Suffering makes me stop. Suffering means my world isn’t working. Suffering means life is hard. I don’t like hard.
I like easy. I like it when life works. I like it when less is required of me, when people treat me the way I want and circumstances line up in propitious ways. I like it when I make my putts and am surprised at how much money is left in the checkbook at the end of the month. I like it when life is working smoothly. I like it when life is not hard.
But in those times I find I enjoy life, but not God. I don’t need Him. I know I can thank Him and that gratitude is the right thing… but I don’t tend to go there. I tend to coast. Don’t you?
There have been seasons of “suffering” in my life – broken relationships, job uncertainty or failure, periods of despair that felt like depression, anxiety, or family tensions. But I haven’t had cancer. I haven’t gone without a job for a long period of time. I haven’t been foreclosed on or been unable to have a child or had no friends or… You get it. So in some ways, I can be grateful for the limited degree of my suffering.
But when I am “there,” facing my version of suffering, it feels plenty big. And I just want it to end.
Some years ago, a wise man suggested something life-changing to me. He said “Life is disappointing. Some degree of suffering is inevitable for everyone. The question is, ‘What will you do with it? How will you handle it? Where will it take you?’ And the big question, ‘Will it take you to God?’”
As much as I hated those words, they have changed the course of my life. Hopefully, they have changed me as well.
James writes “Count it all joy when trials come your way.” Welcome them. Be grateful for them.
Are you kidding me? You mean when the computer crashes and I lose all of my contacts and documents I should rejoice? When Lynne and I get in a bad place and I can’t see my way through our argument, I should rejoice? When someone I love gets sick… Is there an end to this insanity?
In his wisdom, James doesn’t say be thankful for the trials. They aren’t necessarily good things and often are not. They are bad, sad or heart-breaking.
He says to count it joy when they come because… “you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance… Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.”
When life gets hard, I need God. My resources aren’t enough. I wonder if I can handle it… and I need His help. Often I don’t handle it well… and I need His mercy. But I need Him… and my faith is deepened. Often not quickly or smoothly. Often I have to pout and complain and blame and demand and beg. But eventually God uses that suffering to grow me, to mature me.
Now if you know me, you could verify that this is a slow process. It often isn’t linear. Sometimes it is three steps forward and four steps backward. But eventually, God reminds me of the question – “Where will this take you? Will it take you to Me?” That is where the real hope – the ultimate hope lies. That is where life, real life can be found. It isn’t found in the easy circumstances.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.