“I don’t want to suffer,” she confessed to me. “If I had my way, no one would.”
I listened to her words.
I didn’t reply.
What could I even say?
She dropped this statement towards the end of our phone conversation. She had other things to do.
Even so, my thoughts drifted to the exhortation of Peter which had brought me solace over the past few months:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
New International Version, 1 Peter 4: 12-13
In this time and space in the early church, suffering was pervasive among Christ followers. Spreading throughout the community of believers, pain and hardship blanketed Peter’s circle. They endured oppression, persecution, and humiliation at the hands of hostile enemies. Even once trusted friends ridiculed and reviled them. For anyone who chose to follow Jesus Christ, the pathway for believers was rife with life-threatening obstacles and faith-stretching struggles.
Peter called them tests – fiery ordeals.
Did they ever exhale in their pain, “We don’t want to suffer.”?
So many of them had witnessed their Savior endure treacherous betrayal, malicious mockery, and torturous abuse. Jesus died a humiliating death at the hands of his enemies.
And yet as he suffered, he modeled the way of surrender…
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
New International Version, Philippians 2: 6-8
Peter understood that this side of heaven was wrought with pain and struggle. If Jesus walked the pathway of desolation and sorrow, it should be no surprise that his followers would as well. And believe it or not, Peter asked his friends to welcome and embrace their own suffering as a gateway to the glorious wonders and mysteries of Christ.
But, my friend protests. She doesn’t want to suffer. She prays for pathways of comfort, safety, and success for her family and herself.
Who would pray for betrayal?
Who would ask for persecution?
Who would solicit humiliation?
Who would plead for disease?
Who would beg for disaster?
Who would call for war?
Who would invite failure?
Who would surrender to death?
No one of course.
No one would.
Instead, don’t we beg for suffering and hardship to pass us by? Or when our own fiery ordeals scorch our souls, don’t we beseech our God to spare us and save us – as soon as possible?
Why are we so distressed, angry, or even surprised by suffering?
During Peter’s time, Christ followers were ridiculed and reviled. Lies, falsehoods, and harsh and unjust treatment were part of their day. They were abused, tortured, and imprisoned. Many died rather than deny their Savior. There was little care and support granted to these early believers. Except that these very hardships that were meant to destroy them, instead brought them nearer to their Lord and his empowering, sustaining, strengthening love.
In recent months, my family has walked a pathway of pain like never before in our lives. I confess that in the beginning, I desperately cried out for another way – any other way – than the course ahead of us.
This was not to be.
Our Lord was leading us forward – through desolation, ridicule, misunderstanding, betrayal, abandonment, grief, loss, and more. Jesus stood with us in these fires. And He has remained with us here.
Have we suffered?
Has it been hard?
Yet, the steadying arms of Jesus have held us.
Would I say as my friend did, “I don’t want to suffer.”?
Not after what our family has been through the past four months – actually the past few years. For this suffering, secret space has gifted us with the strengthening love of God in wondrous, difficult-to-articulate ways.
We receive this incomprehensible promise:
I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel who summons you by name.
New International Version, Isaiah 45:3
So, yes, we are beckoned to the pathway of suffering – to participate, appreciate, and revel in the glorious mysteries of Christ.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
New International Version, James 1: 2-4
There is a pure, resolute joy that is birthed in our surrender to the love of Christ as we follow Him – especially within the suffering spaces.
There is a decision, though, isn’t there?
How will we respond when the challenges, hardships, and fiery trials that come? Because they will.
For me, even though it is not easy and even though it is very painful, I don’t want to miss out on what Jesus has ahead of our family and me. He is doing something altogether new in us. And we are waiting for our Lord to finish His work in our suffering space with the grace and love He so generously offers.
What about you?
What will you say when suffering comes?