What is Suffering?

The slim little book, LAMENT FOR A SON, by Nicolas Wolterstorff was a lifeline for me in the first few weeks after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

It wasn’t just because both of our young adult sons died in an accident.

It was mostly because Wolterstorff refused to distill the experience down to one-liners.  

He admitted that (even ten years later-which was the copy of the book I received) he was still struggling to make sense of all the feelings and spiritual implications of child loss.

And I love, love, love that he picks out every single thread and follows it as far as it goes.

Here is an excerpt on suffering:  

What is suffering? When something prized or loved is ripped away or never granted — work, someone loved, recognition of one’s dignity, life without physical pain — that is suffering.
Or rather, that is when suffering happens. What it IS, I do not know. For many days I had been reflecting on it. Then suddenly, as I watched the flicker of orange-pink evening light on almost still water, the thought overwhelmed me: I understand nothing of it. Of pain, yes: cut fingers, broken bones. Of sorrow and suffering, nothing at all. Suffering is a mystery as deep as any in our existence. It is not of course a mystery whose reality some doubt. Suffering keeps its face hid from each while making itself known to all.
We are one in suffering. Some are wealthy, some bright; some athletic, some admired. But we all suffer. For we all prize and love; and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much, though, for they do not love much. Suffering is for the loving. If I hadn’t loved him, there wouldn’t be this agony.


This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.


~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

My heart receives two truths from his words: 

  • that if I love, I WILL suffer.  That’s the nature of love-risking all for the benefit of another means that my heart is ultimately in their hands; and
  • pain is part of but not all of suffering.  Pain can often be dulled, dealt with, the source remedied.  Suffering is a state of the heart, mind, soul and spirit.  It can rarely be undone.  It must simply be endured.  

Understanding that the only way I could never suffer would be to never love helped me embrace this blow with a willing heart.  Even if I had known it was coming, I would still have chosen to love my son.  All the years I had are worth all the years I will carry this burden.

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

And understanding that there is no cure for suffering changes my perspective from looking for a way out to looking for a way to persevere.  

Nicholas Wolterstorff will never know my name but I will never forget his.

I am so grateful for Wolterstorff’s words.  

So thankful that he chose to share them with others.

Forever in his debt for being one of the first hands proffered to me on this journey.  

 

Advent for the Brokenhearted: Suffering Foretold

It’s easy for us this side of Calvary to point fingers at the Jews for getting it wrong. 

But when you are waiting for a Savior, you aren’t thinking that the One Who will save will be the One Who suffers.  

You think He will be strong and mighty and armed for battle.  You think He will conquer and lay waste and stride triumphant through the streets.

You don’t expect a Baby who becomes a Man who becomes a Sacrifice.  

But that is exactly Who Jesus is-He is a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief.  And that is why this brokenhearted mama can lean in and hold onto the hem of His garment. 

Because He knows. 

He. Knows. 

 

“Who would have believed what we now report?
    Who could have seen the Lord‘s hand in this?
It was the will of the Lord that his servant
    grow like a plant taking root in dry ground.
He had no dignity or beauty
    to make us take notice of him.
There was nothing attractive about him,
    nothing that would draw us to him.
We despised him and rejected him;
    he endured suffering and pain.
No one would even look at him—
    we ignored him as if he were nothing.

“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours,
    the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
    was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
    beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
    made whole by the blows he received.
All of us were like sheep that were lost,
    each of us going his own way.
But the Lord made the punishment fall on him,
    the punishment all of us deserved.

Isaiah 53:1-6

When I think I can’t take any more, I remember that Jesus took it all.  

When I think this life is too hard to endure, I turn my eyes and heart to the One Who endured the wrath of God for my sake. 

When I want to give up and give in, I hold fast to the One who holds me in His hand and Who held me in His heart as He hung on the cross. 

jesus-the-heart-of-christmas

Repost: Surrender

“Follow Me,”  Jesus said to the twelve.

“Follow Me,” Jesus said to me when I was just a child.

“Yes,” I replied-not knowing or counting the cost. 

If it was a single commitment without opportunity for turning back then it would be easy.

But it’s not.  

Read the rest here:  Surrender

Repost: Sparrows DO Fall

I have never subscribed to the theory that the Christian life is free of pain and suffering.

But there are some who do.

Christian bookstores are filled with titles touting the path to joy and happiness, the way to wealth and material success.

Read the rest here:  Sparrows DO Fall

Yielded and Still

potter-clay

I can’t claim to be satisfied with this life I’m living.  

I do not like this path I am forced to walk, this darkness that hides the light, this pain that burrows deep in my bones.

But I can say I’m learning not to fight it.  

Sometimes I still pitch a fit.  

Sometimes I still yell at the sky, “Where were You?” Sometimes I lie down in the floor and beg for relief.  Sometimes I quietly rebel with only a single tear.

Most days though, I get up and give in.

I turn my face to the rising sun and choose to carry on.  I submit my heart, again, to the One Who created it.

I don’t struggle.

I don’t fight the facts that greet me.

“I don’t think the way you think.
    The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
        God’s Decree.
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
    and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
    producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
    not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
    they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.”

Isaiah 55:8-11 MSG

I am not God.

His thoughts are not my thoughts.

His ways are not my ways.

His plans are bigger than me, bigger than my hopes and dreams, bigger than anything I can imagine.

He has created me for His glory-not the other way around.

So I join with thousands who sing:

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Thou art the Potter,
I am the clay.
Mould me and make me
  After Thy will,
While I am waiting,
  Yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Wounded and weary,
  Help me, I pray.
Power, all power,
Surely is Thine,
Touch me and heal me,
  Savior divine.

 

The Shadowlands

 

Isn’t God supposed to be good? Isn’t He supposed to love us? Does God want us to suffer? What if the answer to that question is, ‘Yes'”? I suggest to you that it is because God loves us that He makes us the gift of suffering.

I’m not sure that God wants us to be happy. I think He wants us to be able to love and be loved. He wants us to grow-up. We think our childish toys bring us all the happiness there is and our nursery is the whole wide world. But something must drive us out of the nursery to the world of others and that something is suffering.

You see, we are like blocks of stone out of which the sculptor carves forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt so much, are what makes us perfect.

C.S. Lewis

Lewis referred to this life as “The Shadowlands”.  The place where we see the shape of the promise but not its substance.

I am caught between the world I live in and the world to come.  There is beauty in both, but only in Eternity will my heart be at home.

Right now, I am Living Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection

not your best life

 

 

 

 

 

Orlando: Beyond the Headlines

Let me begin by saying I purposely remove myself from the 24/7 news cycle that beats our ears and tries hard to hammer hearts into whatever shape a particular organization deems most meritorious.

So it is no surprise that I was unaware of the Orlando tragedy until well into the day on Sunday.

And I don’t know what the pundits and politicians or social media gurus are saying.

I only know how it feels.  

I know how it feels to have an officer come to your door and tell you that your child is never coming home.

I know how it feels to receive the devastating news that whatever you said the last time you saw or spoke to your child is the LAST thing you will ever have the opportunity to say to them.

I know how it feels to stand, dumbstruck and reeling, with the instant realization that your world has been wrecked beyond repair-To have to whisper to your heart, “you’ve got to make calls, make connections, make arrangements”.

Oh! My!  

Why, why, why can we not as a nation simply step back and embrace those who have lost so much instead of standing on the ruins of their lives and posturing for ratings, rankings and political, social or moral agendas????

I wrote before, when commenting  here on the incident at the Cincinatti zoo:

If we covered the stories of families who have lost children with the same zeal and creative journalism as we do the lives and deaths of endangered animals, that would change.

If the despair, heartbreak, brokenness and utter horror of bereaved parents’ lives were on display like the sickening piles of poached elephants and rhinos then at least we could have a discussion that was more informed and even-tempered.

We are a death avoidant culture-we splatter gore across the screen in video games and movies-but we DO NOT discuss the ongoing impact loss has on the ones left behind.

These lives are not numbers, they are not just names or a sweet little synoptic bio plastered on Twitter, Facebook or an AP newswire.  

They are people-with families, friends and loved ones.

There is a single, appropriate response to this tragedydeep mourning for the lives lost to hatred and violent action and prayer for the ones left behind.

I refuse to entertain the musings and posturing of ANYONE who does not first-and for an appropriate length of time-acknowledge the loss of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers-each a unique creation with an eternal soul.

Tears.

TEARS are what should be filling the airwaves, the streets, our altars.

weep with those who weep