I don't watch much in the way of professional sports, but last night, I saw a snippet of a pro football game. I don't recall who was in it, but it was in a snowy climate.
I was brought to tears by the sight of a huge crowd of players huddled on the field, surrounding a pair of fallen teammates. One of the boys (they are young boys, in my mind) was able to get up and walk off of the field with assistance. The other remained lying down until a motorized cart was driven over to carry him off.
The most beautiful thing, the thing that made me tearful, was the sight of several large, gladiator-clad young fellows, kneeling, obviously in prayer, for their colleagues. In public, on national television, these men were so concerned for their teammates/opponents that they responded to their suffering by kneeling down spontaneously and praying on their behalf. The juxtaposition of their football-warrior-in-armor image and the supplication in their humble, loving position of prayer was so great and so beautiful that I am still thinking about it.
How often in our workaday world do we see someone kneel in humility and loving concern, wherever they are, and pray when they see or hear something that moves them? It made my evening; it made me grateful. It renewed my faith a little; it made me love those young football boys (okay, they are young men).
I have been thinking about suffering, lately. Personally, I have always wanted to avoid suffering.
I've been pretty creative in the methods I've employed in avoiding it, but it happens anyway; everyone suffers. We will not always be given a way to escape it. Suffering and joy, (and the gray area in between, that seems to make up a lot of human living) are facts of life, as far as I can tell. Spending a lot of energy to avoid suffering feels like a normal response, but it proves futile in many instances. Today, I read this passage in Hebrews 5 (The Amplified Bible):
"7 In the days of His flesh [Jesus] offered up definite, special petitions [for that which He not only wanted but needed] and supplications with strong crying and tears to Him Who was [always] able to save Him [out] from death, and He was heard because of His reverence toward God [His godly fear, His piety, in that He shrank from the horrors of separation from the bright presence of the Father].
8 Although He was a Son, He learned [active, special] obedience through what He suffered
9 And, [His completed experience] making Him perfectly [equipped], He became the Author and Source of eternal salvation to all those who give heed and obey Him..."
I have come to believe that, in this life, one of the most important things we learn is how to bear suffering. It seems as if human living is designed to offer us countless opportunities for this. Suffering is part of this life; learning how to endure it creates strength of character, and it takes away a lot of fear. It enables us to be loyal and strong on behalf of ourselves or others in the face of adversity. It gives us courage & understanding, based upon experience. Some of the people who I admire the most are those who have suffered, deeply. It's not the circumstances of the suffering that matter, or the age, gender, race or era in history of the person; it's their response to suffering, -- the way they decide to live through it, and with it. And in a time and space of suffering, my response to it is probably the ONLY thing that I can control or affect. But what a difference that response can make in my life, and in the lives of those around me! So perhaps the good news is that we can learn to endure it, with the help of God, our loving Companion.
Here's a related passage, from Romans 5: 3-5 (also from the Amplified Bible):
"...[let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.
4 And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation.
5 Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us."
It seems to me that there is a reward for suffering, but it is, as they say, "an inside job." It seems that it is our submission to God's re-creation of us, in the situations that we most want to avoid, that allows us to receive this gift.
In the magazine Good Housekeeping, I read the following by Geneen Roth:
"Hearts break and then mend; it's in their job description...
"...if our hearts are closed because we don't want to suffer, they won't be open enough to recognize the joy as it flies by.
"Hearts are made to be resilient. Think about it: Is there one thing that's happened to you that you haven't survived? Here you are, right now, reading this article despite all the heartache you've had in your life. Something in you is still awake, alive, eager to learn, ready to be moved.
"And once you know that your heart is resilient, once you accept that part of being here on earth is, as a friend of mine says, living among the brokenhearted, then you can take in the huge streaks of delight, joy and happiness as well."
As painful as it may be, learning to endure suffering may be one of the keys to wisdom, and ultimately, deep joy in living.
May your suffering ultimately produce joy, and love, in your life.