There is so much suffering.
We don’t have to look far to find it, and we will find it all over the world.
One paradox of the Christian faith is that one finds his/her salvation in suffering. “Take up your cross” Jesus said. I never quite understood or liked this sentiment. I have witnessed too many people playing the martyr in efforts to live out this paradox – be a doormat; stay in a destructive relationship; alienate oneself from others; turn faith into war… I could go on and on. It is exhausting to watch people remain in a suffering state that is entirely of their own doing. And this dysfunction is what I used to equate with the Christian principle of picking up one’s cross.
I don’t think Jesus meant for his followers to choose suffering over healing. If we have a choice, is it even something we can call suffering?
Then today happened…
Today, I might be wrapping my head around what it means to take up my cross.
Today, I saw this:
A friend added these words:
Psalm 44: All day long my disgrace is before me. For our soul has been humiliated in the dust; our belly is pressed to the earth.
Pray and act for Syria.
My disgrace is before me…
My inaction is before me…
My looking away is before me, and it is my disgrace…
The picture is hard to look at, just like so many that have come before it. Syria has stayed on my radar, but more often on the periphery. Mostly because I do not know what to do. I hate how this situation is being handled (or not handled) by governments all over the world. I hate to consider the large scale of suffering. I hate to think about what life must be like for those trapped in this hell on earth.
Today, I am picking up my cross.
Today, I am moving towards this monstrosity.
Today, I gave away a percentage of what we normally spend on Christmas gifts to organizations that are providing life-saving relief efforts.
But wait. A few less gifts under our tree? Is that really picking up my cross? It sounds fucking ridiculous as I write it. And yet, I don’t really know. It just might be the one step I need to take today. One step towards the suffering. I am going to keep asking. I am going to keep wrestling with what I can do. And not just for Aleppo.
I think we end up acting less because we fear we cannot do enough. We put down our crosses and ignore suffering because it becomes seemingly impossible to fix. But there is a cost when we do, and it just might be our salvation.
Maybe Jesus meant that picking up my cross is moving towards suffering. One step at a time, slowly – painfully slowly- moving towards the suffering. In this sense, the analogy resonates. It is a long and arduous journey that defies explanation. It is choosing to be burdened. This is what my journey will appear to be, to me at times and to most others indefinitely. People will not understand. It will feel and be difficult. And yet, God will become more real in the process. This is how I will know. My salvation will become more and more real, tangible, and practical as I carry my cross. God will become more real.
Let’s pause though, to address the need and value for self-care. If I am to walk towards suffering, I want to be able to walk that walk for as long as I am able. I must take care of myself. Self-care might seem trite in the wake of the suffering of others. But is it? Do we help others by denying our own needs? The passage that immediately follows the teaching of picking up ones cross is Jesus’ transfiguration. “If you are to follow me, take up your cross.” Then the text says in the next chapter that “Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Suffering and beauty. This is what the text offers, back to back. The text itself seems to affirm a certain tension.
The tension is pursing both life’s difficulties and life’s joys. Taking up my cross isn’t about denying joy. I don’t have to choose one or the other. I move towards suffering. I move towards joy. The more I make peace with the presence of both, the deeper I am able to move towards both. So maybe, just maybe, my salvation is found in suffering. And maybe my salvation is also found in joy.
Today, I donated to four quality organizations that provide practical help to those suffering in Aleppo. I also purchased two tickets for an upcoming concert that my husband and I will attend in celebration of 27 years of marriage. While these two acts done hours apart feels strange, it also feels right. I sensed God’s presence in both acts. I pray that God will lead me towards more paradoxical situations like these.
There is so much suffering in the world. We don’t have to look hard to find it. Will you look away next time you see it? Or will you walk towards it?
May your path bring you both towards suffering and joy so that in that space, you will meet God.
One thought on “Suffering”
Hi Jennifer….good thoughts…I think your struggle is part of what it means to be human, such irony and disparate scenes played out in life. At some level this is all of our struggle, trying to make sense ultimately as to why God allows humans (aka His image bearers) to end their time on earth by unexplainably, horribly ending up facedown in it. It seems to me that when Paul says “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” we enter in to their joy and suffering at some level if we do it with our whole hearts. As you say so well I don’t think either one of these conditions are meant to be permanent, they just are, and somehow we end up ping-ponging between the two as we go through life. I am at the stage of life where I have a lot more questions then answers on these matters so I much appreciate your thoughts. Blessings
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