My daughter has lots of emotions, lots and lots of big feelings. Always has. And now that she is 7 years old she has hit some of those bumps in the road with friends and school and learning how to have a little bit of her own little life apart from the family. The other night she was completely exhausted after a field trip and it was like all the bad feelings just took over, all she could think about was how hard it was to be away from me during the school days and which friends were mean and who had said rude things to her. I knew, because I’m her mom and I’ve lived through the same elementary school woes, that she would learn how to handle those situations and that eventually she would find kind friends and get used to having some independence from me. But she couldn’t see that, she just felt her own pain. It was the worst, it was so heartbreaking to see her cry and cry from a much deeper place than the daily “He hit me and took my toy” kind of cry. For her, this was suffering. I couldn’t change it or take it away because bratty classmates and homesickness are just a part of life for an elementary school kid. All I could do was hold her and love her and be with her in it. I knew that one day this would be a distant memory, but she didn’t understand that. I knew that one day none of these things would matter, but she didn’t.
I think in my youthfulness and out of my relatively sheltered and comfortable life, when Christians talked about suffering it was this special, holy thing. Let me explain that better: For the first 30 or so years of my life I thought that in the midst of suffering God would supernaturally protect you from the pain of suffering. I thought that if God let you suffer and you loved Him and followed Jesus, that you would feel a sense of honor and holiness and if I’m being honest you’d feel like you’d gotten a gold star because you would be so overwhelmed by peace and not by pain.
Well then life continued on and I found myself in a few different seasons of “suffering” (I use quotes because it feels weird to call a difficulty by the name “suffering” when I know that there are people going through way worse). And guess how it feels when you are suffering, when you are hurting? Painful. It hurts and it doesn’t hurt just a little. Sometimes that pain was all I could see or feel. It didn’t feel like I won the Christian lottery by being chosen to share in Christ’s suffering. It felt like I was constantly crying, holding on for dear life, hoping and praying that I would get through it sooner than later.
When some of the circumstances of those hard times had passed or been resolved, without realizing it I walked around with a lot of fear and skepticism and sometimes a little chip on my shoulder. I felt like I had been duped by people who hadn’t walked through hard times themselves. I felt scared about what might be next, what might cause pain in my life. I felt not so sure about how God fit in with pain and difficulty because even though I could identify His hand at work through it all….I also didn’t experience that supernatural-peace-that-never-let-any-pain-through thing that I had always thought was the way God and suffering fit together. My whole understanding about God’s character in my suffering and His provision in it, was pretty wrecked. I wanted to walk around and say, “Yea you know what they don’t tell you about pain? IT HURTS!”
I knew I still loved God, I still believed in Jesus. But there was a strain, I didn’t even realize it was there. I just felt confused and unsure...and fearful and anxious.
Then this week I was listening to a sermon from a pastor who I respect and he started teaching about suffering. And actually-- it wasn’t that he helped me understand how suffering worked for Christ followers. Instead, I finally saw that this was where I was hung up, on this suffering business. Suddenly I was aware of how naively I had believed that it was a simple thing to suffer and to walk with Jesus. But it’s not simple at all. I’d oversimplified my belief about suffering. I thought if a person really loved God, when trials came they would rise above the pain and sorrow because their love of God would overshadow everything else. Then when I didn’t feel that way in my own suffering, I questioned my love for God, my trust in Him, God’s provision for me, God’s protection...I questioned it all. Actually I briefly questioned and then quickly stuffed all those questions deep down because they made me feel ashamed. Instead of working through it, I held God at an arm’s length and tried to protect myself from hardship instead.
But driving home today and listening to a different sermon about the last supper, it kind of all clicked into place. Jesus took the cup of God’s wrath upon Himself for me so that I would never have to know permanent suffering...eternal suffering. The truth is that there is difficulty and hardship in this life. That’s real. Then Spirit brought to mind that night when I sat in my daughter’s bed-tent (it’s a whole thing right now) and was with her while she cried. I was fully invested in her pain, I felt it to my core. But I also knew down to my core that it is a fact of life on earth that she will have to learn how to go through these seasons of pain. The thing is though...from where I sat as her mom I also knew that it wouldn’t last forever, that this 1st grade suffering would be temporary and that it wouldn’t take away from the goodness of her life as a whole.
As I drove down my suburban street filled with dust and construction debris the Spirit showed me that He was with me in it. That suffering and pain was a fact of living in broken world. But that God’s love is complete for me, that He feels my pain now and he felt it then--He is fully invested in it with me. He knows, from where He sits, that all of this will pass. He knows that one day in eternity it won’t matter to me anymore or take away from my complete joy of being with Him. I didn’t struggle through those seasons because I had a lack of love for Jesus. I struggled because it was hard. Suffering isn’t simple at all. It’s so complex. It’s full of moments when there is supernatural peace, but it also has plenty of moments of sitting in the pain with Jesus. He is fully in it and loves me while I’m hurting more than I can imagine. He hates it for me, even more than I hate it for my daughter.