November 6, 2012

Experiencing Life or Death in Our Suffering


Has your heart ever been shattered? Maybe it was a broken relationship, a wayward child, or a devastating diagnosis that crushed your soul; whatever it was, suffering can have serious long-term effects on the heart. It’s like someone’s taken a sledgehammer to your soul, leaving you feeling more dead than alive — and sometimes not noticing the difference.

Death can mean:

  • We stop caring
  • We shut down emotionally
  • We isolate
  • We become cynical or sarcastic

Every once and a while something may happen to stir us, reminding us of the distant passions we’ve boxed up and put on the shelf in the name of broken dreams. But for the most part, we live flat, never taking risks and never stepping outside the box.

Asking Why? or What?

Then there’s God. He usually gets a bad rap for our suffering. He gets blamed when we can’t answer the “why” questions.  But maybe it’s not why we should be asking — maybe it’s what.

I feel like I’ve had a fair amount of suffering, but in the process I discovered a couple key things that turned things around for me. The first is that if I keep focusing on the whys of my suffering, I’m fighting the wrong battle. Even though we all want to know why this or that happened — we may never, so what’s the point of wasting so much time and negative energy doing something that has no payoff?

Instead of staying stuck in the why, I decided to try something different — I started looking at what my suffering was accomplishing in me, and if I was willing to be personally responsive to how God was leading me in and through it. Here are some of the things I considered about suffering:

  • It creates dependence
  • It weans me from worldly things
  • It makes me more other focused
  • It reveals what I really love
  • It reveals God’s glory

Last year I got a severe case of the flu. I suffered every bodily ache and pain imaginable for 2 weeks. I was so sick I couldn’t even get out of bed to get myself a necessary glass of water to break my raging fever. I was totally helpless. I had to depend on others to care for me, and in that dependence, I was blessed.

Perspective on Suffering

Suffering shifted my focus. I wasn’t all worked up about how I looked, that I hadn’t washed my hair, or that I’d get cellulite from not working out for 2 weeks! In my suffering I wasn’t focused on worldly things.

My suffering also got me thinking about how others suffer everyday. I thought of Joni Eareckson Tada, who has been a quadriplegic for decades, and how she deals with her illness with such grace and courage. I felt grateful I hadn’t been called to suffer like that.

Perhaps the most important thing my suffering taught me was how much time I spend worrying about things that have little eternal significance. I realized that only one thing was necessary wherever I find myself — bringing glory to God. If I’m careful to look closely, I’ll find that even in the difficult places, I can experience life — I only have to choose.

Photo cc by Dan Goorevitch on Flickr.

Originally Published: November 6, 2012
Category: Emotional Health
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