I’ve tried a lot of ways to get out of suffering in my life, but we all know that there is no ‘get out of suffering free‘ card. And one thing I’ve learned these past few years, is that the more I try to avoid pain and suffering, the worse I wind up in the long run. So if I can’t avoid it, sooner or later I’m going to have to make peace with it. Which is what I was sharing in this post from April 2015.
The thing I have learned about suffering is that does important soul work. Suffering unites us with Jesus in a very real way and it brings us face to face with the love of God. And this place of Grace is where hope and peace live.
I’ve given up booze before. And chocolate. But no other lenten practice is quite so meaningful as setting aside time for quiet reflection. So this year, rather than checking my email and catching up on my Instagram feed, I decided that I would spend those first 10 or 15 quiet moments in the morning nurturing my spiritual life.
And so several weeks ago, in anticipation for lent, I bought the book Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. Here’s the official Amazon.com description:
A time for self-denial, soul-searching, and spiritual preparation, Lent is traditionally observed by daily reading and reflection. This collection will satisfy the growing hunger for meaningful and accessible devotions. Culled from the wealth of twenty centuries, the selections in Bread and Wine are ecumenical in scope, and represent the best classic and contemporary Christian writers.
I was looking forward to starting my day with uplifting, inspirational stories from gifted authors. So as you might imagine, I was a little taken aback to find that the entire first three sections of book were devoted to sin and suffering. For the entire past week, the selections have focused on Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice. Every day for the past week I have been face to face with the cross.
Quite honestly, this book feels much less warm and fuzzy and much more like nails and thorns.
A few weeks ago, I almost set it aside because it was making me so uncomfortable. I’d read that day’s selection and then spent the next hour getting ready and drying my hair talking to God and telling him how hard this was for me. The truth is, I’ve always had trouble with suffering.
But just like I have discovered with so much of my journey these past few years, the key to making peace with things that are uncomfortable is changing the way I look at it. And this has been no different….without intending it, my Lenten journey has been about making peace with suffering.
I’ve spent a large part of my life trying to avoid suffering. Whether it has been trying very hard to be “good” in hopes of avoiding the suffering that often comes with bad decisions. Or by living such a small and inconspicuous life as to fly under the radar (so to speak) to avoid attracting any negative attention or criticism. Oh and I mustn’t forget, and this was not in the too distant past,there was my attempt at a zen/buddha-esque – you are the cause of your own suffering – mindset where I tried very, very hard to give so much less of shit about things (unsuccessfully I might add). And then there’s my standard, my go-to…denial….’mary sunshine’…just think positively!
Yes, I’ve tried to avoid suffering my whole life and yet, suffering always finds a way.
There is no “get out of suffering free” card. Oh but we can try!! This life offers us a million distractions and numbing agents. But no amount of thinking positively, or pleasing and perfecting, or busyness….there is no quantity of booze or pills. And no amount of Pinterest-igram that can prevent suffering or heal the pain that comes along with it.
My guess is that you already know this.
Because I am hard-headed, sometimes it takes me a bit longer.
By my own admission, I do not share much about suffering here on my blog. And that is true for a couple of reasons. First, my blog has always been about capturing and sharing the simple joys of my ordinary life. That’s my tagline and the driving force behind my creative vision. But it’s also because very often, my trials and heartache involve my intimate relationships. And I firmly believe that there are some stories that aren’t mine to tell. I just want you to know that OK? That my life is not tulips and dogwood trees all day, every day. Like everyone else, I have thorns in my side and crosses to bear.
I suppose no one knows more about thorns and the cross than our Savior.
It seems to me that God could have accomplished our salvation in a million different ways. But he chose to take on our human existence. God came into our very messy human experience. He entered into our suffering, and rather than tell us not to suffer…rather than giving us a way out of suffering…he suffered right alongside with us. And in his infinite divinity, Jesus suffered with us all the way to the cross.
As a Christian, I believe that Jesus took on my guilt and died for my sins. And because of this saving grace, I have been reconciled to God. The cross is my salvation. And now what this also means is that I have a place to take my suffering. I can take my suffering to the cross….all of my sin, my guilt, and my pain… and it is there, at the foot of cross, that I come face to face with Grace. The love of God poured out for me. It is at the cross where I am united with Christ in a very real way. And it is in this action of dying with him that I also have the hope of new life in him.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Romans 6:8
As much as I love to be happy and full of joy, I also know that there is no real joy without the cross. Like it or not, suffering accomplishes profoundly important soul work.
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:3-5
I am living proof of this hope. And so today I am holding space for the cross. Because there lies my hope for new life. And that is what brings me peace in this life.