How Do We Handle Suffering?

What physical, emotional or spiritual maladies plague you? I’ve always considered that everyone has their issues. Such issues shape us at our deepest points and our responses cement our innermost desires. How we handle them indicates our level of spiritual maturity.

I suffer bouts of depression. Most of the time it is mere melancholy. On occasion it is profound enough to rob me of my appetite and my sleep. For most of my life I thought this was just normal, and indeed it is normal for me. It’s a physical issue, but the mind tends to seek reason for it and as such depression can distort perceptions of reality. Only recently have I discovered that there is no particular mental or spiritual problem unless I make it one.

I have had other issues in life. There were a couple of times where as a child I was abused: When I was a mere two years old I was neglected and abused by the babysitter that kept me and my baby brother. She favored my brother and ignored my toddling needs. I distinctly remember being left to play in the back yard alone and intentionally stuck with diaper pins because of my soiled diapers. My mom, in her journal, wrote that this lady completely undid my potty training and I wet the bed as a nervous subconscious condition throughout my childhood as a result. I was also sexually abused when I was a little older. This is the first time I’ve ever made this public and I’ll offer no detail there.

Finally, I’ve mentioned in posts before that between my dad’s medical school and subsequent school loans, a move from the Midwest to the Southeast, my mom’s fatal and costly bout with cancer and the legal loss of our house in Ohio left my family rather short on finances for a few years. I remember eating onions for supper because that was all we had until payday. I remember going to school with pants that were too small and had holes on the patches. I was ridiculed at school for it. I remember eating squirrel stew because a squirrel had been given to my family and we weren’t about to waste any kind of food. I remember mom being amazed at the flour canister miraculously refilling when there was no money for flour.

There are other issues including some minor theological and racial prejudices against me throughout my life, but it’s hardly worth mentioning except that some of you may have gone through these things. To be sure, I don’t consider that my life as a child was at all too difficult. My family was generally loving compared to many families that I see. We always enjoyed the moral support and fellowship of a church family.

Today, however, I still suffer depression – and I still have trouble building close friendships. In fact, I intentionally waited until a good depression came on to write this article so I could write it with the passion for these struggles that they require. I took this Facebook quiz the other day:

Elijah
 
You’re somewhat of a loner. You prefer to challenge others on your terms. When the confrontation doesnโ€™t work the way you want you may get depressed. The good news is that you have inner strength that few people possess.

I’d say this pretty well nailed me. I can identify with this description of Elijah.

But perhaps you identify with one of my issues. Perhaps you have similar issues, or completely different issues. What do we do with these issues?

From a practical standpoint, should we not turn to friends who can comfort us? job did this and his friends frustrated him with bad advice and poor accusations. Perhaps you have good friends. Wonderful! I’m blessed with my wife who lays my head on her and strokes my head. At least she’s not like Job’s wife who admonished him to “curse God and die.” However, I spend most of my day virtually alone. Except when my wife comes to town I have no one to spend lunch with. I don’t have a friendship where I’m comfortable picking up a phone and calling for compassionate company. Who do I know who would answer who would not wonder why I called THEM and who would ask, “Has he no other friend?”

But we know this, that God must be glorified in everything and he will be glorified in everything. Have you done this? I haven’t always done this and occasionally cry out, “Oh God… Why!?!?!?” Recognizing that the clay cannot ask of the Potter, “Why have you made me thus,” I am humbled and moved afterward to count my suffering as blessing.

And depression is a matter of physical suffering. My heart pounds. The acid in my stomach rises up. I lose appetite and sleep. I’m suspicious of others. I obsess over insignificant things such as a lack of close friends and near-imaginary wrongs done to me. I rise up in the morning tired for lack of sleep. My thoughts are difficult to gather. There is pain in my chest and stomach. My joints ache. My head hurts. My body cries out for death. This is depression.

I deprive my body of food. (How do you think I lost 40 pounds a couple of years ago? I was heart sick and constantly depressed for several months then.) Yet I also deprive my body of death, for I will not consent to it. I discipline my body through vigorous exercise. I struggle to bring it under subjection to what I know to be true. I weep.

Jesus wept. He brought his body under subjection even though blood came from his pores. He calmed the storm only when the disciples lost faith. Otherwise he was content in the storm. He suffered on the cross so that he cried out to the Father asking why he had forsaken him. My Lord suffered far worse than I, and for my benefit! How small are my sufferings by comparison? How much am I like Christ when I suffer in faith?  

Like Elijah God is faithful to sustain me even in threat of death for I am his. For lack of friends, he sends the proverbial ravens to feed me though they would just as soon eat the flesh off my bones. Yet I can see God’s provision. He is faithful not only to sustain me but to glorify himself through my suffering for that is a far greater thing.

Do you look for God’s glory in your suffering? Abraham left his country and his people and lived in a tent in his old age. He was led to kings who would kill him for his wife and claimed that she was only his sister. And God blessed him by moving these kings to bless him for fear of his God. He paid a tithe to Melchizedech and his wealth grew far beyond that tithe. Even that was a small token of the promise of faith for he suffered into old age without a son to carry the promise and sinned with Hagar. Yet after Isaac came by no small miracle for Sarah was beyond the years of childbearing, Abraham went in faith to sacrifice his own son according to the instruction of God. And he suffered to the point of cutting the wood himself for a burnt offering as he agonized over God’s command. Yet God did this to bring about the promise of the Christ, the followers of which constitute a legacy of faith attributed to Abraham by Christ himself that all who have his faith are his spiritual children.

Moses suffered exile to the wilderness for his sin of murdering an Egyptian. Yet God blessed him with a law condemning murderers to death. And still God himself took Moses’ body when he was full of years. Now we see him in the scriptures standing on the mount of transfiguration with Elijah and Jesus a sinless, glorified man.

Therefore, our suffering is temporary and through faith our sins are covered by the blood of Christ. Moses is no more a murderer and Elijah is no longer friendless. Therefore, give glory to God who gives all things.

So we should count our suffering as blessing. Regarding suffering, one man’s curse is another man’s blessing, and for those of us who know Christ, we are blessed in our suffering. Just as Elijah had that inner strength, so God strengthens his children, yet not against suffering but because of suffering.

Do we hide our suffering? I usually do. Others ask how I am and I reply, “I am alright today.” I lie. I’m not alright and I fear the shame of it. Yet I suspect that others don’t really want to deal with me otherwise. It disturbs them. I suspect they will be like Job’s friends and condemn my depression as sin. Perhaps it is. I am a sinner after all and I submit myself to God’s judgment in the name of Christ. Though I cry out in my turmoil to God, I also submit my turmoil to him that he be glorified. And how might he be glorified unless I don’t find occasion to share my resolve with others who suffer their issues that they may be encouraged? Yet I must be careful lest I wallow publicly and offer my identity as one who perpetually wears the proverbial sackcloth and ashes so as to be recognized by my false humility. So we suffer and look for the glory of God that He may receive glory and not us.

God is faithful in all things; He is faithful to subject me to suffering. He will be glorified in all ways. I will submit my suffering to him that he will be glorified in it.

I think I’m starting to feel a little better. Praise God!

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