” I’m sitting down at the picnic table in the backyard – the sun is late afternoon – filtering down on me through the leaves of the mango trees above my head. The birds are having a symphony above me, twittering and singing and chirping at the top of their voices.
Rusty (the kitty, now with two kittens) has followed me down here and is in the process of rubbing her fur against my pen – which doesn’t work too well when your’e(sic) trying to write!
It is SO beautiful down here, quiet, filled with God. That is something I really miss in Kinshasa; Kinshasa with the trucks ROARING past the hostel, literally shaking it, the horns honking, people yelling, and loneliness. In the midst of over a million people, loneliness.
I don’t think I ever feel lonely here, really, and yet I am alone so much of the time. Probably because I’m right in the middle of my family here.
“I heard a man say once that Christians worship sorrow. That is by no means true. But we do believe there is a sacred mystery in it, it’s fair to say that.” – Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, on Kindle, 54%.
The image, above, with its heading and this food’s connotation of deliciousness and specialty, may seem a strange photo to use for an essay on adversity. But suffering as a privilege and an honor, brought into my life as part of God’s loving, personal, overall purpose for me, is a teaching found throughout the Bible!
I know. We don’t LIKE to think about that. Those are NOT the verses we love most to underline. It’s completely understandable, even GOOD, that this WAY of looking at the results of the experience of suffering (not the suffering itself!) in my life as a “delicacy” is not a way of looking at the topic that can be embraced while I am still going through the experience. Rather, it’s for afterward; sometimes, beginning a long time afterward.
While we still are in the process of going through the fiery furnace, whatever the circumstances of it may be, we don’t like it and we don’t appreciate it and it hurts. It hurts BADLY. It is SO okay to be in that place. We can stay in that place, without condemnation, for as long as we need to. But the Word of God teaches that our characters, our personhood do and does become refined through the experience of suffering IF we decide to trust God with our suffering and continue to walk in that trust of God, making a decision to refuse to become bitter and cynical about it all.
It may sound trite but, long ago when it was my turn to go through suffering, I felt strangely comforted by what a quietly listening friend murmured twice, reminding me of the simple truth, as I poured out my heart to her. “It won’t always feel this bad. This, even this, will pass. Things WILL be better.” Just being reminded that the pain was not going to last forever at that same intensity, by a real, trusted and respected voice outside of my own head, HELPED!
Another thing I learned is that the same little things don’t comfort everybody – what helps – in the middle of a time of suffering – is different for each person, depending on our varying make-ups and personalities. Isn’t it a fascinating tribute to God’s creativity and complexity that we are all so different one from another and yet with such commonalities?
There’s something more, and it’s very special! The Christian scriptures have an underlying but clear and consistent theme of how God, in the end will take our suffering (if we let Him) and actually “turn it around on its head”, actually “make it to work backwards”, bring GOOD and REDEMPTION, out of it, specifically. This is a great mystery, and something only God would even have the idea for let alone be able to accomplish. If we never experienced suffering, we probably would be more shallow, as well as more selfish. There is a depth and a beauty that comes, in the long run, from suffering. And, having gone through DOES mark us, and change us, for life. At the very least it helps us to have more empathy for the many others all around us who also are going through or will go through, suffering, and at the most, God’s “most”, it actually transforms our lives in such deep ways that many people and circumstances are incredibly improved and brought near to God!
These good fruits of pain don’t come automatically, though. It happens all the time. People can take suffering the other way and let it harden and embitter them, which is tragic in the long run.
I think that a humbling comes to a person, when they decide to trust a good God with the suffering they are presently going through. Being forced to traverse deep prolonged pain often strips away pride as nothing else ever could do.
I’ve heard that nurses in intensive care units of hospitals or in geriatric care settings often see the contrasting sets of results of adversity clearly in people’s mien and behaviors under pressure. They observe that the sets of characteristics each of the paths produce, respectively, diverge markedly one from the other. Which do you want to be when you are extremely old or under great stress – crusty bitter hardness or grace and beauty personified?
C.S. Lewis talked a lot about the concept of “CHOOSING OUR PATH”, every minute of every day of our lives, in little things and great things, which are often the little things. He talked about how even tiny decisions fed into bigger ones and everything together, over years, created the end results of and in our lives. The characteristics that we sometimes exhibit toward the ends of our lives have over the process of the years become integral parts of who we are, either lovely and shining, deep and refined, or………. ugly and sad. Few of us are going to avoid all, even most, suffering for our whole lives. How are we going to choose to receive it when it comes?
I think there is another MAJOR aspect of this whole thing that’s DIFFERENT for a Christian believer than for any other person on the planet. It’s that, to the believer, NOT ONLY can she take comfort in the fact that her suffering will surely make her a better person in the long run and that she’ll be empowered to help others because of the suffering she went through, but – AND THIS IS VITAL – the whole Bible teaches strongly and consistently that God himself in the person of Jesus Christ walks with her every single second in the fiery furnace of adversity and suffering! He suffered the full weight of the due penalty of all the suffering of the universe (and the deepest, most basic definition of suffering would be, I believe, separation/rebellion from/against GOD with, of course, all the far-reaching results that come from that) so that He could be with us and walk with us forever, into eternity. We are not alone in our suffering. Not only are we intimately accompanied through it, but the ONE who accompanies us is GOD OF THE UNIVERSE, perfect in power, love, weightiness and value (glory) – WHO gave HIS ALL for me because, simply, HE loves me.
“The interpretation that suffering in itself brings men nearer to God is far more Greek and Neoplatonic than Christian”. (Scheler in his essay “Meaning of Suffering”) Also, dualism divides the world into the good people and the evil people, with suffering as the badge of virtue and the mark of moral superiority that warrants the demonization of groups that have mistreated you. In stark contrast, Christians believe, as Aleksandr Solzhenistyn wrote famously, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” (The Gulag Archipelago, Harper, 1974.) – Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p. 29. Tim Keller, Penguin Books, 2013.
Jan.1, 1973, Monday night.
New Year’s Day, but it wasn’t any big thing in our family, in fact, we all went to bed about 8:30 last night – we were all so tired from camping at Kribi the past four days!
I have to go back to TASOK so soon – Yaounde on Wednesday and Kinshasa on Friday. In a way, I’ll be glad to get back. But, I’m a little down about leaving – so many problems and hang-ups there at school, sometimes I feel so lonely and mixed up.
If only I could find God again!
Sometimes these days, I feel so hypercritical, and I really hate that! If I’m to BE a Christian, I want to be a real, strong Christ-follower and not fake or wishy-washy. Often I feel like I’m at the edge of something big and powerful but am afraid. My life is so worrying, I’m so changing and moody. I want God to come to the real center of me, to the center of my soul and mind.
written when I was fifteen, MPH is an acronym for “methodist/presbyterian hostel” and was where i lived for 3 years…
Jan. 29, 1973 journal entry.
Psalm 9: 9-10 And those who know Thy Name put their trust in Thee for Thou, oh Lord, hast not forsaken those who seek Thee.
I think that verse is just beautiful – God has given it to me now and it is just what I need. I am truly seeking Him and I know that surely someday soon I am going to find Him. I’m praying and reading the Book now in the little cubbyhole room off the library. It has just been raining and everything is cool and fresh and the birds are chortling and warbling outside and Linda is practising piano in the next room, up and down the scales. The cars go swishing by on the wet road outside and there are sodden wet leaves on the roof right outside this window. I came here because I have to talk to God, try to find Him again in that alive, pulsing touch-feel-see way. I’ve just lost all my realness about Him. I have to struggle to make myself read the Book and pray, I have to remind myself to remember Him during the day. Sometimes I talk to people about religion and everybody thinks I am a real good and goody Christian but I’m not.
(to be continued tomorrow or the next day).
from G.K. Chesterton
” the results of the Fall include separation not only from God and from others, but also from ourselves. we “come apart” as persons, unable to genuinely accept ourselves as we are. Our consequent struggle to be, or to pretend to be what we are not explains much of our deep discontent and personal suffering.”