Suffering is real, and it is a very good teacher. Okay, I knew this, but I knew it in a new way last year. There is something about experiencing an intense period of suffering. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I’m the better for it. What Spurgeon said is true:
Do we not profit most in stormy times? Have you not found it so -- that your sick-bed -- your bereavement -- your depression of spirit, has instructed you in many matters which tranquility and delight have never whispered to you? I suppose we ought: to learn as much by joy as by sorrow, and I hope that many of my Lord's better servants do so; but, alas! others of us do not; affliction has to be called in to whip the lesson into us.
Christianity has rich resources for suffering, but Christians often don’t. The Psalms and other writings became real to me in new ways. My prayer life was deepened even as my prayers contained fewer words. The consolation from knowing that Jesus was no stranger to suffering became even more precious.
At the same time, I found that there’s a stigma to certain kinds of suffering in the church. We aren’t always comfortable when the answers aren’t easy. Perhaps it’s an over-realized eschatology (complete victory is ours now!) or a lack of experience, but I wish we were better equipped to stand with those who are suffering.
There’s a secret group of sufferers. Begin to speak about your suffering and you will find a lot of people who say, “You too?” I was amazed by the number of people who understood what we were going through, because they’d been through it too.
Weakness is the way. One of the things I’ll never forget is Charlene’s reminder that weakness isn’t a distraction from ministry; it’s often in our weakness, not our strength, that God most powerfully works. God seems to love using weak people. As J.I. Packer writes:
For all Christians, the likelihood is rather that as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware, so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then— and only then— may we become truly strong in the Lord. And should we want it any other way? (Weakness is the Way)
At some level, the suffering continues, as do the lessons, although at a completely different level. I pray I’ll never forget the lessons I’ve learned in the school of suffering.