Series on Suffering #1 – “Holy Shit – An Introduction”

SufferingToday Robynn begins taking us into a series on suffering. I am so grateful for this and also not a little frightened. As though talking about it may make suffering worse.

I have learned a few things about Robynn these past weeks that I didn’t know. I learned them because I’m reading the book that she co-authored called Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission. And I can tell you this — she knows that of which she speaks. You can trust her on this topic. 

Today she begins this series in a way that makes me look forward to every thing she writes.

Holy Shit! – Introduction to a series on suffering by Robynn

There’s an expression that’s been tormenting me for several weeks now. It’s powerful and yet profane. I have no idea where it originated from although the internet has several suggestions to that end. This summer when we escaped to the mountains of Colorado for a week I heard it, not for the first time, as we were stepping out of a shop in the tiny town of Estes. Another tourist was walking past. He was chatting with his companion. Whatever he heard from his friend, it was enough to elicit the powerful punchline, “holy shit!” Even as a casual cusser, I was a little startled by it, actually. I had never really thought about the juxtaposition of those two words coupled together. But it set my mind to thinking and my soul to contemplating.

There is an element of holiness in shit. Not in literal excrement, of course. But in the way we’ve come to use ‘shit’ colloquially to mean the unfortunate stuff of life: sorrows, inconveniences, heart breaks, sufferings. Stubbed toes, dropped fruit bowls, banged shins, bad news…its all captured in the modern use of ‘shit’, and I am coming to believe it has all the makings of holiness.

We’ve all seen the news. Or for those like me, more visually shaken by graphic images, we’ve heard it on the radio. The world is chock full of bad news just now: Syria, Isis, Gaza, Ukraine, Ebola, Ferguson. It’s not looking too good. Earthquakes.Outbreaks. Heart aches. And that’s globally. What about personally? Unemployed. Diseased. Devastated. Waiting for test results? Waiting for phone calls? Waiting for him to come home? Waiting for her to apologize? How are we to come to grips with it all? How do we even begin to process all the pain—personal and public—it’s all too much. How do we sort it out? How do we keep our heads out of the sand and minds out of the psych ward?

Bad things happening aren’t the ingredients for holiness.

But in the face of bad things happening we recognize how completely out of control we are. We see the strangeness of God. We quiver at the ways he does things, or the times he seems silent, or the mysterious moments when he chooses to step in. His hugeness overshadows our smallness and if we choose to see, if we dare to look around, we see a thousand burning bushes. We see glimmers of holiness. The Terrific touches our toes and we have no other option but to slip off our shoes….for the ground we are standing on is altogether holy.

It seems to me, these are the days where we desperately need both a vibrant understanding of suffering and regular exercise in looking for holiness. What does suffering do? How does it work? Is there any good in it at all? How do we keep our hearts soft and our hope alive while suffering is active in our own stories? Where is God in all of it? How shall we respond when we see his shadow darkening our reality? What does everyday holiness look like? How will we recognize it when we see it? Where do we begin to look?

For the next several Wednesdays I’d like to explore the deep and wide topics of suffering and holiness. I have learned a little about these things over the years. I’ve caught glimpses of the power of suffering. I’ve seen its redemptive work. I’ve known the deep fellowship it invites. I’ve experienced God’s holiness like goose bumps in the aftermath of suffering. I’d like to think it all out loud here at Communicating Across Boundaries. I’d love to launch this conversation and see what we all might take away.

Because, Holy Shit! there’s a lot of it going on!