Learning to Suffer Well. The philosophy of thought this book rests on is: 1) Life is often hard, 2) God wants to help (though we do not always know what this help will look like), 3) Our response matters. The daily readings were formed from 1800 years of Christian experience, distilled into understandable beliefs and do-able practices for the present day that, when exercised, will help anyone learn to suffer well.
We’re going to suffer, might as well get the most out of it, eh?
As a Christian book this can be a hard sale. We spend a great deal of time and energy playing theology twister in order to avoid suffering as a part of our faith experience. The beautiful thing about the grace of suffering though is that you can run but you can’t hide. Suffering always wins “hide-n-seek”.
But mid-way through class we took an unusual detour. We left the road less travelled (we’d already left the normal road at the start of the discussion) and jumped on the path even LESS travelled.
The path of self-inflicted wounds. Suffering we bring upon ourselves.
There are the wrongs we've done to others and the wrongs that others have done to us that both bring about suffering. And then there are the self-inflicted wounds that open up a whole other world of pain. We talked about the suffering that comes from shooting our own wounded, poking ourselves in the eye with the sharp stick of judgement, writing checks with our mouths that our character can’t possibly cash.
Dr. Fitch shared a passage that stands as a brilliant standard for measuring our ministries. Forget butts in seats, dollars in baskets and our name on a billboard. Here it is from Isaiah.
“Look at my servant, whom I strengthen.
He is my chosen one, who pleases me.
I have put my Spirit upon him.
He will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout
or raise his voice in public.
He will not crush the weakest reed
or put out a flickering candle.
He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.
He will not falter or lose heart
until justice prevails throughout the earth.
Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.” (42:1-4)
Some of us are building a brand, some of us are building an ego, some of us are building a church, and some of us are building the Kingdom. Looking over Isaiah 42:1-4 will help us figure out which one we are on any given day. As pastors, as followers of Jesus, as people who will be recognized by our love, we need to know those with whom we live and know them well enough that we which read is the weakest and which flames are only a flicker.
To do otherwise is to miss the point all together.
May all who are suffering tonight know the comfort of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. May the mystery of Christ’s own suffering be oil on our wounds and the wine of his blood be strength to our failing hearts. As you limp along this road into the darkness may you remember that the fastest way to sunrise comes from walking deeper into the night. May you find a safe people to call home where no one screams at you, no one crushes your heart and they walk beside you humbly, justly and with mercy on the soles of their feet.