Suffering as Part of Our Spiritual Formation
Just minutes after my elbow popped out of the socket at a trampoline park, the chemicals in my brain wore off, and severe pain kicked in. I was 20 years old, living in New Zealand, and my friend rushed me to the ER while I held my throbbing, disfigured arm. By the time I did all the paperwork, got the X-rays, and was sedated, it had been dislocated for over an hour.
When asked about what that hour was like, I usually tell people it was as if every part of my body and mind was united with one request, “get it over with.”
My experience with other suffering is kind of like that sometimes. A sort of tunnel vision occurs to end my discomfort as soon as possible.
I would suggest that hardship can be an invitation. Maybe God is telling us to pay attention and giving us an opportunity to welcome Him into our pain.
Difficult times in our lives seem to beg the question, “God what are you doing?”
Happenstance has this way of unearthing what’s happening deep within us, and sometimes what we find isn’t so pretty.
Rather than trying to make sense of how everything will work out in the end, we can learn to trust that God has His hand on our life. Instead of trying to control the future, we can learn to accept our circumstances as a part of the journey.
When straining to understand the difficulties in our life, we are trying to regain what feels like lost ground. To seek security as our ultimate goal is to live out of anxiety and not faith.
I am not appealing to blind trust or thoughtless living but to a life of peace and expectation that God is making something out of us and our circumstances.
Taking this approach requires the kind of faith Joseph the Dreamer had when he looked back at his difficult yet fruitful life and was able to tell his brothers,
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20, NIV).
The mystery here is that not all of us get to see the fruit of our suffering like Joseph did. Joseph was positioned through his circumstances in such a way that he stopped a countrywide famine. Most of us are left for years confused and disoriented by the difficult things that happen, and we haven’t seen why.
Maybe sense-makings is not always the most helpful approach.
In his allegory about one man’s journey from hell to Heaven, called “The Great Divorce,” C.S Lewis said this of suffering;
“Son,’ he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity...That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure, they say, “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming of how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why...the Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.
Reframing our life as it is now in light of eternity is a key component in our journey of becoming a resilient apprentice of Jesus.
Whether you are in a season of hopeful anticipation, joyful celebration, or just trying to make it through the day, you are always in the process of becoming.
Your spiritual formation is less about how much you strain and more about giving God permission to mold and shape you, no matter the circumstance.
At the end of the biblical book of Job, the main character, Job, has had many conversations and attempts to make sense of his painful and confusing life. Unconvinced by many explanations his friends gave, some questions slowly unearthed from deep in Job’s heart. Then, in an epic climactic event, Job hears directly from God. God does not tell him why every hard thing in his life happened; rather, He reminds Job of who He is. After an epic couple of chapters in which God responds to Job’s questions, Job proclaims, “My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You” (Job 42:5 NIV).
Humans have a long history of suffering; we are well acquainted with it. But God is in the business of answering the prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The apostle Paul told the church in Rome- who were being thrown into the Colosseum, hung, burned, and mistreated in every way- “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18 NIV).
You don’t have to convince me that you’ve gone through or are going through hardship. Regardless of your circumstances, my encouragement is the same: Let God use the events of your life today to form you. You are already deeply loved by Him.
He is present in the trenches with you.
*For a deeper dive, suggested readings include Genesis 37-50, Job 38-42, Romans 8
*for related music, check out these songs by some of my favorite artists
Dylan is an alumni of GCU with a B.A. in Communication, he writes about spiritual formation, biblical theology, and philosophy in a personal, contemplative way on his Instagram writing account @BeEternallyPresent Dylan hopes to be a disciple-maker, teacher, and counselor that helps develop Kingdom-minded leaders.