Recently, I have spent a lot of time thinking about suffering and my desire to avoid it all costs. It sucks to suffer. End of story. January was laden with suffering and loss for a few of my friends; 3 funerals in 3 weeks to remember the lives of 2 fathers and 1 son. Grief and sorrow have a way of lingering. Jesus agreed with this sentiment as reflected in Matthew 26:38, where he stated, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…” Again, suffering sucks. The unsettling truth is that as a follower of Jesus, I should not only come to expect the blessings of God, but with great certainty I should be mindful that suffering is also on the path of sanctification. Difficult truth. And it sucks.
1. experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant).
This fixation on the avoidance of suffering came about after spending time visiting a friend in South Africa, where there is a chasm of classism left from the wreckage of apartheid. During this visit more than any other, there was an acute awareness of the role that race has played in providing privilege to some and not to others. As our conversations grew in depth, we both surmised that without even knowing it, we had developed an unhealthy expectation of “entitlement” to blessings as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.
believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment
It was almost as if we had said to God, suffering is for someone else, definitely not me. This unspoken paradigm of entitlement can wreak havoc on our faith when suffering arrives. I then began to ask this friend how she maintained her faith during her most difficult moment when she suffered the loss of someone she loves. She stated very simply and profoundly to “loosen my grip.” Loosen my grip on the possessions I have. Loosen my grip on the relationships that I hold dear. Loosen my grip on my definition of what my life should be at this exact moment. The “loosening of the grip” is an expression to hold those things and relationships dearly loved loosely in your hands, with gratitude and knowledge that all those things belong to God. All of them.
“Following Jesus wholeheartedly means facing the “most brutal facts of our current reality, whatever they might be” while holding on to our absolute certainty that we “prevail in the end” through his love and grace.” – Rick Lawrence, Jesus-Centered Life
Perhaps a small part of what makes suffering bearable is our ability to savor what is good in that moment. Another nugget of truth is that we can’t always see the things that are good in the moment of suffering. What I learned during my time with my friend is that it is NOT in the overt acknowledgement of “all that is good” that gratitude arises. It actually arises as we choose to be present with those who are suffering. Present during the smiles. Present during the sorrow. Present during the silence.
I observed a lot of natural beauty during my time in South Africa, but there was nothing more beautiful than the comfort of a friendship that has lasted 13 years. There was no pretense. I liken it to the comfort of a good pair of old jeans. They have holes, they aren’t perfect, but they fit in all the right places.
I thought my time in South Africa would leave me only longing to ease the suffering of strangers. That occurred. I didn’t know that my time in South Africa would teach me in part, how to lament with the suffering saint and also teach me that suffering/sorrow/grief has no zip code.
I want Jesus; fully and completely. However, I still don’t want to suffer, but if I must, may I do so by leaning into Jesus and loosening my grip on all the things I’ve deemed too precious to lose.