by Randy Kosloski
I have pastor friend who stutters. Every time he has to speak, in person or on the phone, with anyone, his struggle punches him right in the diaphragm. I love this guy, so I asked to speak to him about his stammer, arrogantly believing that I could help him overcome his hindrance. During our conversation, he shared some of the heartbreaking difficulties he had as a child living with a stutter. Just when I felt I was going to devote my life to helping him, he said that he was glad that God had given him the stutter because he was afraid of how prideful he would be without it.
Learning comes through suffering. My friend understood this much better than I did. If we suffer, it is likely that we suffer either for God’s sake or because God wants to change something in our lives. Either way we should rejoice in our suffering.
Naturally, people go to a therapist because they are suffering and they want the suffering to stop. No one has ever paid me a visit just for an emotional health check-up. Most people who decide to see a therapist chose to do so out of some emotional anguish. It is usually after they have suffered for a while that they begin to acknowledge their pain. After trying to ignore the suffering for a time they finally decide they cannot deal with it any longer and then they come to see someone like me. People hope that someone will end their suffering. However, most therapists ask these tormented souls to return to their suffering in hopes that the individual will think through their pain and come up with their own solution.
It’s been said, “I’d rather live inside my own skin. If I suffer, I’ll suffer honestly.” Job is an example of this. In Where is God When it Hurts, Philip Yancy points out that God was more accepting of Job’s honest cries of grief than He was of the pious responses by Job’s friends. Job’s honest cries allowed God to intervene and help. Through his suffering, Job’s image of God was changed from the classic theology, which says blessing equals godliness, to a richer theology of suffering equaling godliness.
In Yancey’s book, he refers to C.S. Lewis’ remark that suffering does not lead to evil or cynicism. Lewis sites the example of a front line in a war having no more of these negative emotions than any of the other factions of the military unit.
The variety of suffering abounds and so do the reactions to it. In the end, it is our reaction to suffering that ultimately defines us. It is in our reaction to suffering, whether in response to our own or that of someone else, which God uses to reveal Himself in this world. Suffering is inevitable but our reaction to it is still in question.
So our challenge is to suffer honestly. We should not blame our suffering on anyone – including God. If we accept it, question it and prayerfully endure it, we will someday see where it leads. Life does not exist without suffering. It is not as if anyone could live so perfectly as to avoid all suffering. Jesus lived perfectly, and no one suffered more than He did.
Hunger is a form of suffering, yet still God asks us in the Bible to fast. Why is this? I used to believe it was so we could use the time that we would normally spend with food to be with God. That may be part of the reason, but for the most part, we fast so we can suffer. God often reveals Himself in these times.
My pastor friend understands this far better than I do. Like the pain in Paul’s flesh that the Lord would not take away, my pastor’s friend’s stutter reminded him to lean on God no matter what he was doing. Whether it is talking on the phone or preaching the Word, he cannot rely on his own strength.
Consider it joy when we suffer for when we suffer we draw closer to Him. Lewis sums this up appropriately, “But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Suffering is not something we should relish or strive for, but when it comes, we do well to somehow allow it to draw us nearer to our God.