Elizabeth Elliott tells the story of an elderly lady who told her about being a little girl during the Depression, when her father died. She had nothing to wear to the funeral but a borrowed dress. None of her friends attended the funeral. The little girl’s Mom’s house was mortgaged. Her mother, now a widow, was left with seven children to raise by herself. The lawyer who was supposed to be handling her financial affairs stole this widow’s inheritance.
This little girl said when she went back to her house after the funeral, she watched her mother pick up a broom and begin to sweep the kitchen. She said her mother said that she knew it was the soft swish of the broom going back and forth in the kitchen, that began the healing process in her life. The little girl said it worked the same for her.
When people asked this little girl now grown how she ever made it, her answer was, “I and my mom and family, we all prayed. and we just did the next thing.”
Life’s molehills have a way of becoming mountains as many people struggle to make it through, in this time of year. Suffering is not the teacher of wisdom. If suffering alone taught us, then the whole world would be wise because all people suffer.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said, “To suffering must be added, mourning, patience, understanding, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”
Soren Kierkegaard spoke of suffering, “as a burden, but also as a useful burden, like the splints used in orthopedic treatment.”
None of us are at our best. perched as ravens or crows on a light pole, waiting for our next unsuspecting meal to arrive. The summit is a fine place to reach for, but we were all created by God to climb. As climbers, we seem to do better when the way is steep. If our trust in God is a “cut-and-paste” faith, we become placid jellyfish. We all would, if possible, cut out all pain, and enfold and embrace only the path of success, rejecting the path of suffering.
Suffering is more than pain. Suffering affects our will, our commitment, our perseverance, and our purposes, blocked, thwarted, and apparently defeated, by opposing forces. Often, we talk about the dilemma of facing opposition where we live and work. For all of us, we have loyal friends and brothers and sisters in Christ who would die for us. Their loyalty is a tested love that holds us up even in the deepest valleys and in the fiercest storms.
When I hear as I often do, that the person I am counseling faces false accusations, estrangement from co-workers, and behind the back words that come back around the grapevine to hurt and crush, and bring heartbreak, I am amazed at the mercy of God upon those who attack others, even in times of grief. The counsel of the Word of God is to count it all a great joy to suffer shame for the name of the One who came to earth at Christmas.
Jesus lived a sinless life, died in our place, rose again, and He ascended to heaven, to soon come again to receive us to Himself. Suffering sometimes is tolerated in silence, if we are sure everyone knows that we are doing it. Suffering opens-up a new world of learning to lean on Jesus’ everlasting arms. Rather than grumble because roses have thorns, we learn to thank God thorns have roses.
It is a great joy to know that most of us are not making the first tracks through deep snow and suffering. We often follow in the tracks of other fellow strugglers, who have taken the first steps in the depths of the deep snow. We all fail, but we are never failures until we start blaming others. Blaming others is a tragic mistake, especially when we start blaming God.
I think of the famous lines of an aged Jew who lived through beatings in Polish pogroms, and massacres against his people. He survived concentration camps in Germany, and many other anti-Semitic atrocities. He prayed, “Oh, Lord! Isn’t it true that we are Your chosen people? Then, isn’t it time You chose somebody else?”
We smile at those words. Yet, the truth is: we all, at times, blame God for our suffering. Nevertheless, the only reason we survive suffering, is through His love, His grace, His kindness, and His mercy. Who we become in suffering, is dependent not only, on our choices, but any successes we have, those success are ultimately, to His credit, and to His alone.
Richard Carlson is the pastor of the Rock Springs Evangelical Free Church. Of his 53-plus years in ministry, he has pastored locally for the last 44 years.