What I Learned from Our Series on Suffering

fontcandy (1) copy 3Although our Series on Suffering officially concluded last week, I’m compelled to share how I was personally changed over the past few weeks. My hope was to help others — either those in agony or those watching another suffer. By posting updates from four years after the initial story, I hoped to point toward perseverance. There’s something about seeing another’s redemption that helps you reach out your hand when you’re drowning. But once again, I found transformation in the mirror.  I entered the series as the facilitator, but I left the student.

I learned…

… Everyone has a story. Everyone. Why do I forget this? Life would be so much richer and more meaningful if I stopped to listen. If I pursued. If I slowed down enough to be a safe place for others. I must remember the faces in my life have identities. Everyone has so much to say.

… People grieve differently.  There’s no consistent, proper way to get real and deal with pain. Yes, there are common rhythms of grief. But I can’t put people in boxes and expect them to convey their distress a certain way. Some friends are more emotional while others are more rational. There’s beauty in this kind of diversity. Why bring judgment into someone’s healing process?

… It’s cowardly to remain silent amidst another’s pain. The fear of offending someone absolutely can not supersede our practice of living in community. Loving others requires us to feel awkward sometimes. I absolutely must get over myself.

… I whine too much. You see, all those thoughts harbored deep within, whether they pour forth from my lips or not, reflect where I’m at. Proverbs 23:7 makes it clear: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. (NLV)  I’m too self-centered… period… in my peer relationships, my marriage, my parenting. Especially my parenting. There’s nothing like hearing another’s story to put your own in perspective.

… I must fight to prevent my body image issues from impacting my children. I know the standards of 21st century American beauty —  for women and men. I see it everyday at the check-out lane, in Athleta catalogs that invade my mailbox, on television commercials, in the lies I uncover in my own thoughts. I must commit to not complain about the way God made me in front of my son and daughter. I want my children to grow up knowing they’re beautifully created and knowing their identity is in what Christ did for them on the cross. As our world has become smaller through technology, unfortunately our infatuation with one type of beauty has grown bigger. I must fight our culture no matter how daunting the task seems.

… Redemption often looks different than I would have imagined. I believed this already, but I’m convinced even more after presenting these four stories. We pray and claim and beg — and even tell God what to do — and His answer is often different than our original hopes. But He’s purposeful. And He often uses radical, painful situations to convey His counter-cultural message. Regardless, I’ve seen him bring beauty and life to a dying heart. As Jeremy Bedenbaugh, a local St. Louis pastor, says, “Only where the graves are is there resurrection.”

I know God will continue to uncover more lessons for me. And hopefully for you, too. I don’t know what struggle will stare me in the face tomorrow. But for now, I have much to ponder — suffering, healing, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. Come, Lord Jesus. Come to the darkest parts of our stories.

Choosing Substance: Owning Your Grief (Day 3)

griefListen to my voice.
You will hear me begging for Your help
With my hands lifted up in prayer… Psalm 28:2

A person of substance sits in her sadness.

(“Wait!” you say. “This is an Advent series. Don’t turn down this path already!”)

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m slowly becoming a mom who is okay with grief. I was a Dismisser for years, determined to rescue my kids from all things sad. Watching someone suffer and grieve clashed with my need to encourage. Sometimes your talents work against you. Or worse yet, they work against the ones you love.

Maybe you’re a Dismisser, too. Do you play the role of cheerleader? Motivator? Perspective-giver? Do you grab the half-full glass and beg your friends to drink it? Do you drown yourself in it?

It’s all good — it really is — until we get imbalanced. Until we stop living life in moderation. Until our encouragement feels like an interruption, and those we love stop talking. They know we’re not listening anyway.

“Oh, friend, that’s awful. You’ll have a better day tomorrow.”
“Look at the bright side, son. It snowed a little. We don’t have a snow day, but at least we have a four-day week next week.”
“Yeah, you came in second… but there’s always next year.”
And so on. And so on.

Maybe we’re not as comfortable with authenticity as we’d like to think, for we whisk people out of realness. We whisk ourselves away, too.

While there’s a place and a need for encouragement, maybe we’re bestowing it on others a little too soon. Without winter, spring would feel ordinary. Without hunger, there is no fullness. Without suffering, we don’t understand wholeness… we don’t recognize redemption.

If we dare to see we’re lost, we long for Emmanuel all the more. If we sit in our brokenness, we long for the Rescuer. Long for Him.

Choosing substance means seeing your pain, naming it, grieving over it… even during Advent. Because we were made in the image of God, we reflect Him. Because we bear His image, we’re capable of grief. He wrote suffering into His own story, and so a person of substance does not fear the ache. The agony, the mourning, reminds us this isn’t our home.

This Advent season, might you choose to sit in your sadness a while? Might you be a companion to those who can’t hum the carols but are instead singings Psalms of angst? Injustice. Illness. Betrayal. Misunderstanding. I know the list is long.

Watch over my soul,
    and let me face shame and defeat unashamed
because You are my refuge.
    …Vigilantly I wait for You, hoping, trusting. Psalm 25:20-21

On the third day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the courage to sit in my sadness… the hope that He will reconcile the painful mysteries of this world.

…’Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth…

Choosing Substance

  • Read all of Psalm 28 (link can be found at the very top of this post).
  • Think back to how you were raised. Was your home a safe place in which to “sit in your sadness”? Who was the most uncomfortable with your grief? What did you do when you were sad?
  • Ponder your view of your Maker. Do you view God as One who was uncomfortable with your grief? indifferent to it? intimate and caring?
  • Add another concept to your definition of substance.

photo source | Camila Damasio