Series on Suffering #6 – Trouble Shooting

suffering 6

Series on Suffering #6: Trouble shooting by Robynn

This summer when we moved into the new house we had to get new kitchen appliances. The house’s previous owners had taken the appliances that were there. We had to get machines that helped cook and store food and clean. Along with each new appliance came a small stack of reading material. An installation guide, an instruction manual, and guarantee cards. I flipped through them, skimming the important highlights and then filed them away. However, the day the dishwasher started making interesting beeping sounds, and we couldn’t figure out how to stop the annoyance and start the appliance, I quickly resumed my reading. Each instruction manual had an invaluable chapter entitled, Trouble Shooting. It’s a ‘what to do if…” section, a to-do list of sorts if ever the appliance is causing trouble. If the dishwasher makes this sound, try this. If the wash cycle won’t start, try that.

There is no trouble shooting guide to the problem of pain. There is no chapter anywhere that will tell you how to get out of the suffering. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of self-help books that will suggest ways to lose weight, get out of debt, break addictions, endure irregular people, manage your disease, find victory over your circumstances—I’ve read several and with great optimism! But none of those books provide a checklist to make the suffering stop.

I have happened upon a small book that points people in persistent pain to a list of meaningful things to do in the midst of the suffering. Admittedly when you’re lying on your back with dengue fever and the electricity is off making it impossible for the fan above your aching fevering body to circulate any air but the thick air of self-pity, it’s really hard to imagine ever doing anything again. When the phone call is over and the horrendous news settles in around your soul it’s really very difficult to think about anything but curling up into a small place and crying. After visiting a friend who is dying in the hospital it feels impossible to return to the outside world where people are still alive. Suffering sucks the air out of our lungs. It weakens us. It exhausts us. It feels like the whole world comes crashing to a standstill, paralyzed, immobilized. That’s the power of suffering and in some ways, that’s also the point of suffering. As I’ve been able to work my way through the suggested list from this book I have found hope and some relief and revelatory mystery that serves to distract me from my problems in helpful ways.

This small book I refer to is actually a letter that the apostle Peter wrote to a community of people that were scattered and suffering. (Part of their suffering, I’m sure, was as a result of that scattering. They were foreigners. We at Communicating Across Boundaries understand that type of displacement and the pain and angst that accompanies that type of living very well.) Peter writes them to encourage them in their troubles but also to commission them to live intentionally in spite of those same trials. Here is some of the list he gave them to do:

  1. Live with your focus on the hope of a better future. There is joy ahead. Things will not always be this way. We can live with great expectation and a holy optimism. Jesus will change things up. Remember that. Keep your eyes glued to that unfathomable hope.
  2. Think clearly and exercise self-control. Don’t give into old habits and former vices. It’s tempting, I know. It’s easy to eat the whole tub of ice cream, or all the chips in the packet, or the entire pan of cookies. It feels like it should help somehow, it should bring comfort of some kind. But it doesn’t really. I’ve tried. Step back and choose holy living. Control yourself. Don’t abandon all discipline and restraint.
  3. Remember who you are! You belong to God. Your identity is deeply entrenched in that. Bring that to mind. Dwell in it. Live from it. You are a chosen people…royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession….God’s people.
  4. Love each other deeply, sincerely. In the heart of crisis and sadness it’s easy to become obsessed with myself. Self-pity, sadness, hopelessness all follow me like a pack of loyal dogs. Peter recommends looking outside ourselves to those around us and then loving them sincerely and generously. Phone a friend, see how they are doing. Make a batch of cookies, deliver them to a neighbour. Make eye contact with a stranger at the grocery store. Greet them. Strike up a conversation. Reach outside of yourself. Show others the goodness of God.
  5. Keep on doing what is right. Don’t let the suffering stop you. Resist the urge to curse those who frustrate, to be angry at those who don’t understand, to be unkind to those who’ve been cruel. There is nothing to be gained in that. Keep on doing what is right and good. Be kind. Be generous. Speak gently. Share a meal with someone who’s also hurting. Trust your story to the God who created you. He will never fail you.
  6. Don’t stop praying. Earnestly pour out your heart to God. Give him your troubles, your cares, your worries, your concerns. This praying thing humbles us. It’s a powerful way of admitting our weakness and our vulnerability. We are not in charge. Heaven knows if we were, this isn’t how we would have planned it. Praying helps us acknowledge that. Praying forces us to recognize our humanity, our mortality, our dependence. As we cast our cares on God, as we fling our flounderings, our messes, our pains on God, we grow to see how very much he cares for us. We give him the opportunity to minister deep grace and comfort to our souls. Prayer invites God into it all.

This is some of what Peter wrote to those who were struggling ever so long ago. I’m convinced that lots of it still applies to us. Peter’s list can school us in how to better endure and what to do while we are enduring. It doesn’t trouble shoot and bring us to solutions nor does it unfortunately shoot our troubles way…but somehow, mysteriously, it helps to know that others have suffered over the years and many of them took solace in this little letter. Like us, they found meaningful work to do in the midst of their suffering. They found distractions that pointed them to hope. They found instructions on how to lay their souls out bare before their kind and gracious God. They found little scatterings of comfort as they endeavoured to live a little separately from their scarred and scared selves.

And I think we can too.

When my dishwasher’s beeping was beyond aggravating, I turned to the trouble shooting section of the manual. Eventually I pushed the right sequence of buttons and to everyone’s great relief the blaring noises ceased and the quiet workings of a machine in motion started up. This letter from Peter won’t do all that. The blasting rhythms of suffering won’t necessarily stop. But in the clamour of it all, I do believe, it’s possible for the crazy cacophony of our own personal suffering to be pushed into a dull background noise, over which hope and comfort suddenly sing louder.

Picture Credit: word art Marilyn R. Gardner

Click here to read the Series on Suffering.

2 thoughts on “Series on Suffering #6 – Trouble Shooting

  1. Robynn, I appreciate this so much. Our pastor is preaching through I Peter and your thoughts here are so timely and helpful and through these timeless words, “…hope and comfort suddenly sing louder” than the noise of our personal problems and troubles – and the aches and pains of growing older. Thank you.


    1. Thank you for commenting Auntie Polly. I’m glad the words resonated. I wish I could sneak in each Sunday to hear your pastor preach. I’ve been marinating my soul in I Peter for a bit now…. amazing stuff!


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