Saturday, April 2, 2011

Soothing Suffering

Every family had them - in fact, they were so common that the questions surrounding them remained fixed:

What kind?  Or when? Or when again? Or who? And of course, the ever-present one....why?

Scars. Physical or emotional - no one was without.  It was so common back then, a time when many children died in infancy from illnesses preventable in today's terms.  When a day's work exposed you to dangerous situations, hard toil, and little provision.  And yet, neighbors were neighborly.  Life was enjoyed - joyfully lived.  I am not just romanticizing history, like a novel written by pen of someone's imagined love affair.  I am writing based on a journal kept by a relative long-passed, a journal that documents funeral after funeral -  children injured on farms, death from sickness, missing limbs and blizzards.  Yet the tone is not one of despair, but of acceptance, of trust.

In all of the suffering of that time, people recognized their need for a Savior.  In all the death, they yearned for eternal life.  There wasn't the need to compare yourself to the perfect family next door because you knew their trials, their struggles, the ones that left no one behind, and you were thankful for the few your own family might be spared.

But not today.

Today our sufferings aren't shared in our communities, but hidden in the heart.  We don't even recognize them - despair, fear, anger, stress, regret, anxiety, hopelessness, inadequacy.  The mother who longs for a home filled with young laughter, but a child never comes.  The woman widowed in her early years after finding a man she planned her future with.  The child lost to cancer, the baby aborted in the womb, the marraige broken by affairs, and the friendships ruined by betrayal.  The sharp edge of suffering cuts deep and we bleed. We long for something different -  a life with no pain.  We look at our neighbors, and seeing no outward scars, we compare our lives to theirs - those that  "have it all together".  And we tell ourselves if only I were.....if only she wasn't.....If only I could...If only it hadn't happened this way. 

And your neighbors - the ones with the inside scars too - they tell themselves the same thing.

We lie to ourselves.  We have our warm houses full of goods, vehicles full of fuel, name-brand purses filled with plastic, and schedules filled with activities.  And we are empty.  We are broken.  We are yearning for more.

Dare I say it?  Were we better off when the blood of suffering spilled out for everyone to see?  When we knew each others' scars and grieved together? Our bodies huddled close, wrenching in agony, heart-healing taking place?

Today seems cold.  Friendships fostered over keyboards - messages on Facebook. Despairing hearts numbed by television's endless sitcoms. Garage doors cocooning us from our neighbors, the blinds drawn low.  We retreat to our darkness, alone in our suffering and cry to He alone who hears and knows our deep wounds.  And He heals, and He restores, and He comforts. But how can He join us there?

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." ~Colossians 3:12-17

God meets us in our pain through His body, the church!  We are the body of Christ - reaching out to comfort those with inner scars! Our own sufferings bear witness to He who suffered all for us, and out of our abundant scar-filled lives, we give of ourselves.  The Holy Spirit spills out of us to draw us together - united by scars of suffering, healed by His glorious grace.

A community of believers, joyfully rejoicing - not because we have overcome suffering - but because our suffering brings us to the foot of the cross where we find "a faith and love that stem from the hope stored up for us in Heaven, and about which we have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to us".  (Colossians)

"For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ." ~2 Corinthians 1:5

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