Peter wrote to the early church, “rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.”
I do not normally put rejoice and suffering in the same sentence. But there is a serious lesson for us here.
A Presbyterian preacher told his congregation that “one suffers well not by acting brave or pretending it doesn’t hurt…one suffers well by suffering honestly.” Those are the words of a good pastor. He knows that the primary way to healing is to follow the truth even when the truth is very difficult to comprehend and even harder to face.
Not long ago I visited a member of our congregation in the hospital. The patient was asleep. I quietly left a note on the table next to the phone. On the other side of the curtain I heard a voice say, “Please God, please help, please.” I did not know the patient on the other side but I could hear the desperation in that plaintive cry, “Please…” He’s got God by the lapels and he is begging for the suffering to end.
If we are able to be honest in our suffering we can find new hope in ways we never thought possible. Think of all that we experience in our lives: marriages, families, careers, communities. Now think of the time in each of those that you grew the most. I’ll bet you a dollar that you are thinking about times when things were tough. In that experience you discovered something new. In that low time, that valley, you found that there is a way to live that transcends the pain and suffering.
There are plenty of dishonest claims being made about what it means to follow Christ. Turn on the TV and you’ll be able to find a preacher who offers following Jesus as a sort of get-out-of-suffering savior. They’ll tell you that Jesus is the way to be healthy and wealthy. Fred Craddock calls this a “Gospel of painless success and uninterrupted smiles.”
We are not promised an escape from this world and the pain that comes with life. We are given instead the very presence of God in all that we experience. That may not be what we want but in the long run it is what we need.
Grace and peace to you,