I had a high school friend whose life overflowed with compassion. The rest of us were obsessed with college-prep, extra-curricular activities, and jobs. But he, like a lion, could sniff out a wounded schoolmate from a thousand yards. And like a lamb, he sat with them in their grief.
One day we heard a lecture on handling pain. Most of the class was indifferent—bored even—but my friend listened quietly with fixed attention. My preppy class asked how to deal with a poor score on a college-entry exam; my friend wondered how he could cheer a suicidal sibling.
My friend suffered from cerebral palsy. Everyday his infirmity slapped him in the face, and every night throbbing muscles threatened his sleep.
His walk was awkward, his dialog at times incomprehensible, his body wracked with pain; while his mind remained sharp. But mid-day waiters asked me what “he” wanted for lunch; classmates overlooked him for team sports; and the difficulty of his spastic speech meant few people invited him for an evening dinner. Yet he always sought out others in sorrow.
Oswald Chambers observed that, “Suffering burns up a lot of shallowness in a person.”
Why do we resent it?
We all know a few of our “foibles”: we are easily offended when corrected, we talk more than we listen, we barely know how to spell “joy” (much less live it), and past conversations consume us: “If only I had said ‘X’ instead of ‘Y.’”
We wrestle with our anxiety, condescension, and insensitivity. And they pin us to the mat. We chase self-improvement mostly to avoid the humiliation of looking stupid, uncaring, and high-maintenance. Failures drive us to avoid more sorrow at any cost.
We want healing from suffering; but Scripture says we get healing only throughsuffering.
God uses sorrows as spiritual chemotherapy, poisoning cancerous cells so that healthy cells can thrive. “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity” (Job 36:15).
We avoid passages like that.
To live a dying life
Jesus is called a man of sorrows, and to follow him is a walk of sorrows. Through them, we meet God. The way of Jesus is the road to Calvary, planting daily our crosses, as little by little the cancerous cells perish, and as little by little his life in us takes root. In our sorrows, we begin to discover true joy.
The way of Jesus is to live a dying life.
Each new sunrise screams of brutalities, ethnic cleansing, sexual carnage, heartbreaking divorce, rejection, and loneliness. What kind of God do we want? A God indifferent to suffering, exempt and untouched? Or a God so moved with compassion at the slaughter of his people that he enters creation to absorb into himself the anguish of a heartbroken world?
God’s voice in our affliction
Our experiences of loneliness and pain leave us feeling barren and empty, joyless and wasted; but it is precisely in times of wounded-ness that God speaks to us:
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone. (Edward Shillito)
Rather than flee agonies, let’s seek his voice in the heartbreaks of our sorrows; if we are rejected, hear him whisper that he was discarded so we can be cherished; in our loneliness, hear his pledge that he was forgotten so we will be treasured; in the aches of our withering bodies, hear his shout that we are nearly home.
The same sun that hardens clay also softens wax. Which will we be? Will the sufferings of life turn us callous and harsh, or will we let the blood-soaked lashes of Jesus speak to our wounds?
Like my high school friend, let us stumble awkwardly into a world of anguish, anointing the griefs of others with the balm of a wounded God. Let us live a dying life.