Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that challenges and obstacles build character; at least that’s been my experience. We all know people who have medical conditions or job issues and we see their suffering. Many churches produce a weekly or monthly list of those who need to be prayed for. The number of people on the list at our church is amazing to me. I witnessed suffering first hand throughout my career in the fire service. People will often ask how do firefighters deal with it and I always respond that we box up each event and move on. We rarely discuss it and we depend on each other for stability. I imagine that this coping tool contributes to the camaraderie that firefighters are famous for. So back to my original question, why do we suffer? I’m certainly not smart enough to actually know the answer but I have a theory.
Suffering, in a way, does build character and makes us stronger. How we react to the event is based on our character and the more opportunities we have to shape that character, the stronger we become. Hence the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I also believe that there is a difference between suffering and disappointment. President Lincoln had a very long list of disappointments before becoming President, but he suffered a great deal as well. He lost his son at a very young age and his wife was tormented by severe depression. Despite all of that, he was a man of great character. The next time you think that you are suffering, ask yourself two questions – is this really disappointment instead and how can I change my reaction? If it is suffering, what am I or others supposed to learn from it?
19For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:19-21
I’ll ask again, why do we suffer? It all started in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis is pretty specific about all of the suffering that we are to endure as a result of Adam eating the fruit that Eve gave to him. Being deceived by the serpent, Eve broke the one rule that existed. Our lives are now filled with sin, there is no escaping it and that’s why we suffer. People don’t suffer more or less than anyone else because of what they did or what they do. I have to believe that we suffer in varying degrees because it’s what God needs to happen. If we lived in a world completely independent of one another, God would still have to teach us the lessons we needed but that isn’t the case.
We teach each other, we are a symbol for others who don’t know us. God will use us to deliver His messages as He deems necessary. People get medical conditions, so others can learn from them. My friend who had a heart transplant is surely suffering; his life is not the same. We hear from his wife how blessed they are by all of the people and prayers in their lives. She rightly believes, that he is alive today because of those prayers. The message of prayer is getting to their whole family. God is using this suffering to spread His message. Peter tells us that suffering is good and that as Christ suffered for us, we need to endure it as well. Jesus did not ask “why me?” He knew it was God’s will and then carried the burden. Jesus showed us how to suffer and where to keep our focus – on God. Why do we suffer? It is God calling us to deliver His message.
I often wonder when opportunity will stop knocking. The idea that one door opens when another one closes has proven itself in my life time and again. I tell myself that as I get older, it is natural to wonder when those doors won’t open. I’ve been presented with multiple opportunities in the past three months, who knows if any of them will become a reality. It just reminds me that my work is still being recognized even if I didn’t think so. I’ve never done anything halfway in my life and now as a consultant, it is hard to tell if anyone notices since you work so infrequently. They say that hard work pays off and I have no reason to start doubting that phrase now.
I spent the past better part of the past three weeks working with an old friend who I haven’t worked with in over a year. Our days were long, and the routine dragged on as each day passed. She took notes, payed attention to the details that I had stopped looking at a few years ago, she listened, she engaged in conversation and asked questions. She was preparing herself to understand and work in an environment that wasn’t foreign to her; she knew the importance of being committed to the project. In contrast, all of us have worked with someone who only wanted to learn half the job or just enough to get by. These people are always interested in the next promotion without putting in the effort to truly understand the position they are in. Where has commitment gone? As a whole, we seem to be suffering from a “failure to commit”. Doing something only half way gets you exactly that, half the reward.
“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37
The moment I read this verse, I knew that I had to write about giving it your all, not doing things half way, and especially when worshiping God. I had no good idea how to tell the story of giving 100% until these two things happened these past weeks. I started to think about what does giving less that 100% to God look like and then I realized the example was me! Sin keeps me from giving God all my heart, all my soul and all my mind. No matter how hard I try, something always gets in the way.
Sometimes, I’m too tired or simply lazy to break out the Bible and start reading my daily devotion. I’m too busy to stop and pray or give thanks, besides God knows – right? God knew our struggles would be greater than we could handle so He put a plan in motion to save us from ourselves – He sent us Jesus. He is the one who told us to give our all to God. He knew that He would have to intervene on our behalf and take sin away from us. Jesus left us so many great examples and stories while taking all of the sin out of our lives. God knew that we would not be perfect, and he doesn’t expect it, but we can show Him our love by diving in a little deeper, spending a little more time and showing what the love of Jesus means in our lives. Give it your all!
“Times are tough all over” was the title of a hit song in 1990. People have been saying this for years and since the start of the pandemic, we all still know someone who feels like times are tough. It became a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “it’s happening to everyone” but it never really makes anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that Lisa, and I believed that our 3 hour round trip to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, everyone one of us knows someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or had another type of life altering event. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?”
One of the greatest effects that homelessness has on people who lose their home or place to call home is that they lose hope. These men and women, who have faithfully persevered these past two years, are used to making positive contributions. Once they start to disconnect, the trip downward is fast and takes hope with it. Recent studies have shown that once hope is restored, recently evicted people often return to a productive life. No matter the situation, we all see people who are struggling in this world; living the “times are tough all over” kind of lives. What can we do help them? We can offer hope and support with less judgement and distain.
“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12
Some people look at this verse as proof that God is testing them before they can have eternal life. Yet others view it as even though you are tested, do not give up hope because the promise is still yours. You do not have to buy, perform, sacrifice, say, write or do anything to receive God’s forgiveness! He has given us that gift already; we are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The “crown of life” James tells us about, is found in our belief that Jesus is our Savior. We don’t know why some people suffer more than others.
We certainly don’t understand why some people deal with their trials better than others. It isn’t for us to understand. Think about the trials that St. Paul suffered and he was a persecutor at one point in his life. There are millions of people on this planet suffering simply because they believe in Jesus as their Savior. What hope do they have? They have faith in God’s word and in His promises. It might be all they have but they have it. God is not punishing them or testing them more than anyone else. The devil is still at work in this world and when hope is dimmed he is encouraged; it becomes his foothold in our lives. God is telling us, through James, to not lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s all the reason to keep hope alive.