayer that she would have a good day. A couple of years after graduation she told me that if she could go back and talk to the students at our school, the main lesson that she'd tell them she learned was that life is hard.

Like the rest of my generation, encountering suffering sort of took me off guard. I think we feel like we're supposed to be comfortable, so when things are hard we try to get out of it, move past it quickly. I tend to feel sorry for myself, to feel like a victim.

So, even though in general life in Dallas hasn't been hard or filled with suffering, for some reason I have done a lot of thinking (and feeling) about suffering and hard things. Enough that something has changed in me. When I moved here and it was lonely and hard, I dwelt in it. Now, when Elly was born and we found out about the cleft palate, or when support raising takes a lot longer and is a lot harder than we'd first hoped, well, it's different. It's not that it isn't hard, it IS. That's the nature of suffering, that we suffer and experience pain and disorientation. Suffering well doesn't mean we don't suffer. But instead I think there is a sense in me now that this is normal, and that God is good despite and IN the suffering and that there is meaning to all of it somehow. Instead of fleeing to pleasure, I think I am more willing to walk through pain knowing that there is beauty and maturity to be found there too.

Apparently Tim Keller has a new book out about suffering. I haven't read it, but Christianity Today recently quoted it.
"We are to meet and move through suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair."
Yes.
We can weep.
We can trust God.
We can pray and wrestle with Him.

Back in those high school days I mentioned above, I memorized James 1. I suppose only now am I beginning to grasp that second verse.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

I know that there's a lot of life ahead of me and it will be filled with more joy and more sorrow. I don't want to be afraid of that. I want to be someone that walks through sorrow with grace.

1 comment:

Nate Johnson said...

I really can't put it into words well, but I think you are right in emphasizing the word "IN" in regards to God's presence in our suffering and pain.

I found the concept of salvific suffering really off-putting at first, but have since taken a comfort in it--it has allowed me to be less afraid of whatever trials may come to me later in life. John Paul II wrote a letter laying the teaching out more systematically:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html

There is an attempt to describe it more succinctly (though still way beyond normal blog attention span) here:

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/08/a-catholic-reflection-on-the-meaning-of-suffering/