Suffering

I read these books a few years ago, but they still speak truth–perhaps even more so in light of the earthquake in Haiti and our current economic climate.

… it’s only when you hit bottom and are desperate enough that things start to get better. (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 105)

… we are learning how to suffer well. Not to avoid it but to feel the full force of it. It is important that churches acknowledge suffering and engage it—never, ever presenting the picture that if you follow Jesus, your problems will go away. Following Jesus may bring on problems you never imagined.

Suffering is a place where clichés don’t work and words often fail. … And it is in our suffering together that we find out we are not alone. We find out who really loves us. We find out that with these people around us, we can make it through anything. And that gives us something to celebrate.

Ultimately our gift to the world around us is hope. Not blind hope that pretends everything is fine and refuses to acknowledge how things are. But the kind of hope that comes from staring pain and suffering right in the eyes and refusing to believe that this is all there is. It is what we all need—hope that comes not from going around suffering but from going through it. (Bell, Elvis, 170)

La vie est dure. Life is hard. It is hard to be a Christian, but it is too dull to be anything else. (Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus, 43)

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The scars we bear

Original post: August 8, 2007. Update: January 17, 2010.

“Scar tissue that I wish you saw …” (Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘Scar Tissue’)

Just below my left knee is a scar from slicing my leg open roller-skating when I was about 12. When I was 14, I managed to explode a small (fortunately almost-empty) canister of gas while throwing a tantrum; as a result, I have a faint scar on my nose that shows how close I came to being blinded. When I was 21, a kid fractured my fibula with a bad tackle while playing soccer; it still aches now and again, and still affects my ankle a little when I run. When I was 24, I jammed my right ring finger playing sports; now, whenever I uncurl my fingers, it clicks. When I was 26, I split my leg open to the bone (and had to get 18 stitches) trying to impress a girl.

I’ve picked up a few scars over the years; we all do. Some of them are physical; some are emotional; some psychological; some spiritual. Living in a fallen world, there’s no way to not get hurt in some way or another. Some of the wounds that we suffer hurt like hell. And sometimes, it can feel as though these wounds will never heal.

Humans are paradoxes: we are both fragile and resilient, made of stuff both frail and indomitable. We do heal, though sometimes it can take a long, long time. Yet though we may heal, we often still bear the scars from these wounds–from the experiences, relationships, events, that cause us to hurt.

Looking forward, I wonder if we’ll bear these scars—these healed-over wounds—on our new bodies, our bodies fitted for eternity. Each scar carries a memory, an association, good and bad: for instance, when my leg got broken playing soccer, Ally looked after me the entire weekend, driving me around and basically nursing me through my grumpy times; when I split my leg open, my new friend Kelly came to the clinic with me and watched the doctor scrub the dirt out of my leg; when Amanda broke my heart, my friends–Matt, Adam, Benjie, and Tim–came around me to help me back on my feet.

Upon noting that Jesus still bore the scars of the nails in his hands and feet after the resurrection, one of my friends posited this hypothesis: maybe we’ll bear the scars that we bore for the sake of the kingdom; and they will be scars that we can be proud of.

Now I’m not glorifying pain, or making light of (by philosophizing about) deep wounds (especially emotional) that we suffer. But I found this definition helpful:

Scar:

  1. a mark left by a healed wound—an area of fibrous tissue that replaces normal skin (or other tissue) after injury. A scar results from the biologic process of wound repair in the skin and other tissues of the body. Thus, scarring is a natural part of the healing process.
  2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, trauma or suffering.

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Rom. 5:3-5, Message)

Advice from an Archbishop

I’m reading Desmond Tutu’s God Has A Dream, and while his writing is always pertinent, the book and the chapter I happened to read today were so apposite as to be ironic. I have to say, I laughed out loud when I opened it up.

Anyway, here are some gems of wisdom. Enjoy:

In God’s universe, while we are not free to choose whether we suffer, we are free to choose whether it will ennoble us or embitter us. (72)

You have very little control over your feelings. That’s why God didn’t say, “Like your enemy.” It’s very difficult to like your enemy. But to love your enemies is different. Love is an act of the will, where you act lovingly even if you do not always feel loving. We tend to think love is a feeling, but it is not. Love is an action; love is something we do for others. … Our freedom is based on our ability to rise above our feelings and to act based on our will. (78)

Sometimes the best you can do is to say to God or to yourself, I want to love. Sometimes the best you can do is to say, I want to want to love. But when you do, you are much more likely to act in a loving and compassionate way, regardless of what you are feeling. Certainly it is wonderful when our feelings prompt us to act lovingly, but it is not realistic to expect that we will always want to do what we must do. (78-79)

The extraordinary thing is that when you act lovingly you can begin to feel love. … If you act for long enough in a particular way, you begin to feel the feelings that accompany the actions. We don’t always feel like we are all God’s children. (79)