Suffering. This Memorial Day weekend I made a special effort to say a prayer for those who sacrificed to give us the freedoms that we enjoy here in the United States. I am in awe of people who will knowingly go into a situation that may involve suffering; and not just suffering for their own cause or needs, but suffering on behalf of others. To be honest, I will go through a lot of trouble to avoid suffering of any kind and while I know this is part of our human nature and an important survival mechanism, I wonder if it is making me spiritually weak.
We recently watched what I thought was a really good and thought-provoking movie called, There Be Dragons. The movie is set during the Spanish Civil War and is based, in part, on a real-life Spanish priest named Jose Maria Escriva. In the movie, Jose Maria is portrayed as such a joyful, loving and likable person, one who is truly seeking the will of God and living to be a blessing to his fellow man. He is also portrayed as one who uses self-flagellation, whipping himself to the point of drawing blood, as a means of sharing in the suffering of the Lord. He is said to have taught that joy has its roots in the form of a cross. Controversial? Absolutely! Fascinating? Hmmm…
Like I said, I am prone to avoid suffering. I have a hard time even going hungry for day and a headache is enough to derail me on a bad day; so, I am not saying I am going to jump on this idea of self-inflicted pain. But I wonder if my desire to avoid any suffering is making me spiritually weak. Is my desire to avoid suffering at all costs not allowing God to fully do His work in me?
Mother Teresa said, “Suffering is nothing by itself. But suffering shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift, the most beautiful gift, a token of love.” When we are in the midst of suffering we have an opportunity to connect with our Lord and Savior in a deeper way, if we choose to.
A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to hear Bill Myers, the author, give a key-note speech. In his talk he shared about a good friend who was suffering through a terminal illness that caused tremendous pain and required many visits to the hospital. On occasion Bill would drive him to the hospital and on the way his friend would double over, clearly in terrible pain. In the midst of his pain, Bill said he would hear his friend whisper, “Thank you, Jesus.” Thank you for pain. Thank you for suffering. It’s not an easy thing to understand and probably impossible for someone who does not know Jesus, but I want this. If I am to suffer, I want to have the spiritual depth to understand that this is an opportunity to draw me closer to God, to share in His suffering ~ suffering He endured for me.
So what does God say about suffering? Here are a few verses from the New Testament:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance…
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.
For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.
But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
On Memorial Day we remember all the soldiers who suffered and died on our behalf so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have here. We thank them for blessing us ~ and rightly so. Our Savior suffered and died on our behalf so we could enjoy freedom in Him and with Him forever. Can we thank Him for the blessing that comes in sharing in His suffering? Fellow soldiers, are you willing to join me and at least try to view the suffering that comes our way as a means of drawing closer to our leader and Lord?
“Looks like we won’t be going to Disneyland any time soon,” my son said.
“What’s that mean?” my daughter asked as the three of us were walking along.
“What Joshua means,” I explained, “is that he and I had a bet. Whoever could lose 10 pounds in a month would have to take the other one to Disneyland on their dime.”
The trouble with this bet is that I wasn’t properly motivated. You see, I didn’t care if I lost the wager. I didn’t care if I was the one having to pay to go Disneyland – it still meant I got to go! Knowing this about myself, and not coming close to achieving my goal, I knew I needed to change the terms of the agreement – and so we won’t be going to Disneyland any time soon.
“But, Mom, I thought you bought all those books about losing weight?” My daughter’s voice had a slightly convicting tone.
“Yeah, I know,” I said, trying to understand myself, “if only I could lose weight through osmosis! If only I could read the books and have the outcome they promised and I desired! If only…” I held an imaginary book to my head and got a laugh out of the kids. But I continued on in thought.
If only the doing and being just happened through osmosis – just think how great that would be! With all the books I have on writing, I would surely be a bestselling author. Fitness and nutrition? I would be the female version of Jack LaLanne, only I would still be alive. Relationships? Look out, Dr. Phil! Decluttered and organized? Martha Stewart, you’re fired! Wealth? Tell Mr. Buffett I will get back to him with some financial tips later.
But by far the greatest number of books I own relate to my faith. I have books on knowing God better, and understanding His word, and learning to live out the commands of the Creator and how to be led by the Spirit. The list goes on and on. Some I have read cover to cover, some started but not finished, some still to be read. If only my faith would grow through osmosis. If only I could hold the book to my head and become the woman of faith I want to be. If only.
But if the only way I grew my faith were through this type of osmosis, what kind of faith would that be? If I never had to face the daily challenges of this world, how would I know how strong or weak my faith really is? If my faith is never tested, how will I know the real level of trust I have in my Lord and Savior? It isn’t enough to know the awesomeness of God by reading or through some supernatural means of osmosis – not that those aren’t wonderful ways to know God, they are, and we should continually be seeking Him in His word. But for our faith to develop God says that we need trials of many kinds to make us complete.
When we are faced with tests and trials we have a choice as to how we respond. Our response relates to our level of faith. At first it is hard. We try to come up with the promise from God that will encourage us to be strong in the midst of the trial, but the words elude us and the temptation to worry and be fearful is great. But God is patient and even though our response may be less than faith-filled, He gives us time. We go back and learn more about God. We walk a little further down the road with Him. And then, perhaps, another test will come along. This time we trust a little easier, we hang on a little longer, and we know our faith in God has grown a little more. And so it continues.
I still think osmosis would be a great thing for losing weight, and fixing my finances, and for sure writing that bestseller. But I think God knows best when it comes to perfecting our faith. Are you willing to let God do His work in you?
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
Censorship. I was talking with a new believer about prayer.
“You know, I don’t pray for myself. I just pray for my family and people I love.”
“Why not?” I asked. “You know, God tells us we can come to Him with everything.”
Oh, I spoke so confidently, with such conviction and wisdom. Of course, I believed it when I said it but later I realized that sometimes I am guilty of my own censorship when it comes to praying to God. It goes something like this.
“Hey, Jesus, I know you’re busy, got a lot a stuff goin’ on up there, so I am only going to bother you with the big stuff. I’ll take care of all the small stuff.”
“Lynne, I’m big enough, I can handle the small stuff, too.”
“It wouldn’t be right to ask you for help with something I can do myself, Jesus. I should be able to handle it, so I won’t even ask. After all, you help those who help themselves, right?”
“Lynne, I help those who ask.”
“Love you, Jesus, and I appreciate the offer to help, but I got myself into this mess, it is my responsibility to get myself out.”
“Lynne, the mess you are in is so great that you could never get yourself out. That’s the reason I died for you. I love you.”
It is a sly thing, this subconscious censorship, this idea that I know what is and isn’t important enough to bring before the Lord. I hate to use the “h” word, but I am feeling a bit hypocritical. Do I somehow think that as someone who has followed Jesus for a while, I no longer need to rely on Him for everything, big and small? Do you ever censor your prayer life? Thankfully Jesus is merciful and patient and He loves us enough to give us His Word, not ours, to be the final authority. And as I shared with my new believer friend, Jesus does indeed tell us to come to Him with everything. Uncensored.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Mothers. One of my greatest blessings has been to be a mother. I wish I could say that I executed the role of motherhood perfectly. All the time. Without fail. No regrets. But if I said that, I have two beautiful children who would find time to leave me a comment or two to bring me back to reality. Reality is that I am an imperfect mother.
For example, it seemed our son had a bump or scrape on his head every day from age one to age two. It didn’t matter how closely I watched him, how near I kept him, or how much I padded the furniture, he just seemed to take one tumble after another that caused some kind of bump or abrasion on his poor little head. I was sure I was the worst mother in the world. But like most active little boys, he grew out of that stage intact only to enter another equally challenging phase.
My daughter was not as physically active as a youngster, but had her share of hurts just the same. Missing friends at birthday parties, not being able to try out for the cheerleading squad, broken hearts – it didn’t matter how closely I watched her, or how near I kept her, or how much I tried to protect her heart, there were hurts. At times I would have nightmares that one of my two children would end up on some talk show, speaking from the shadows with their voices altered by a modulator so that no one could identify them – all because of the mistakes I had made as a mother. Thankfully that didn’t happen. Scrapes healed, tender emotions passed and, to my knowledge, no one ended up on a talk show.
I love my children beyond measure, and yet my best efforts at being their mother have always fallen short of perfection. I am grateful that God does not measure my worth by my works – as a mother or in any other area of my life. He does not expect me to save myself by what I do or don’t do. What a wonderful gift is God’s grace that saves an imperfect mother like me!
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8