Is suffering a morbid topic? It certainly seems so in Western society today. With our increasingly “connected” world of television, internet, and social media we are more privy to the suffering of the world than ever before. Yet at the same time it seems we less privy to the sufferings of our neighbor as we feel the need to hide our personal struggles. Is it only in the church that we feel the need to “put on a brave face” and act like everything is okay? I was recently enlightened to the struggle of a friend back in the states and it drove in deeper to me the need to deal openly and hopefully with the issue of suffering in all its various forms.
I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling through a Scriptural understanding of suffering and have found it to be incredibly hopeful and strengthening - not morbid at all but rather full of life! I find my deepest distress in suffering comes from fearing and avoiding it as though it is unusual, shocking, and indicative of something terribly wrong with the individual who is suffering. It is in the illusion of being able to control life so as to avoid anything unpleasant, or at least to avoid great pain, that I have found the greatest struggle with suffering. If I can only juggle life just right then I can guarantee a mostly pain-free life for myself, my children, and all those dear to me. This lie leaves me feeling panicked, overwhelmed, exhausted, and terrified of suffering. On the other hand, when I accept that trouble is a given, a promised part of this life (John 16:33) then I find so much rest and relief in relinquishing control to the only One who really has control in the first place.
Recently our women’s group here began studying through Elisabeth Elliot’s A Path Through Suffering. It was given to me years ago when I was going through a great loss, but I didn’t read it at the time because I didn’t want to think more about suffering than I already was. (It felt like a morbid topic at the time!) Now as our group studies it together I wish I had read it many years ago and re-read it every year since! It is so profoundly full of hope that I find myself picking it up often to read, re-read, contemplate and prepare for our meetings because I am drawn to E.E.’s uplifting testimony and powerfully simple sharing of Scripture - living and active able to infuse our suffering with living hope. Brett tells me he’s proud of me for putting so much work into it, but really it’s my re-charging time that I look forward to. (After all, it beats meal planning and grading schoolwork!)
It is not only for the great suffering of life, but also for the “little ‘s’ suffering” that we all encounter on a daily basis. It is not only for the one whose world has flipped upside down, but just as much for the one who struggles with the little deaths that must be suffered every day as we live our lives not for ourselves. It is perhaps mostly for the one who, like me, is prone to fear suffering and feels the panic and terror of trying to control life to keep suffering at bay.
Obviously I strongly recommend that everyone buys and reads and highlights and discusses and shares this book for themselves, but over the next few weeks I hope be sharing some of the points that have impacted me the most with the desire that it will equally bless others who are living in this world of suffering.
In my opinion, the greatest strength of E.E.’s testimony lies in her simple acceptance of what Scripture has to say about suffering and her affirmation of the Truth in the way she lived her life. The same Word with all its life is open to each of us to equip us to walk this road to the glorious and promised end of a place with no suffering, where all of our present sufferings are redeemed to the glory of God and the joy of His people.