Suffering Sucks

Recently, many friends have approached me with hearts full of sadness. So this is my response to them. It is not a letter of advice because I do not think I am qualified to give that, but merely a personal narrative.

There have been times in my life when I have woken up everyday to the dreaded feeling. That feeling in your heart, like an anchor is strapped to your chest. It has many causes: an awful job, relationship troubles, or just plain old human pride. It also comes from wanting what I am not ready to receive, grasping for what does not belong to me, or thinking I am entitled to what I am not… and I have lived long enough to know that suffering comes almost exclusively from within (almost).

What do I do on those days? The days that I wake up with my heart in a knot? The days that I feel a stone hanging from a string from my chest? I fight it of course. I fight with myself, I fight with God, I fight with people who annoy me… I just fight. That is my reaction. I am a fighter. In the good ways and in the bad ways.

Why? Because suffering sucks. No one likes to suffer, me the least of all. I’m the one who prays to God to “just rip off the band- aid” and get lessons I need to learn over with. Now, I do have a pretty good pain tolerance… just ask the dentist who thought he numbed me when he yanked two teeth out of my mouth (he didn’t). Or the poor nursing student who, when drawing blood, went through my vein. Twice. I, of course, did not whimper. (Mostly because I felt bad for her) However, there is a catch: my pain tolerance only lasts for short periods of time. This is why I was a sprinter in track, and why I was a rower. I can do anything… for about seven minutes. Then we have problems.

The problem with heart pain is, it doesn’t just go away. Not without making us suffer just a bit longer than we’re comfortable with. In my experience, pain does not go away until I accept it. I have to lean into it, I have to be grateful for it, but most of all I have to discover the lesson that God is trying to teach me. Only then will I have grown.

2 Corinthians 7:9-10 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

There is always a reason. There is always a reason why we are being stretched, sometimes tortured. That restlessness which lives within us is not something to be fought but must be harnessed. My mother always told us that my Abuela had a saying, that we must control our minds before our minds control us. I find this to be true with my heart as well. It must be kept under control, despite well meaning friends imploring, “You can’t help what you feel!” “You are feeling that way for a reason, don’t fight it!” I have said these things as well, and to a point they are true, but we must harness our emotions as well as our imaginations, and we must look at suffering for what it is. It is a training for the obstacles we have yet to overcome, it is an alarm clock alerting us to what is wrong in our lives, and it is the tug of our Savior, drawing us close so that we may rest in him alone.
1 Corinthians 10:13   No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Peter 5:9-10   Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Pain is a kindly, hopeful thing, a certain proof of life, a clear assurance that all is not yet over, that there is still a chance. But if your heart has no pain — well, that may betoken health, as you suppose: but are you certain that it does not mean that your soul is dead?  ~ A.J. Gossip

God bless you, my brothers and sisters in Christ! Fight the good fight, and fight well.
 

 

 

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Joy and Suffering in the Christian Life

The other day I was driving with my little sister, and I was in kind of a down mood, made all the worse thinking about how ridiculous it is that I should feel even slightly unhappy despite all of the wonderful gifts the Lord has given me, which therefore sent my slightly down mood into a plummeting spiral of unhappiness because now I feel bad for feeling bad when so much in my life is good. Catholic Guilt is real, ya’ll.

However, as I was struggling with this spider web of guilt I realized something- joy comes from God, not circumstances… if this sounds obvious to you, be patient with me, I’m a type A who subconsciously believes that if I can control everything I will be happy. However as we get older we realize that this is not true NOR do we want it to be true. If I controlled everything my life would be a catastrophe. It is definitely best left up to the Lord.

We are all searching for something that can only be found at the feet of Jesus. There are times in our lives when joy is administered to us in doses that are slightly less than we would appreciate, for whatever reason. In Christian circles this is often called the “dark night of the soul” or “a spiritual desert”. Either way, it stinks and we don’t like it. And, if you are like me, you spend a greater portion of your energy trying to wrestle away from it.

However, the Holy Spirit led me in a different direction that day, he brought me to the awareness that perhaps this is just a time of growth for me. Perhaps the Lord wants me to lean in to the struggle, instead of trying to get out. Or perhaps he wants me to lean back and let the God of the Universe control my motions… as if I were floating in the sea of his love. Perhaps I really don’t know what is best for me.

I remember back when I was rowing for UCF, and at the end of my physical therapy sessions after practice I had to get in the ice baths for ten minutes. Oh how I HATED the ice baths! I begged for my trainers to shorten the time, I begged to go into the hot tub instead, I’m pretty sure I would have been willing to barter my firstborn if only time would just please, please tick along faster! However, my lovely trainer Craig would just shoot me a not so patient, “Get in there and stop whining” and walk away to leave me in my misery. Of course, it was exactly what I needed, my muscles did heal and during those months I accomplished goals I never thought my body was capable of.

Healing and growth are never easy. In fact, they are usually painful, but always necessary. These dark hours are also reminders that we are nothing without Christ. We, in many ways must accept the lot that we are given. (Oooh does that make red blooded Americans cringe!) Not that we should be contented to a life of misery- certainly not, but once a person has done what is in their power to live a happy and healthy life, the rest is up to the Lord. This realization and acceptance has brought me incredible joy, because it has helped me to realize that I am like a preborn infant with an umbilical chord to Christ. Without him, I shrivel away. The only thing I have control over is the choice to follow Jesus each day. Aside from that, I have nothing to worry about, because I belong to him. And there is so much joy in that.