For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)
As a teacher, I get asked a lot of questions every day. Everything from, “Is it almost time for lunch?” to “Why do people say mean, stupid things?” Sometimes I have an answer because the question is routine or simple, but often I’m left asking the Holy Spirit for words because I simply don’t know. After one of my recent speaking events, a beautiful soul sent a question I didn’t know quite how to answer. I was neck-deep in Holy Week and Easter stuff at school, so I could have typed a quick reply in an attempt to take the task off my to-do list, but the question begged prayerful thought, research, and of course the wisdom of God’s Word. What started as an email to answer a question has spilled into a blog because I’m sure this dear lady isn’t the only one who wonders about this. With the help of the Holy Spirit, Scripture and a dynamic priest, here’s what I’ve got.
The question sprung from a scripture verse I was talking about that night in a church hall. We were thinking about Psalm 139:13-14 which reads, “you knit me in my mothers womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” It’s a beautiful passage steeped in God’s loving truth, but sometimes it comes with a sting. What if we aren’t perfect? What if we’re sick, or we have a condition or situation that causes our life to be anything BUT wonderful and perfect? Did God knit that? When life is hard or confusing or the suffering is great we often turn to God in our pain and befuddlement and wonder where He is and whether He really intended things to be this way.
Here are a couple of things to think about. First of all, there is no such thing as perfect. The world peddles that concept constantly, but it’s a deception. There is no such thing as a perfect family, job, or life like the TV commercials would have us believe. The goal of life is to get to heaven, not to have everything neat, tidy, pretty, and easy.
The goal of life is to get to heaven and claim our sainthood, and my friends, the path to that is not so simple. The holy men and women who have gone before us have shown us again and again that the path to holiness requires sacrifice and suffering. In John’s Gospel we read the words, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Even though hard stuff came with a warning label, we still shake our fist and say, “What the heck, God!” We have to know that he hears us, he loves us and he is working right in the middle of the messy, imperfect, and un-wonderful parts of our life. He’s using them to bring holiness and lead us home, and sometimes that’s a quick trip but more often than not it’s a long journey.
The second thing to remember is that suffering is inevitable. There are hundreds of commercials out there for stuff to make things quicker or easier. Heaven just plain can’t happen without suffering and trial; there’s no short-cut. What we do with our suffering makes all the difference, my friends. Suffering without Jesus is just pain without a purpose and it can leave us bitter and fumbling in the darkness. Suffering united with Jesus brings holiness.
St. Paul said in his letter to the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Colossians 1:24); his words are even more powerful when you consider that he wrote those words while chained in a prison cell. He knew the secret. He knew that Jesus didn’t die on a cross to take away our suffering, but rather, He came to transform our suffering. If we say in our suffering, “Jesus please suffer with me. Please allow this “thing” to help me grow closer to you,” we will give our suffering purpose and the result is redemption.
In other words, suffering is our vehicle to heaven. Uniting our suffering with Jesus gives our suffering meaning and the result is that wonderful, perfect life we’re all working for.
If suffering is our “vehicle” to heaven, it’s helpful to note that no two vehicles look alike. We buy into the crazy notion that everything should be fair, and that is yet another deception of the world. When Christ allows us to carry a sliver of his cross, we grow in holiness and often help others through our personal suffering. It might be tempting to think it’s not fair because some sufferings seem much smaller or greater, but the reality is, God knows exactly how much we can bear.
My mom suffered greatly when she buried my brother and then again when she battled cancer for two years, but she always asked God to use that suffering not just for her soul, but for her husband, her children, and all those who needed the redemption her suffering might bring to them. We can never completely see the burdens that others might be bearing … only God can see that and we have to trust in his wisdom and mercy.
That was a rather long answer to a pretty big question. I hope it offers some peace, some understanding, and some hope.
A Seed To Plant: As you pray today, make a list of all the things that cause your heart suffering. Each time that “thing” enters your mind say, “Jesus, join me as I carry this sliver of your cross.”
Blessings on your day!
Copyright 2019 Sheri Wohlfert