Sanitizing the Suffering Right Out of our Lives

We've probably all heard about people who sanitize their homes to the point that they, and their entire families, are always sick. It's a vicious cycle... they think there are more germs, so they clean more, and are thus giving their kids' bodies less and less opportunities to really do combat with germs, so they get sick more.

Long story short, a completely bleached house does not a good immune system make.

Nor does a life sanitized of suffering lead to good character.

LIFE ON EASY STREET
We live in a time in the world where you can pretty much set yourself up to have quite an easy life. As Americans, we are the most isolated, comfort-driven nation, probably in the history of the world. We can "have it your way" in virtually every area of our lives, big or small.
  • Don't like the city you live in? Move!
  • Don't like your spouse? Get a new one.
  • Don't like your car? Trade it in!
  • Friendship get uncomfortable? "Defriend" them (on Facebook) and avoid all contact.
  • Don't like the inconvenience of pregnancy? Avoid the hassle through any number of available methods!
  • Don't like your boss? Put in your notice and look elsewhere.
  • Don't like the service you received? Complain!
  • Don't like feeling variances in temperature? Set your thermostat so you always have it precisely where you like it.
  • Don't get along with someone at your church? Find a new one.
And on and on it could go.

But there's just one problem with this-- as Christians, God has built suffering into our lives for good and godly and GLORIOUS purposes:
The Word makes it clear that as humans, we will suffer, and even moreso, as Christians, we will suffer. Though it's painful, unpleasant, and often leaves us sore and shocked, we should not run from the suffering God has placed in our lives. I can tell you, from our experiences-- with unexplained sickness, miscarriages, and facing unexpected life changes, which is still nothing compared to the suffering of so many-- that suffering does indeed teach endurance. It is valuable for one's character. It absolutely can deepen faith in Christ. It gives us a oneness with other hurting people. Suffering moves us to prayer. It teaches us more about how to comfort and love others who are hurting. It gives a deeply needed perspective in our highly-controlled, highly-comfortable lives.

Please hear me-- I'm not saying we should seek to suffer. Nor that we should never seek to change a situation if there is pain or discomfort.

But what I am saying is that when your marriage relationship is discouraging, or when there is no fruit on the vine of your life, or when you've been publicly humiliated, or when sickness has taken hold, or when a relationship gets extremely uncomfortable, or when you suffer deep loss, or when there seems to be nothing left, or when it would just be easier to leave and find a new church, or when everything looks bleak, or when you lose your job, or when you have overdrawn your account, CHRIST IS THERE. HE knows suffering. HE bore suffering. He will walk with you and teach you unspeakable things in some of the lowest moments if you'll let Him.

Don't be tempted to sanitize suffering out of your life... pray. Look for what He will do. Be patient. Don't run from it-- endure! Read of His sufferings. Dare to hope. Cling to Christ!

47 comments:

The McMurrays said...

Thank you so much for such an uplifting post...needed that exact encouragement in the midst of familial persecution and, well, suffering! It is such a gift from God to be encouraged by fellow believers, even when we've never met. Thank you. The McMurrays

Jules said...

Hi Jess!

I have never commented before but just wanted to tell you how much your blog has helped me in my life and today's post is no exception! Great thoughts and very helpful to me at this time in my life right now! Thanks for listing all of the scriptures and I look forward to studying them more this weekend!! :)

~Many Blessings,
Julie

Alison said...

Awesome post, Jess - you've blessed my socks off with this blog and i just wanted to say thankyou! I like this post in particular because i needed a reminder to do things God's way and not just take the easy way out. :)

Alison

darci said...

great post, jess. I was just out walking this morning, talking to God and realizing that in a certain area in my life in which I have been 'suffering' I have been spending alot of time saying, 'this sucks!' and MISSING out on the learning and growing He has for me in it. Reading in Isaiah, how He is so mighty and truly awesome in His power, and at the same time the tender shepherd. Cling to Christ, yes.

Sue said...

Yes! Wonderful post, Jess. Thank you for the reminder.

Sara said...

Thanks for this post! C.S. Lewis' book "The Problem of Pain" talks about the "complex good" that comes about from suffering. It must be what I need to hear because you posted this today, and I'm reading that book right now!

Stephanie said...

Jess,
this is so encouraging to me tonight. Thank you for your bright testimony and encouraging example. I love how real you are as well. Blessings!

Aelinn said...

Thank you for this post!

Erin said...

Wonderful points. The Lord has taught me much about suffering over the past year, and I can see His glory and grace through it all. It has drawn me closer to Him, my refuge!

Catherine R. said...

Jess, I am suffering after reading this because it hurt my pride.

This is truly what I needed to hear today. I am such a baby. I don't know what it is. I have known real suffering but I think I am stupidly lured in by all the messages everywhere that I "don't deserve" this or that thing in my life which is near impossible to change, at least for now. And there's ALWAYS something that is not ideal going on in my life.

I am going to file this one under "encouragement".

Catherine R. said...

P.S. This hits home in more ways than one: now that my little guy wants to crawl, I have had to really take some deep breaths. My carpet has all kinds of stuff on it I don't even like touching my feet, but unless I can vacuum and steam clean every day (which is impossible) I'll have to let him do some crawling.

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

HEAR HEAR Jess, HEAR HEAR!

Henny said...

this is a great post! i mean really truly great!

i'm linking to it. hope that is ok!

Tara said...

Beautifully expressed, Jess. I especially agree on the fact that suffering "often leaves us sore and shocked". It's so easy to think that we will not be shocked and that our faith is strong...until suffering hits.I wonder why that is. As you said, the Word is clear that we will suffer. I think deep down, we believe that God being good equals a life on easy street for us.

Suffering has a way of shaking our faith to it's core. I am grateful for it. I don't like it, or enjoy it, but I am becoming less terrified of it. Our 4 mo.-old is scheduled for heart surgery next week. With suffering, comes a deep-seated knowledge that God is good, all the time.

CappuccinoLife said...

Wonderful thoughts! You are spot on!

Stephanie said...

Hi Jess! This post reminds me of one of my favorite books, How to Profit from Our Afflictions by Thomas Boston.
Thank you for your encouragement in Christ!
Do you mind if I link this post to my facebook page?

Jess said...

Henny & Stephanie- Links are welcome! I'm thankful for additional opportunities to encourage the Body.
~Jess

Jess said...

Tara, I didn't know that about your 4-month old. I'm praying for peace and joy and good results. ~Jess

Honey said...

Very excellent exhortation! I remind myself when I'm suffering that I NEED the trial I am undergoing. In our human arrogance, we can think we have no need of refinement, but we really do need to learn to respond biblically to the things that are tailor-made by God for our good and His glory. And building this doctrine in your hearts before the trial comes is critical-it's very hard in the midst of it. Thanks!

Catie said...

Hey Jess! I am a regular reader of your blog and I absolutly LOVE IT!!! You are obviously blessed by Jesus to write this! :) I really, really appreciate this post in particular. I agree that as Americans, we get used to not having to suffer!! Myself included!! What a great reminder for us to not only expect suffering but to be thankful for it! God bless ya sister! :)

Catie

Catie said...

P.S. LOVE the Princess Bride quote btw.. best movie ever!

Having It All said...

So very true, so very good!

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

Loved this, Jess!

Leah said...

Great post Jess - what an inspired reminder that it is after all about Jesus and HIM being glorified in and through our lives; no matter what the situation. I am encouraged to press through a situation in our life right now that we could just 'jump' right out of but are choosing to endure, God is faithful and true and I only want to glorify Him through my life.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the overall point you are making, but I think you are throwing together kinds of "suffering" that are in no way comparable.

Stick it out during a rough patch in your marriage? Absolutely.

Hang in there and not give up all hope when you are bereaved? Yes.

But stay in a job that's a bad fit? I don't see the deep religious meaning in doing that if you have other viable options.

Same goes for staying in a city you don't like. Where does it say in the Bible that people shouldn't move from one place to another? Why would that matter to God? God is everywhere.

I get that some people might move as a way of not facing problems in their lives, but I don't see every move as a form of escapism. I don't think that there's any higher purpose in sticking it out in a city the same way there are benefits to sticking it out in a marriage.

Balancing your own efforts and goals with the needs of others and the community at large is an eternal human puzzle. Didn't your parents switch churches when you were starting to lose your way as a teenager, and wasn't that decision good for your spiritual development? They weren't quitting the church, they were finding a church that was a better fit for your family.

Embracing pain and suffering when there is no alternative is one thing--but refusing to take steps to alleviate your own suffering is very different.

Laurie B

Felicity said...

Thank you so much for this post, and for all the time and effort you put into all your posts. I love looking through all the links you put into them, and what an awesome idea to link to scriptures. Thanks once again!

Jess said...

Laurie B.,
The examples given at the beginning of the post were to highlight our culturally-built-in round-the-clock demand for comfort, not to say people have to keep one job or one car all their lives or something equally absurd.


The problem comes in when people then use that penchant for comfort to leave a church because they don't like the worship style, or to break off a relationship because they get hurt, or to run from a Bible study because it challenges them in a particular sin area. Sometimes the things that are best for us hurt a great deal.

Indeed, though, with regards to being free to make a change if necessary, I wrote something similar to your sentiment here in this very post:
Please hear me-- I'm not saying we should seek to suffer. Nor that we should never seek to change a situation if there is pain or discomfort.

Also, you may not be aware, but there is a foul and unbiblical teaching rampant in evangelical Christianity that purports that if you are pleasing to God, you will experience blessing. And only blessing. And that if you are suffering, you just aren't exercising enough faith. The NT makes it very clear that this is not the case, and that Christians should expect to suffer. That suffering is not only normal but necessary for our sanctification. I seek to speak truth in this area whenever I can to help people who are beaten down by this maddeningly unChristlike theology.

Thanks for the comment. I hope this clarifies things,
~Jess

Anonymous said...

Just what myself and many others needed to hear I think. :-)

Mom said...

Amen! That was awesome!

Stephanie said...

Jess--Great thoughts! I agree with you 100%. Suffering should produce growth if we are truly seeking Him with our hearts, souls and minds. Thank you for all your heartfelt thoughts. You are a blessing to me.
Stephanie B.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response, Jess. I didn't realize that there were evangelical Christians who believe bad things don't happen to good people (only to people who lack enough faith).

That's a weird and even cruel perspective, in the sense that it would lead the bereaved to blame themselves for a tragic family loss.

Laurie B

Sarz said...

Yes! Exactly! All things are for our good... and our best is to become like Christ! Thanks for the reminder!

Jess said...

Laurie,
You nailed it. It does cause people who are hurting to blame themselves, and to think if only they pray hard enough, give enough money, or do the "right" things, good will once again happen to them and to their family.

It's called "health & wealth gospel" or "prosperity theology" or "name it and claim it". Proponents, like Joel Osteen (probably the best known, having had a few books on the bestseller lists), Creflo Dollar, Paula White, and others, have ransacked the good news of the grace of Christ extending into this suffering-filled world, and pulled out only the tiniest tidbits of truth, raking in money hand over fist, while their congregants are forced to reduce their faith to motivational thoughts and "positive thinking", with only the slightest scriptural references to stand on. It is spiritual abuse, and it is foul.

When hurt and suffering really come (and they do come to us all), adherents to this kind of theology are left bewildered. If God is only and always in the business of making us happy and "blessing us" as long as we are "good enough", then what must be concluded when trouble strikes, or your 4 year old gets cancer, or a job is lost, but that *YOU* did something wrong and *YOU* are the one with the problem?

Instead of teaching people to persevere through trouble and look to Christ and His example in suffering, it teaches people to look at themselves and "just believe" enough so that they can save themselves. It is a man-centered theology that is perverse and rapes the church and the Word of God.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to condemn it and call it what it is.
~Jess

Amy said...

Great post Jess, I've especially enjoyed the comments.

After recently walking through some serious suffering alongside my hubby (in the form of panic attacks), I have a lot of thoughts on the subject. First of all, praise the Lord for his goodness to allow us to suffer and be sanctified. He is all good!

Sometimes suffering comes from being chastened. We came across a book by Ray Comfort (The Way of the Master)called Overcoming Panic Attacks. I just wanted to share some insightful bits from the book.

He references Heb. 12:9-15 "Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the moment seems to be joyous, but greivous: nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them, which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands, which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled."

Ray says, "In other words, get it together. Don't fall into discouragement, which is essentially a lack of faith in God. Dis-couragement is your courage taken from you. Don't let that happen to you. KEEP the faith. If you let your arms hang down in depression instead of rejoicing that God is working all things out for your own good, you are saying that God isn't faithful, that His promises aren't worth believing, that He is actually a liar. There is no greater insult to God than to not believe His promises. The result of unbelief will be depression, discouragement, self-pity, and resentment, then bitterness, which you will end up spreading to others.

If you have never thanked God for His promises, for His faithfulness, for the fact that He is working with you, in you, and for you - if you have been joyless or even despised what has been happening to you and moved into bitterness - then repent of the sin of mistrust."

He goes on to warn those suffering from panic attacks, though I think it's applicable to all forms of suffering, "don't fall into the deep pit of self-pity, because it has ugly bedfellows - discouragement, joylessness, condemnation, despair, and hopelessness."

He reminds that perspective and gratitude go a long way towards avoiding that pit of self-pity.

Sorry this is so long...I'm going to link to this post from my blog. During these last few months of 'suffering' that my husband was going through, I thought of you often, knowing that your own dear hubby went through a scary time of unexplained illness. The identifying that you speak of is vital. It is so important to know that you are not alone during those times, that others have walked, are walking, and will walk that same road of suffering. That it's a hard but gloriously beneficial thing...and that you can make it in Christ alone! As an aside, I've often wondered what became of that unexplained illness. I trust your hubby is healthy now? I started following your blog right before that time and you all have been in my regular prayers since then.

In His grip,
Amy

~ Judy ~ said...

Thank you Jess...wonderful post.
I am hoping that you'll allow me to copy it to my "Inspired by Others" page on my Daily Blessings website:
http://www.momoften.webs.com/
I like to share with my visitors, things that I've read which have been written by others.
Please let me know if you'll permit me to add your magnificent reflections on suffering there.
Thanks :)
Judy

Noel said...

We don’t hear much about “counting the cost” of following Christ, but like you so aptly reminded us suffering is part of the Christian walk. I recently listened to a FABULOUS speech given by Rachel Barky. She is a 37 year old mother who is dying form terminal cancer. Her testimony is moving and a complete display of God’s sovereignty & glory in the worst of circumstances. If you’re interested in accessing the speech it is located at deathisnotdying.com. It goes perfectly with this post!

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on this post through Catherine's blog, and I have to say it is exactly what I needed to read right this moment. Thanks!

A Dusty Frame said...

Thank you for this post:)
I'm going to link to it later this week.

My blog is all about the ways God has worked and moved through the trial of my husband's incarceration.

God is amazing and I'm so thankful that he didn't allow me to get bitter or give up. If so I'd have wasted a huge chunk of my life!

Lizzie

Jess said...

~ Judy ~,
I welcome reprints as long as there's a linkback and it's not for profit.


Noel,
I've listened to the testimony you listed-- I hope many others will too. Very few of us will have the opportunity to intentionally video ourselves with a statement of core beliefs for our children, grandchildren, and friends to reflect on. What a gift.


Lizzie,
Thanks for sharing part of your story. I love seeind how God uses the very ugly and painful things in life to bring about contentment and awareness of His goodness that does not come when things are all rosy and "perfect".

Blessings all... (even if the blessing is in the form of suffering)~
Jess

~ Judy ~ said...

Thank you very much!

Kristi said...

Thank you for this!!!!

Jessika said...

Thanks for this reminder! I was thinking over this topic this morning as I had some time to garden by myself.I was weeding the driveway and had admitted to myself that I actually fear the pain. The Spirit was bringing to mind scriptures to combat that and John 15 was what encouraged me most.
~Jessika

Mary at Civilla's Cyber Cafe said...

That really is a good post, but you forgot to mention, "Don't like the public school system? Homeschool." or "Don't like the church system? Homechurch." or "Don't like the hospitals? Homebirth." Isn't this the same thing? I am in favor of people choosing to do those things, but they are also a "fix" for things that we don't like.

Jess said...

I see your point, Mary, and suppose that these things could *possibly* fall into the category of making life easier, or choosing the "way out" of sanctification... but really, in my mind at least, those 3 things are all quite different from what I'm getting at with this particular point.

For example, homeschooling is not some easy-peasy decision/life route. It's not generally something one does for convenience sake. House church, I suppose, could be more that way-- that's a question of heart motivation.

And homebirthing? Really? Easy? I don't know about that. Even though I'm pretty highly pain tolerant, I haven't even had the guts to do that. If I may say so, it sounds like a really brave way to choose to endure suffering rather than taking the normative (i.e., hospitaled, epiduraled or c-sectioned) route.

If you're in a sub-culture right now that is emphasizing those things as aspects of holiness, I can see why one would want to call these things out as not necessary for Christlikeness.

But I don't think that "fixing things we don't like" *is* a primary reason for why people do those things. These are not things people do to avoid suffering, and they are not evil. In fact, I feel quite the opposite about a couple of them... that these may be the more historically constant and more difficult choices and that only recently have Christians done things differently (i.e., had public schools available, had hospitals with docs to attend births). Of course, house church was generally something in the first centuries of Christianity or in persecuted areas... so that's a bit different.

Nonetheless, I think I get what you're driving at, but I'm not sure I see how it matches up to suffering & the fact that people avoid it.
~Jess

Mary at Civilla's Cyber Cafe said...

I don't disapprove of any of those things that I mentioned; I approve of them, even though I have not done any of them. I do see them as fixes, though, because according to so many of the blogs I read, we are assured that they are easy; that just about anybody can do them. Maybe I am reading the wrong blogs.

Mary at Civilla's Cyber Cafe said...

I forgot -- it has been so long -- we did homechurch once. It was not easy. People always told us, "Just start your own church." They had not done it, however. It was harder than we expected. While I don't think we ALWAYS have to embrace suffering -- we must pray about it, because sometimes God will show you that it is not his will and will show you what to do to allieviate it -- we can sometimes jump from the frying pan into the fire. The "fixes" are not always as easy as they look: you have to adjust to the problems of a new town, of a new marriage, etc.

Paul said to Christian slaves, "If you can obtain your freedom, do so," however, in his own case, when he prayed about his thorn in the flesh, God told him that He was not going to remove it, because he had a purpose for it. So, you have to pray to discern what God's will is for you in a particular period of suffering and then do what he says.

This is a fascinating subject.

susie said...

Wow thank you for that post, it was great. May god continue to use you to reach so many, many blessings

susie