In Which I List All of the Ways I Fail at Suffering Well

In John 18, Jesus straight up walked to his accusers, knowing that they were coming to arrest Him (illegally), knowing that this arrest would lead to an indescribable amount of pain (physically, emotionally and spiritually) and He never overreacted. He didn’t chastise His disciples for sleeping or Judas for betraying Him. He didn’t express frustration when Peter impulsively cut off someone’s ear (oh great, I’m about to be CRUCIFIED and now I have to heal one of the bad guys’ ears?!) He simply allowed them to take Him. Because He knew His purpose. He knew what God had planned was the best and He knew it was necessary for everyone else.

Guys, I am not this person.

If one of my children wakes early from nap, I lament the loss of my beloved “catch up on chores” time. If the dog pukes on the floor, I snap at him and at anyone who walks within five feet of me. If my daughter cries all night, I tell myself my crankiness is entirely justified for the entire following morning.

I injured my IT band a month ago and haven’t been able to run. I had been training for my second half-marathon and, based on my mileage and pace, was well on my way to an 1:50 finish time. This was good for me… I know if you’re one of those elite runners who has qualified for Boston, this is a snail’s pace, but for me? I was encouraged.

That all changed one sunny Thursday when I started to feel a sharp pain on the outside of my right knee each time my foot struck the ground. I stopped and rubbed it, and tried to run a few more paces. My leg nearly buckled from the pain and I was forced to hobble the rest of the way home. After consulting Dr. Google and firing off a series of texts to my runner friends and a physical therapist I knew, we all concluded it was likely the IT band.

One thing no one could tell me? How long it will last.

So, I have had three babies naturally. That is legitimate physical suffering. But, it is purposeful. I feel this pain now, but it will end, and when it does I will have a baby. This is a suffering I can get behind. Also, by that point in pregnancy it seems any alternative is better than staying huge and pregnant, am I right?

I have found, however, that it is the open-ended fairly ambiguous suffering I have the most difficulty embracing. I am not lacking in self-awareness so much to pretend my suffering is comparable to cancer or the loss of a loved one. But these past few years have had, as all lives do, seasons of suffering. I have lost a baby due to an ectopic pregnancy. My husband battled a serious case of depression for about a year. A close family member went through a pretty terrible divorce. A good friend and mother of three small children got a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer.

In these moments, I find myself begging God for a timeline. When, oh Lord, will you relieve us of this pain? How long must my friend wait for a husband? Will my friend’s cancer eventually be terminal? How long am I out with this knee injury? Will my husband live with this depression forever? Silence. On all counts.

There are countless examples in the Bible of the Lord not answering and allowing long periods of suffering. Job. Abraham. Moses. I mean, can YOU imagine wandering 40 years in the desert only to die without reaching the Promised Land? Jesus. Every disciple. None of them given a timeline of how long the suffering will last, only a promise and a hope in Him. In His goodness. In His return.
In my experience, it is in the waiting that my faith is grown. I think of Mary and Martha, waiting for Jesus to come and heal their brother. Nothing. They sent the message, where is he? Then he dies. And then, still four days pass. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They knew what He could do. They knew His power and ability.

Yet, strengthening their faith, trust and hope in Him was far more important to Jesus than alleviating their suffering. Strengthening the faith, trust and hope of His disciples (who were with Him to witness this) was more important than the comfortable avoidance of suffering for Mary and Martha and Lazarus.
Jesus will always prioritize growing our faith and hope and trust in Him over an easy, comfortable life. It is in this waiting, this not knowing how much longer can I endure, that we begin to let go. To unfurl our tightened fingers on the hopes of this world, in temporary things that will not last. I can faithfully do my stretches and exercises, and not one of those things will promise an end date on my IT band injury, a time when I can run an 8 min mile for several miles. We can follow parenting books faithfully and still have a child that chooses the way of the prodigal for several years. Our hope cannot be in anything we do, anything we can control. That is the blessing of the waiting.

So, I do NOT suffer well, admittedly. But can I learn to praise God in the midst of waiting? Can I learn to believe His faithfulness to be true, even when I want an end now? Can I trust and hope in Jesus alone when all of my usual tactics and methods of control fail me?

This. This is the goal. Loosen your grip. Praise Him with outstretched hands, and embrace the suffering He has allowed. May I believe this with the small suffering of my IT band and the larger trials that are undoubtedly in my future.

                                                 Image result for woman running public domain


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