I don't know about you (OK so I do in this) but I have a serious aversion to suffering. I'm not alone in this: our whole culture is afraid of suffering. We don't want it, won't tolerate it and will do anything to buttress ourselves against it.
Why? I guess we think that suffering will produce death in us. The bible teaches us otherwise. Jesus, Paul and the Apostles spend a ton of time discussing this. They promise that suffering will in fact bring the last thing we expect: hope and life.
If anybody knows me, they know that I love to escape to exercise and recreation. It sounds silly and dangerous, but I love to dirt-jump my mountain bike. I guess I have a little of Evel Knievel in me, minus hundred foot canyons and stuff that was on fire.
But when I'm in escape mode I rarely have real fun jumping around on my bike. In fact, most of the time, while I claim I'm having a good time landing on my head and all, I give in to such a powerful perfectionism and drive to jump with style, with "steeze" as kids call it, that I lose sight of the reason God has placed this desire in my heart in the first place.
Dirt-jumping quickly becomes an idol, and if I don't find myself jumping well, I often find muttering inappropriate things, wishing I could stomp on my bike and toss it deep into the woods (something I would definitely do, if mountain bikes weren't so darn expensive).
What gets me in these moods? Why am I so often found in this hole? I don't really know, for my heart is desperately wicked. But my guess is that athletic achievement has become my antidote to my suffering: Do I feel like a lousy father? Let's go jump. Did I have an unproductive day? Let's go jump. Does God feel distant? Let's go jump. Am I having a hard time relating to Melissa? Let's go jump. Do I just feel restless? Let's go jump.
As Tim Keller has pounded into our reformed brains, I have turned a good thing into the ultimate thing. It's sort of funny/sad that my addiction is dirt jumping. And it's by no means my only addiction. "Would you say I have a "plethora" of pinyatas?" - Three Amigos.
We all have funny/sad things we do to escape suffering in our lives. But scripture, in particular Romans 5, says that suffering will work in us a sequence of perseverance and character that will enable us to find a hope that will not disappoint. I'm not sure I like this passage. It has me contemplating doing the Benjamin Franklin with my bible.
We all know that suffering, well, suffering sucks. Will somebody please pass the Percoset? But God asks us to do something that goes against all of our instincts, to actually endure our suffering with joy (something Paul says somewhere).
How can we possibly suffer with joy? My brother-in-law is married to a Joy, so he has an easy out (Sad, sad pun Philip. I just wanted to introduce you to some first-hand suffering in reading my blog.). But for the rest of us, we've got to begin believing that suffering is used by God to produce good.
At this point I don't want any of you to believe that suffering is itself good or that I'm minimizing suffering. Suffering is, well, suffering, and oftentimes God wants us to use doctors, medication and other means to alieviate our suffering. Also, I am pretty unqualified to write on it, compared to the millions out there who know what it truly means to suffer evil.
But I am human, therefore I'm faced with suffering. I'm learning that I've got to embrace suffering in my life if I'm to move forward. Rather than self-medicating, which never works, I've got to run to the guy who is known by the "good physician" and trust his prescriptions. In his crazy handwriting they rarely read "Escape" and more often say "Endurance taken 100x times-a-day."
The problem is this "good physician's" pills don't taste so good. In fact they make my face want to squirm off my head. If they're to produce hope in me, I've got to reshape my reaction to suffering. I've got to take it back to the God that's perscribed it.
What does taking my (and our) suffering to God look like? It may look like sweaty wrestling matches with our sheets, as we try to push through our addictions and aversions. It may look like shaking, trembling, fever, anxiety, fear and headaches. It's counter-intuitive, because what it looks like may not resemble healing. But one thing I know, if I enable God to help me push through, rather than running to idols, there's real light and healing at the end of the tunnel. And little do I know there's real light with me all the way through.
I hope I can learn to suffer well. A dangerous desire I know. But I don't want it because I want to be an uber-Christian (OK so sometimes I do). I want it because I have this seed planted deep in my heart that wants nothing but to draw closer to God. And while drawing close to God hurts sometimes, I'd rather experience the hurt that purifies, than the hurt of alienation.
I hope I can remember this next time I land on my head. Or maybe God will use the opportunity to knock some sense into me.
Aside: Many of these thoughts were spurred on by Authentic Faith, by Gary Thomas. It's an easy read and really helpful.