This is a special week at Velvet Ashes because we are wading into the subject of suffering.
I am grateful I was raised with a healthy view of suffering — bad things happen to good people and it doesn’t mean God or people are trustworthy; it just means suffering is a part of this life. But living in China, I was exposed to folks who seemed to go to extremes of either God will protect us from all suffering (or he should!) OR the more we suffer, the holier we are.
We are back to (you know what’s coming, right?) the messy middle. I know, I know. The messy middle, where suffering can be used to mature and grow us, but let’s not glorify it or minimize the pain, OK?
On his blog, Donald Miller asks “What makes a meaningful life?” And in part he answered:
Viktor Frankl spent most of his life studying the mystery of meaning, and amazingly, he came up with a prescription for how we can experience it ourselves.
His prescription was remarkably simple:
1. Have a project you’re working on that requires your unique skills and abilities. And preferably a project that helps others.
2. Share your experience within the context of safe, loving relationships.
3. Find a redemptive perspective on your suffering and challenges.
I found myself saying, yes, yes, yes. Purpose, connection, and redemptive suffering, that does about sum up the kind of life I want to live. So, this week, if you’d like to explore suffering in the context of these three elements, would you join us at Velvet Ashes? We have quite the line up planned and you can read about it here.
Our lead off post is from my friend Tanya Marlow (insert happy dance here! I’m so excited she’s sharing with us!). Tanya has many things to offer, but today we’re going to focus on one: her passion to help create space for people to form healthy and helpful theologies of suffering. She writes:
“Here is where we start – that suffering is bad. Sometimes as Christians, when we tell our stories of suffering, we jump too quickly to the ‘God is good’ part. It is not good that death and sickness and violence and evil are in the world, and God did not intend them in His good design. They were not there at the beginning; they will not be there at the end.
I have an autoimmune illness which is poorly understood, even by good medics. For the last four years I have had to spend the majority of the day in bed, resting, and I am only well enough to leave the house once a fortnight or so, in a wheelchair, for a couple of hours. It’s ongoing, with little treatment or help, and my prognosis is uncertain”… and you can read the rest here.
What has helped form your understanding of suffering? Did your younger years help or hinder you in adulthood?
Tanya Marlow says
I am so thankful for you and your messy middle.
(That sounds kinda weird. You know what I mean!!!)
I just finished reading Tanya’s post on Velvet Ashes, and it was difficult to finish reading because there was something wrong with my eyes. Oh, maybe it was because I was trying to read through the tears that were threatening to spill out.
Amy, I could make this a REALLY LONG post, because I have a LOT to say about my perspective on suffering. But I’ll try to keep it (relatively) short.
This is pretty much my testimony post of how He used suffering to change my heart.
Before Oct. 2012 (that was when I experienced the first symptoms of MS) I had a pretty flippant, shallow attitude on suffering. I knew all the pat phrases to tell anybody who was experiencing some type of suffering. That was because I really hadn’t suffered up until that point.
Then in March 2013 when I was lying on a hospital bed in Hong Kong after back surgery, I was told by a neurologist that it looked like I had MS. My world as I knew it crashed and burned.
Then in the midst of my pity party He began working on my heart, teaching me things about myself that I really didn’t want to know. But I had nothing else to do as I laid on the hospital bed, and really, nothing else, period. So I listened. For the first time in my life I really listened to Him.
And through this process He changed my heart. He took my heart of stone – a heart that was only interested in what was the most convenient way for me to serve Him – and gave me a heart of flesh, a heart that was broken for my own sin, broken for the friends who don’t know him, broken for the beggar on the street that I used to pass every day without a thought, broken for the students that I’ve come to love, but who don’t know Him. My heart was suddenly soft where it had been so hard before, that I spent several days in that hospital bed just weeping for the people I loved and didn’t know Him.
Also, in this process He gave me a new sense of urgency, of the preciousness of time that I never had before. I had a precious gift, and I had a new passion to share that life-giving gift with the ones back at my school.
And then, in the midst of this new, burning desire to serve him out of love rather than out of cold obedience, right after I left the hospital and returned to school, everything came to a screeching halt as I spent pretty much the entire month of March in bed, struggling with a major relapse that affected multiple body functions as well as extreme fatigue that caused me to sleep for about 16 hours each day.
But finally, the relapse ended (but not the continuing “normal” MS symptoms!), and I was finally able to function again, albeit at a much reduced level.
So, what is my theology of suffering now, as a result of my ongoing experience with MS? I have a Rom. 8:28 theology of suffering. I believe that He is good, and that He is sovereign. He doesn’t cause suffering and pain (I totally agree with you, Tanya, that it wasn’t in His original plan, and it’s not going to be part of our experience at the end!), but it doesn’t surprise Him, and He can – and does! – use it to teach us and shape us more into His image, if we listen. He makes ALL things work together for our good!
Just a couple weeks ago in the middle of my morning devotions He gave me my life verse – Phil. 1:21. Now, I want to live my whole life for Him, to allow Him to live in me, to totally control me. I’ve probably said those same words in the past, but now, as a result of the lessons that He’s taught me – and continues to teach me! – through physical suffering, I actually MEAN them when I say these words now!
(Yep, believe it or not, this is the short version! :-) )
David Rupert says
Amy, I think you are right about rushing to the “god part” of suffering. We need to embrace our discomfort, our displacement, our disengagement. Not wallow in it, mind you, but embracing the moment as a definition that will one day lead to answers. Too often we look for those answers right away, and we miss out on the process.