Monday, June 21, 2010

No longer willing to suffer?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

No longer willing to suffer?

I look around at the world we live in today, and wonder what we have become.  When I was growing up, one of the things that I hated the most was a favorite statement of my mom's - "honey, this is just building character".  That particular phrase was put into use from anything from childhood disappointments to full fledged adult heartbreaks.  After our baby daughter was stillborn, I found that statement was actually a biblical truth.  Early one morning, I was walking and talking to the Lord.  I stopped near a beautiful field and opened my bible so that God could minister to my broken heart.  The scripture I read left me weeping and laughing all at the same time.  It was Romans 5:3-5  "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us".  All those years of "honey, it's just building character", and she was right!  Character is produced by suffering. In turn, character gives life to hope, and hope never disappoints.  Suddenly, there was hope in my suffering!  Now, all of the suffering I'd read about in scripture took on a whole new meaning.  God has pressed Joseph and Job and Jesus  Talk about having something to rejoice about - I was in good company!

As I look at our culture, it occurred to me that we have deemed suffering a bad thing.  Rather than seeing it as a refining process - an opportunity for growth and the building of character, we look at it as a thing to be avoided at all costs.  We put "Peace Officers" in state schools so that bullies don't offend our children.  We give all the children a place on the basketball team so that each one will feel like a "winner".   We legislate "hate speech" so that nobody's feelings get hurt.  We implement National Health Care so people don't have to struggle to be responsible for themselves.  And now, we are planning on regulating mortgage lenders so that jobless folks don't have to pay their mortgage.  Suffering is bad, therefore we can't allow it.  Tell that to Joseph when he was sold into slavery by his brothers!  Tell that to Job, when his family, his home and even his health was stripped from him.  Tell that to Jesus, as he bled and died on the cross.  Suffering is what defines our character.  Suffering is what separates the dross from the gold.  Suffering is what gives us the hope of eternal life.

We need to rethink our position on suffering.  Suffering is not an evil to be vanquished - it is a process of refining.  Suffering, if embraced, produces great beauty and lasting character.  And character produces hope, and hope never disappoints.


  1. This is very much true. i have come to this realization over the years and remind myself of it when going thru some hard spot or other. doesn't mean i LIKE dealing with hard stuff, just that i know there will be a benefit from it somewhere down the line, for someone.

  2. I have a very sad feeling (because this post remains true three and a half years later, on the other side of a lot of personal suffering) that our problem with suffering is threefold:

    1) We all want to believe that, if we do everything right, we will avoid suffering. Therefore suffering becomes a value judgment-- if you are suffering, you must have done something to deserve it. It's a punishment, or the result of being a stupid/immoral/ungodly person-- in otherwords, something that "can't happen to me, 'cause I'm not like that"-- instead of something God uses to shape us, that comes to all in its time.

    2) Because of that, we all want to avoid showing ourselves to be in pain. It's very difficult to suffer in silence with a smile on your face, so the solution becomes to avoid suffering.

    3) If we're going to allow people to suffer, we sort of take on a moral obligation to be compassionate about dealing with it. That means doing things like listening, and offering a hand up and real advice instead of platitudes, and a whole bunch of other things we don't want to do. Because that would mean admitting we were there once, or putting ourselves in those shoes and admitting that we could be there again. Which brings us back to the first part of the problem...