Measuring Suffering

The aching desire for a spouse, the pain of losing a friend, the uncertainty of finding a job…these things all produce pain. Why is it, though, that we tend to compare our suffering to the next person, as if somehow competing for the “award” of suffering the most will bring us greater recognition? Or by contrast, we hide our suffering and pain because we feel as though we don’t have a right to consider the trials in our lives due to the measure of it. How do we have a right to be depressed or confused about being single when those around us have lost a loved one or have recently been diagnosed with cancer? The truth is that the trials and suffering we each individually experience are very intentional and have been passed through the hands of God to be used in our lives. Why discredit the very things that God wants to use to change us by comparing our suffering to the next person’s?

Through reading a very deep and powerfully written book, Passion and Purity, Elisabeth Elliot has greatly impacted my view on singleness and has modeled what it looks like to be led by God in the matters of the heart. She wrote about her struggle of waiting for God to bring her a spouse and the pain that came during her waiting. She eventually met Jim Elliot who later became her husband and included the ups and downs of being pursued by a godly man but not knowing what God’s will was as Jim started to pursue her. They both felt led to missions but in different parts of the world. From courting long distance, to getting married, to having her beloved husband murdered when he went to deliver the Gospel to the Auca Indians, Elisabeth Elliot shared her deep heart aches and pain. She wrote:

“Years after the end of the Jim Elliot story, my mother said something to me about my “suffering” during those waiting years. It came as a surprise to me, for though I would never have denied that the trail was a bit rugged, I had not thought of it as suffering. Shipwrecks, floggings, physical pain, yes, those I would call suffering, but not my aching heart. However, it’s no use trying to measure suffering. What matters is making the right use of it, taking advantage of the sense of helplessness it brings to turn one’s thought to God. Trust is the lesson. Jesus loves me, this I know– not because He does just what I’d like, but because the Bible tells me so. Calvary proves it. He loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Disciple and Gift

As humans (and especially as Americans), the words pain, discomfort, and trials all make us cringe. In fact, how often do we notice ourselves avoiding these things throughout our everyday lives? Whether it’s avoiding a person we know at the grocery store, putting off a difficult conversation with a family member, or going to great lengths to get out of a difficult situation, we all avoid discomfort in varying degrees. On a smaller scale, American culture has made it extremely easy to attain the easiest and most comfortable path. Too often we see and hear subliminal messages that promote the fleshly desires within us to be entertained, to look and feel good, and to make those around us want what we have. We see this played out in social media by promoting ourselves and being entertained, which in turn plays into growing discontent with our lives, which in turn makes us chase after materialism. Do you want a new dress so you can look as glamorous as the girl that just posted a picture on Instagram who got 200 likes? You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home! Just go on Amazon, and with Amazon Prime it’ll be in your hands in less than two days. How quickly we have gotten used to getting whatever we want when we want it. The discipline and the gift of waiting have certainly been lost.

By saying all of this, the question has to be asked what effect this has had on our spiritual lives. If we believe that the discipline of waiting for material things ends in the material mindset, we are being deceived. In reality, everything we see, hear, feel and use is spiritual to a certain extent. Even if it is not inherently spiritual, it does indeed have an effect on our spiritual minds. God does a deeply profound work in us by making us wait for whatever we need and long for. But can we miss it? It is a scary thought to think that the suffering that God allows us to endure could very well be wasted, or to a lesser degree, not fully used.

Temporary Distraction

I say all of this to encourage us to recognize the discomfort and pain in our lives as well as the distractions we run to in order to numb the pain. As mentioned before, as humans we run from things that make us feel bad about ourselves and are, simply put, hard to deal with. But these things, no matter the depth of suffering, are all meant to change us. These things change us in multiple ways and reveal the depths of our hearts that we are most likely wanting to ignore. What things do we run to for comfort, validation, satisfaction, and fulfillment when the “joy or pleasure source” is being threatened? This very well may be a functional savior that fills us with the hope of temporary and superficial love, acceptance, and sometimes just plain distraction. How silly and sad it is that we cling to nothingness for the sake of distracting ourselves from the things God wants to bring into the light in order to help us experience freedom! We have become so used to it that we have become dependent on it.

Perhaps there is a deeper issue we must address. Why do we love distraction? Why do our minds constantly wander to things that are worthless? Utterly worthless things that do no good in furthering our walks with God, things that don’t even mention any hint of Him? I have found myself going days, weeks, even months of being inundated by things that have no acknowledgment of Him whether it’s my social media feed or the music I listen to. If we are not actively seeking the goodness of Jesus and meditating on things that help us see the sweetness of His friendship, how do we expect to ever grow in our love for Him?

What are ways you run for comfort, validation, satisfaction, and fulfillment in things apart from Jesus?

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