In just a few weeks, I’m schedule to attend a ladies’ retreat where I’ll be talking to a small group of women about suffering. It’s one of those things nobody wants to qualify for, to be asked to speak to others about suffering. But when we do, we have almost no choice except to look for something good in our sufferings, or at least to understand it a little better.
I know my qualifications for joining this kind of a group is, by the grace of God, through less suffering than others have endured. It’s like anything else; if we’re rich we don’t have to look far to find someone richer. If we’re smart we don’t have to look far to find someone smarter, and so on with a wide variety of qualifiers.
So thinking about this upcoming session brought to mind a group of friends I meet with regularly, a few local women who’ve been drawn together because each of us have suffered in our own way. One of the reasons we connected so quickly and easily was because we recognized that grief has a sort of universal quality to it, a bonding agent so to speak. It’s one of the silver linings about grief, an element I believe God put there. This phenomenon is certainly clear in the Bible where it talks about suffering and comfort. My personal favorite is from 2 Corinthians 1:3-7:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Studying grief, even briefly, has a surprising way of bringing comfort. For one thing, we realize we’re not the first or the last to suffer. We learn others (including Christ) have suffered worse. We become aware that we might be stronger than we thought, that we’ve developed some of the patient endurance the Bible mentions. We realize, sometimes only after we’ve survived the worst of our grief, how closely we depended on God to get us through. Certainly something that brings us closer to the God who created us can be used in a powerful way.
In church this week my pastor read from Philippians 3:12. To paraphrase, it goes something like Paul pressing on to take hold of that which Christ took hold of him.
I found the explanation of that phrase so powerful, that Christ took hold of Paul and so Paul, in turn, must press on to take hold of that goal God had for him. To help Paul become the man God made him to be, to do all that God knew him capable of doing.
Perhaps, I thought as I listened to that verse, the suffering God allows our way is an important part of our individual journeys. Without our suffering, we would almost certainly be different. Certainly less tested, perhaps less strong. Less compassionate. Less knowledgeable. Less than the man or woman God designed us to be.
Just some of the things I’ve been musing on this cold January day . . .