I have very rarely written about personal things in this blog and I generally stick to the same format but this week is very different, for good reason. My mother passed away on November 30th, 3 months shy of her 95th Birthday. She had been suffering from dementia for the past two years but in reality, it was more like three years. My fire service career has prepared me well for the end of a life and I keep telling people that I’m not mourning her passing but celebrating her life. She had six kids, a great family and touched everyone she met with her great personality and humor. Jesus was speaking to Martha and asked if she knew what would happen to her brother. 24 “Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:24-26
I am comforted by these words because I know this to be true. People often say “she’s in a better place” but I wonder if they really believe it or know why it is a fitting bereavement phrase. My mother passed with God and salvation on her heart. Nevertheless, all of my family is sad but we should rejoice. 1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:1-4. These are the words that make me confident in knowing that she is in a better place.
I’m sad that I won’t get to laugh with her anymore but I’m thankful for the years that she was here. My father passed away 31 years ago, he missed all of my adult life and that is truly sad. At the time my mother passed, our family had someone in every decade from 0-90. My great-niece Evelyn was born on November 18th, mom’s 8th great-grandchild; and she covered the 90’s. Her six kids, four in-laws and nine grandkids filled in the rest of the decades. She was so pleased with her large family and it was the source of her pride. She also leaves behind two brothers and a number of cousins, nieces and nephews.
The reason I am not sad is best summarized in one of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” 2 Cor. 1:3-7
Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that challenges and obstacles build character; at least that’s my take on it. We all know people who have medical conditions or job issues and we see their suffering. Our church produces a list each week of those who need to be prayed for. The number of people on that list is always amazing to me. I’ve witnessed suffering first hand throughout my 27-year 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 would imagine that is what builds 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. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I also believe that there is a difference between suffering and disappointment. President Lincoln had a long list of disappointments before becoming president but he also suffered. He lost his young son and his wife was tormented by depression. Despite all 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 and, 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
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 we did or what we 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 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 needs. People get medical conditions so others can learn from them. My friend who had a stroke is surely suffering; his life is not the same. I am hearing from his wife how blessed they are by all of the people and prayers in their lives. She rightly believes, that his great recovery to date is a result of those prayers. This message is getting to their whole family, kids and grandkids. 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.