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Category Archives: suffering

For what is it to die,

But to stand in the sun

And melt into the wind?   Kahlil Gibran

I was reading an article the other day that said the only thing that prevents us from dying a good death is fear and regret. I believe that is profoundly true. If we know where we’re going, and we are at peace about it, there will be little fear about eternity. When people are secure in their knowledge of God and salvation and heaven, I think their greatest fear is not about those things, but rather about dying a painful death–a death where one suffers. It seems that we have done quite well at keeping people alive longer, but not so good at keeping them healthy. Therefore, 2 out of 3 people die in hospitals or nursing homes. That is what we fear the most-suffering and dying away from home and our loved ones. It seems to me that a natural death should be treated with as much attention as a birth.  A person should be surrounded by loved ones, in his or her own bed, if possible. I think we fear nursing homes even more than hospitals. (But hospitals have their own demons.) So fear plays a great part in our thoughts about death. It’s not so much the dying that frightens us, but the process.

And then there’s the question of regrets. Regret means “to be very sorry for.” We can have regrets about things that we’ve done, or things that we haven’t done. While we can’t do a lot about the fear that surrounds the circumstances of our death, we can certainly do a great deal to prevent having regrets. It’s so important at every stage of our life, to take inventory of our relationships with others, of our dreams and goals, and of our satisfaction with ourselves. All these things are crucial if we are to die without regrets. Is there anyone we’re estranged from? We may not always be able to remedy this, but the least we can do is forgive that person to the best of our ability. While God’s heart is always reconciliation, his greatest desire is forgiveness. We can only control what we do and say, and find peace within. Many people live lives of bitterness because they cannot let go of an offense, and the person who hurt them is not suffering at all.

It’s also vital to examine our dreams and goals periodically. The great thing about dreams is that they can change and evolve. Perhaps we haven’t achieved exactly what we once desired, but we have managed to capture the essence of it in some other way. We may not be the professional dancer, but we can be the dance teacher. We might not have reached all our goals, but we can mentor someone who can carry on our vision. All through the Bible, I think that it is evident that God calls generations. Perhaps it is not just one man who can totally fulfill the vision, but in time it will be completed. It is the same in our lives. It is good to view the unfolding of our time on earth this way.

I once lamented to my counselor that I felt I had not achieved as much as I had hoped, and that I had always wanted to be somebody. (Whatever the heck that means.) She pointed out that I had enjoyed so many opportunities that many people do not. I have had my own radio show, been ordained as a minister, been a Bible teacher, taught sign language worship, been a grief counselor, owned a Christian coffeehouse, been a freelance writer and a professional singer, etc. I began to see and accept what she was saying, and realized how blessed I have been, as I have always wanted to be creative. And I have had many opportunities to express my creativity. So when you review or assess your life thus far, look at the opportunities you’ve had to do the things that you enjoy, and are good at. That counts for a lot. And you will often find that you have touched many more people than you ever dreamed. And remember, famous people, and very frequently wealthy ones, are not often happy. It is rare to find those who are. So take joy in your position in life, and your abundant blessings. Some people spend their entire lives just trying to put food on the table, and they never have a chance to think about what makes them happy or fulfilled.

And finally, how do you feel about yourself? Are you always displeased with who you are? Do you worry about how you look? Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time with my elderly, widowed mother, and I have noticed the longings of her heart to enjoy the things of youth again. Whenever we’ve been in the stores this spring, she has noticed the sun dresses, and always remarks how she wishes she could wear them once again. And her skin bruises very easily, and she feels that it is ugly, and I keep telling her that most people aren’t really staring at her bruises, though I understand that it bothers her, that her skin is discolored with black and blue marks. The doctors have said that it is aging, thin skin, and there is little to be done. Growing old is painful in so many ways, because there are so many losses, and when we were younger, we did not think that our lives would pass so quickly. But we can mourn the losses continually, or we can enjoy what we have left, treasuring every moment.

I think one of the greatest things about getting older, at least for me, is that I do accept myself more. I am not so vain as when I was younger. I am not so preoccupied with things that are superficial and really don’t matter, because I have suffered through the loss of loved ones, and I am finally beginning to learn what is really important in life. I do not push myself so hard for perfection, because I have decided that it is not even something that I desire. I learn from my mistakes, and find them valuable. I am learning to like myself a little more, and to do things that make me happy, because I am so much more aware of the passing of time.

So there you have it. There is only fear and regret that can rob us of a good death. We must turn to God with our fears, trusting in His love and care, and look to ourselves to make sure that we have no regrets…

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Oswald Chambers wrote, “Sorrow burns up a great amount of shallowness.” That is so true. Suffering tends to knock all the props out from under us, and we are left with only what is true and worthwhile.  It strips us of all the pretense, and all that is fake. When we have not yet experienced the tragedies that life can bring, we tend to be very superficial. But there is a maturity and depth that comes as a result of suffering. (I am referring to trials and tribulations, not sickness and death.)

When we are going through difficult times, we are reminded of our need for God. We tend to go through life quite self-reliant, until we reach that place where we can’t handle something on our own. And for many of us, that leads us to the feet of Jesus. It is in suffering that we are most aware that our dependence must be on God, and not ourselves.

Romans 8:17  says, “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

The word for “suffer” there in the Greek means to feel pain together, to suffer evils (troubles, persecutions) in the like manner with another. Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t say that we could never experience the pain that He has, or come anywhere near His suffering? While that is true, He doesn’t compare pain and suffering. He simply promises, that if we suffer with Him, we shall also be glorified together.

In another verse (2 Timothy 2:12) it says, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him…”

The word for “suffer” there means that under misfortunes and trials, we hold fast to our faith. It means to endure, and bear bravely and calmly, ill treatment. The general idea is to persevere in the face of great suffering. That’s a lot easier said than done, isn’t it?

But again, we have a promise that we shall also reign with Him. It means to possess supreme honor, liberty, and blessedness, with one in the Kingdom of God.

God even rewards our suffering when we endure the persecution, hard times, and painful situations. (He doesn’t reward getting stuck in our misery.)  A lot of people do not come through a time of suffering trusting God even more, and praising Him for His faithfulness. Rather, they become bitter, angry, and resentful. They get caught in the pain, and in the role of being a victim, and they begin to like the attention that they receive because of it. But it’s in persevering with patience and endurance, until we have overcome (or at least gotten through) with grace and dignity, that pleases God. 

The more powerless we feel in the face of persecution, painful situations and hurtful people, the more we are driven to God, and it is in these struggles and challenges, that we come to know Him in a much deeper way. Sometimes we are actually going through some pruning, (some cutting back), so that we can produce even better fruit.

My favorite Bible character is Joseph. In Genesis 41: 52 we are told that he named his second son Ephraim. Ephraim came after Joseph had experienced many years of suffering, and Joseph said that he gave his son that name because, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

Think about that a moment. It is so easy to get angry, frustrated, and discouraged when we’re going through something difficult. We tend to think, I’ll be okay when I’m out of this. But Joseph was able to praise God, and be fruitful, while he was still in the land of suffering. When we have to press more into God, our roots go down deeper, and we produce good fruit.

Often difficult times are only a few bad scenes in a really great movie. We have to look at the whole picture, not just the isolated parts.

In spite of suffering, life is good. The alternative is not to live at all. And if we can see our pain as a transforming process, we can know that none of our suffering is for nothing. We are being strengthened, we are maturing, we are learning compassion for others, we are becoming more dependent on God, we are learning forgiveness, and we are moving forward. The moving forward is so important. To stand still is to lose ground eventually.

Without a doubt, the road is rough at times, but there is One who holds your hand…

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Renoir, the famous French painter, continued to paint, in spite of terrible, excruciating arthritis. A close friend of his inquired, “…Why do you keep on painting when you are in so much pain? Renoir pondered the questioned and then answered, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”

So many of the struggles we go through in life end in beauty. In fact God has said that he would give us “beauty for ashes.”

(Again, I am not referring to sickness or death, when I discuss suffering, because I believe sickness comes from Satan, not God. I am referring to trials, tribulations, struggles, and the painful challenges of life that often leave us wounded.)

It is very common to want to escape suffering. I can’t think of anyone who truly embraces it. Usually, we want to get as far away from it as possible. But unfortunately, life is not like that. To live is to suffer…it cannot be denied.

As I was doing some research tonight, I read that the Chinese have two characters for the word “crisis.” One means danger, and the other means opportunity. In every crisis, there is probably an opportunity. We need to ask ourselves, “What can I learn from this?”, “Is God preparing me for something else?, and “How can this time of difficulty be transformed into something meaningful?”

Could there possibly be a purpose to our suffering? Romans 5: 3-5  says, “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”

In recent months when I have suffered persecution, of course I grieved over the situation. But I did not allow myself to be destroyed by it, unlike other times in my life. (Which doesn’t mean I didn’t cry or have sleepless nights.  I did, as I was truly hurt.) But this time, I tried to find something positive in it.

The first thing I noticed that gave me so much comfort, was how many friends came to my defense. So often, in our time of trouble, others let us down or abandon us at the time when we need their support most. I was (and am) thankful for the loyalty of my friends, and for their assurances that God had used me to make a difference in their lives. Therefore, I knew that all my previous effort was not in vain.

Secondly, I began to wonder if God allowed this persecution to happen, in order to move me in another direction. (I am a firm believer that there are seasons in our lives devoted to certain areas of ministry, and sometimes it is difficult for me to know when that season is over.) I often have to be dynamited out of places, because I have grown comfortable and settled. It’s funny because when I told my counselor what happened, she was amazed at the cruelty shown toward me and the lady I defended, and also at the failure of the owner of the board to protect and defend me. But the thing that really got me was when she said, “There may have been some Divine intervention in it also.” I smiled, agreeing, because I had also had that same thought. I was very invested in the people there, and wouldn’t have left on my own. In addition, it allowed me to see who I was dealing with, and the character (or lack of) that the owner demonstrated. For one week and a little more, I experienced a lot of hurt, and even chest pains as they attacked me in writing, for days on end. But after that, I received a peace about it all, and that grief and pain was lifted off of me.

When Joseph was mistreated so badly by his own brothers, he was able to say later, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

The word “evil” in the Hebrew means to give pain, unhappiness and misery. Joseph said the things they did were intended to harm and to hurt him.

But then he added, “God meant it for good.” It means welfare, prosperity, happiness, and benefit.

That should encourage us, to understand that even though some situations in this world are designed to bring us evil and harm, God can take those things, and bring good out of them. They can have redemptive value in our lives. So, if you are going through a difficult time right now, (whatever the source), trust God, and know that He will turn it around, and bring something good from the suffering. And when you begin to doubt, just keep trusting. Job was able to say with confidence, after all he suffered, “I know my Redeemer Lives…”

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