Thursday, November 22, 2012

Suffering: An Unwelcomed Pilgrimage

The pathways that we all journey in life are often strewn with the jagged edged stones of disappointment. The more worn the pathway through the years, the more evident are the memorials along the way; altars of courage and hope that have been painstakingly made by the faithful trembling hands of fellow pilgrim travelers. 

The stones along the pathway can be easily seen as obstacles to our physical and spiritual health, but God knows that the altars of deeper commitment are actually made of the heavy stones of suffering, sacrifice, and a willingness to be faithful  and obedient in the midst of difficult times of personal testing.

The Reality of Human Suffering

Woven throughout the history of mankind, is the undeniable reality of human suffering. Whether translated from cuneiform tablets of clay, deciphered from the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt or painstakingly etched upon leather parchments by a Hebrew scribe, suffering and life are seamless companions. 

 What has always inspired humanity in its search for sustainable hope and courage in the midst of tragedy and loss is not the innumerable examples of suffering found in history, but the indisputable discovery of renewed faith and the realization of the presence of God in the midst of suffering.

God's Compassion in the Midst of our Suffering

In life, we naturally long for pleasure not pain, joy not sadness and happiness not sorrow. We can become so frustrated by the disruption that an obstacle brings to our plans that we miss the precious lesson that we need to learn in the crucible of disappointment when things do not go the way that we expected. 

In the darkest hour of a painful trial we can fail to see the outstretched hand of God ready to provide peace in the midst of the storm and needed strength for the lonely journey that lies ahead.

Helen Keller, reflecting on what is essential in life said, "The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse." 

The Perception we need when we are Suffering

Sometimes it helps to change our perspective of what a valley really is:

A valley is a mountaintop tuned upside down. The thin air and incredible trial of the deepest valley, is just like the precipice  of the most magnificent mountaintop. One should take great joy and kneel in gratitude that he has conquered the place of dark sorrow, still grasping hold of his living faith. He is a victor...not a failure.

When experiencing a physical trial that robs us of health, where we doubt God's sovereignty in the midst of suffering, what we need the most is courage; the courage to lift our eyes from the bleakness of the valley to see the promise of the summit that calls out to us to press on, and not succumb to despair.

God is Near when we are Suffering

The author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, expresses in his book, The Problem of Pain, that "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." 

We fail to realize that God's deepest work in us, the expression of His purest compassion and the discovery of His profoundest comfort is realized not in the ecstasy of sublime pleasure but in His companionable sharing of our suffering. It is in the crucible of personal pain, and suffering, that the Quiet Place can hold precious meaning found no where else...for it is here that we discover a profound truth...When there is nowhere else to turn, nothing left to ease the suffering and no one near to understand what we are going through, He is there. In the Quiet Place we learn more and more that God is enough.
In the wilderness of suffering and loss, we can experience a significant depth in our walk with God as in no other way. 

Suffering is a Personal Pilgrimage

The 19th century writer, Havelock Ellis, penned, "The Promised Land always lies on the other side of the Wilderness."

What a joyous privilege to have found through relationship with Jesus Christ, the peace and wonder of having access to the very Heart of God.  The Promised Land springs up within, and is an oasis of spiritual sustenance and peace, amidst the arduous pilgrimage of the wilderness. 

It is not upon reaching a utopian Eden that one discovers the presence of God, but on the dusty parched trek of the journey itself. 

Drawing Near to God when we are Suffering

On the arduous pathway of suffering, the Quiet Place becomes a hushed haven where tears and childlike prayers, whispered at midnight, are made with an awareness that God will always be there at our side. He is there warming our hearts, strengthening our steps and giving us the faith to not surrender to doubt and despair, no matter  what obstacle may block our path.

The challenge of overcoming physical and spiritual obstacles is not found in a self-help book or made up of a secret formula known only to a few. 

It is in the Quiet Place, that understanding finally breaks through, like the crimson rays of a new sunrise. The Creator of the universe formed and made me, breathed the breath of life into my struggling lungs and gave my heart its first whispered beat. It should not be surprising that this same Creator knows how to lead me down the darkened pathway of suffering, to the Quiet Place of communing with Him.

"You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.”   Psalm 139:2-4

The Refining Purpose of Suffering

It is not the removal of an obstacle that blocks our way, but the discovery of our inability to see that the obstacle may be there to perhaps teach us something within ourselves that may need refining, or some new aspect of the Love of God that He wants us to experience. He knows us better that anyone ever has or ever will. As a Master Sculpture, He shapes the very image of Christ along the pathways to the Quiet Place.

The pathway in life that is free of obstacles probably doesn't lead anywhere. 

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way. in the path where I walk”    Psalm 142:3-4

Please take a moment and listen to this inspirational song by Jeremy Camp entitled  "Healing hand of God"