Yesterday I spoke with a “new” Christian about the moment of her baptism. She told me she reveled in that moment because it symbolized the washing away of her suffering and she felt relieved she no longer had to experience strife.
That resonated with me—and maybe not in the way intended. You see, I understand the relief in discovering you are not alone, that you have THE father to guide you through dark times. I also remember clearly the moment of my baptism—I remember forging that connection with my Savior, knowing the suffering of unrepentant sin had left me—finally.
From that moment on, I had a clear path, a path unseen to me before then; I had a plan to navigate rough waters and I had a Compass to lead me home. However, my suffering was not over—far from it.
I would once again return to those rough waters and once again rely on something larger than myself to return to the safety of land, only to be called back out to sea.
In many passages in the Bible, Christ actually advises us to live with a certain degree of suffering. He asks us to emulate his own actions—actions which lead Him to suffer horribly in the flesh in order conquer sin and death itself. A sense of struggle is very much alive in our everyday lives; the world is sinful and dark, convoluted and solipsistic.
For us to feel at home in this world means we are at ease in sin, that we have allowed us to be drawn to comfort and not Christ. In fact, Peter touches on this when he advises us to put away earthly desires and embrace suffering that comes with the juxtaposition of God’s will and humanity’s missteps. Quite simply, it is easier to acquiesce to comfort; it is more convenient to surrender to rough waters.
So many Christians today believe (either blatantly or subconsciously) that salvation means insulation from pain. Some may view church membership and spiritual growth as a form of insurance against physical, spiritual, emotional and even financial problems. How many times have you heard a church leader encourage you to donate funds in order to receive a “blessing?”
How many times have you been told your gifts are returned tenfold? Many times—most times—that just isn’t true. You do receive a return on that gift, but it is in the form of maintaining a relationship with your creator, not an unexpected windfall or surprise promotion.
Just yesterday, a deacon at my church advised my mother to let my brothers and I do more for her so we may “receive a blessing and get that kindness bestowed back to us later.”
In the words of a great insurance commercial, “that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.” Of course we are blessed by honoring our mother, but not in such an entrepreneurial way. I am not investing in her present so I may see a profound return on that kindness later; my actions are motivated by emulating Christ and working toward combatting a lost world. I may very well never see my “investment” returned and that is okay; I’m not looking for a tangible earthly return, but rather looking to return home.
Walking with God does not mean your journey is now free from affliction and harm; it means you are not suffering alone and the pain can have a purpose. It means that in the darkness, you remember the Light.
You are not alone because you’ve chosen the Holy Spirit and because you have a fellowship of fellow sufferers, if you will. 2 Timothy, Hebrew, Colossians, Philippians and James all remind you of other believers who can and do empathize.
There are people willing to listen and share this pain with you. None of this negates pain-it just gives it purpose. In 2 Timothy Paul even says he was willing to suffer for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the glory of God. He didn’t seek it, but he understood it. None of this negates the pain you will feel, but it does remind you there is hope beyond the pain.
So, there it is. You will suffer. Someone may even try to comfort you and tell you the Lord will never give you more than you can handle and that just isn’t true either. This world, this fallen world, will most definitely dish out more than you can handle from time to time. And when that dish is served, there is a very real chance the burden will be too great for you to handle.
Paul did say God will “not let you be tempted beyond your ability,” but that ability is grounded in your faith, your dedication to His Word, your fidelity to the Kingdom—it isn’t an automatic “Get Out Of Suffering” card. You can most assuredly find an “escape” to that temptation (1 Corinthians 10), but you’re going to put in the work and you are going to need to look outside yourself to get there.
The burden may be too great for you, but not for God, never for God. This does not minimize your affliction, but it does lessen the despair. At the end of this journey, no matter how great or small the suffering, God is bigger than the darkness; you just have to remember to seek Him.