Not only is it part of our spiritual formation track but it’s a heavy presence in our Bible track with the Old Testament prophets and equally so in our counselling track. In all 3 cases we’re not being told how to avoid suffering or how to help others stop suffering but rather to embrace suffering for the necessary color it brings into our journey.
This morning we felt, thought and discussed our way through two similar but different accounts of suffering. The first was “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. In AGO, Lewis bravely shares his journal entries from immediately after the loss of his wife to a prolonged battle with cancer. It’s a raw, courageous, and profound record of how a man of faith and intellect is reduced in both, reduced to ashes. He eschews easy and patronizing answers. He bares his soul.
The second was, “A Grace Disguised” by Gerald Sittser. In AGD, Sittser shares the story of the sudden, tragic loss of his wife, mother and daughter in a car accident and the journey of suffering that followed. It’s “processed grief” but his telling is still raw, vulnerable and sore. He writes from the vantage point of 3 years out from the tragic accident but he makes it clear, life will never be the way it was before, he will never be the same person he was before, suffering is transformative and we are either destroyed by it or changed by it.
In both stories we see the incredible grace of suffering that expands and enlarges our capacity for God as it stretches our soul beyond what we could ever imagine it could bear.
Lewis writes, “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.”
And again, “Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”
I want my life to be full of all the colors of God but this color, in almost all its shades, I confess, I fear.