Why We Can Accept Our Suffering
Some months ago, a friend told me about a dream she’d had. In her dream there were two wells: one was a well of ease, and the other a well of suffering. As she stood in her dream with the wells before her, God spoke to her and told her she must choose between the them. She had the freedom to take the route most desirable, and the freedom to reject that which is less. She was warned by God, however, that although choosing the well of ease would produce instant gratification and happiness it would eclipse the joys that would only be found on a narrower path of suffering.
As she spoke I realized that I’d had the same dream. Only mine wasn't the kind experienced while sleeping, it was a daily reality with which I was faced. Every day for the past four months leading up to that conversation I’d been faced with a choice between two wells, though I hardly recognized the choice before me. Amidst my circumstances, I could choose between suffering and obedience to God's unfolding story, or I could cut a corner, make it less painful, and get faster results. I, too, had felt God speaking to me—through a faint whisper or gentle morning light piercing a window pane—that what I have truly longed for is on the other side of obedient suffering.
I think God will surely let us take the easy way out if that’s what we really want. But if that’s what we really want, we probably don't know what we want. The thing we chase is a shadow of our true desire. It’s the appetizer served to us instead of the main course and as its permanent replacement. Jesus was also faced with the same choice. In the Garden of Gethsemane he asked the Father, "If you are willing, remove this cup from me." The cup he referred to was the cup of suffering, aware of the burden and the pain that would follow. And it seems Jesus' natural desire, as might be our own, was to pass that cup and take the exit now. Yet he goes on to say to the Father, "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."
Jesus may not have known the specifics of what would follow this moment, but I'm sure he knew this: the outcome of the Father's will is much grander and satisfying than our own. We all know how the rest of this narrative (thankfully) unfolds.
It’s important for us to recall that the Gospel narrative took place in the context of oppression and adversity, that when Jesus arrived on the scene the nation of Israel was under oppression by the Roman Empire and so every Jew was essentially a slave and Jesus himself was essentially born into slavery. Rarely do we think of the Son of God as a slave.
Yet when we enter into our heart’s desire to follow Jesus, and step up and into our role in God’s story, we fall before this looming feeling that we have to have everything figured out and our lives have to look just right or tidy enough for God to do something with us. We forget, though, that the story of God and his people was written and told in the most complex and difficult of circumstances. We forget that God works through such oppression to usher in his love and redemption. We forget that some of the most beautiful parts and characters of God's story emerge from adversity and suffering.
But such characters in God’s story, and therefore such parts, have to will that suffering. God cannot give us what we do not will, what we do not unclench our fists and open our hands to receive. So lean into the suffering. Embrace it. Befriend it. Travel through it. Doing so helps us find our place in the story of God.
Why do you think we forget that God works through suffering, instead of just alleviating it? Leave a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts.