Suffering #5: Power Aid
Who are we kidding? We can be as intellectual and objective about suffering as we want. We can read journal articles about it and its effects on the body and brain. We can sit in climate controlled coffee shops and talk about our suffering as if it’s somehow separate from us. We can listen in on sermons or lectures or speeches on suffering in the world. But at the end of the idea, the article, the cup of coffee, the sermon we come home to it. At the end of the day we put our heads on our pillows and the sorrow rises like heart burn. There’s no escaping our suffering. There’s no objectifying it away. Suffering stays.
And suffering hurts. It hurts badly. As cruel as this sounds, suffering even seems tailor-made to our personality and our circumstances. A terrible diagnosis might devastate one person who doesn’t really feel the devastations of unemployment like another might. But another person unemployed agonizes with it: the indignities, the shame, the financial stretching and scrimping, the hopelessness. You might be able to shake off conflict at work but for me that same conflict simmers inside and makes me physically nauseated. Suffering hurts each person uniquely. And each person uniquely suffers.
Whatever else we might say about suffering we also need to say this. As horrifying as suffering is, in the midst of it, we are not left without resources.
Years ago I discovered a powerful little nugget of a verse hidden in St Paul’s letter captured in the short little book of Colossians (chapter one, verse eleven).
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.
Read it again.
God has dedicated all his glorious power to our ability to endure and our capacity to be patient while we persevere.
I have argued with God over this point. I have protested with tears. I have pounded my fists on his chest over the fact that he’s committed all his power to us being able to endure. Why couldn’t he have put his power behind my happiness? Or my ability to serve guests sweetly? Or my performance at my job? Or my energy levels with my children? Why does he put so much stake in my endurance?
The fact of the matter is that the very word, endurance, implies something that needs to be endured. We are up against circumstances that need to be outrun. We are up against pain that needs to be outlasted. According to the dictionary, endurance is the ability to deal with pain or suffering that continues for a long time; it’s the quality of continuing for a long time; the ability to be able to do something difficult for a very long time. It’s a long word with even longer implications. Why does endurance matter so much?
Another little New Testament letter, this one from James, answers that question. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
A fully developed ‘endurance’ makes us perfect and complete. Or said another way, our completion comes from a vibrantly mature ‘endurance’. (It’s spiritual math. If y=x then x=y!)While our faith might be tested in the hallways of suffering, it is also true that we learn to endure in those same corridors. And endurance grows us up. It matures us. It strengthens us. It perfects us.
That explains God the Almighty, the All-Powerful one’s commitment to my endurance. He is my Holy Father and he longs for me to grow and develop; to mature in healthy ways. The Father takes me for my annual spiritual wellness check up to the Great Physician, who also happens to be His Son. The Divine Doctor measures my height and weight. The Father waits with bated breath until the Great Physician declares over me, “She’s growing well…..developmentally she’s right on track!” And the Father smiles and sighs with pleasure. He already knew that. All his glorious power was strengthening me, giving me all the endurance I needed, all the patience I required. My endurance and patience levels have grown as a result.
All God’s glorious power strengthens to endure, to be patient, to persevere, to stick it out. At the end of the well-intended sermon, the on-line article, the meaningful blog post, the cup of coffee with a well-meaning friend, we still carry our suffering with us. At the end of the day, when we lay our heads down on our pillows, our own devastatingly painful and present suffering lays down next to us. There is no escaping it. But know this: We aren’t left to our own devices. Bolstering up that pillow is all the glorious power of God! We rest in the assurance, the confidence, the very real reality that he is behind us, supporting us, strengthening us.
While it’s true that suffering stays….so does God and with him, all of his glorious power!
We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable…
Picture Credit – http://pixabay.com/en/hallway-alley-corridor-hall-house-21154/ Word Art by Marilyn R. Gardner