Depressing title, I know. :)
But to be honest, over the past several years I've done a lot of thinking about suffering. Up until six years ago or so, I hadn't considered it much at all. My life had been pretty good, and I'm a glass-half-full kinda person anyway. So if something WASN'T going well, I dealt with it. I moved on.
The first really, truly tragic thing to befall me in this life was the miscarriage of our baby in 2004. I was devastated. For the first time in my twenty three years I had so very many questions and literally no answers. Questions like, why would God create life only to take it away a mere seven or eight weeks later? Why couldn't God have prevented this? Why did I become pregnant (while nursing my six month old no less) simply in order to lose the baby later? Those are heavy things to think about. At the end of the day, our baby was gone and we were left picking up the pieces.
And when we brought home our sons in early 2006, we were introduced to an entirely new side of suffering. There are things we saw in Africa that I'll never forget. Suffering there is in-your-face, raw, real. You read about that stuff in books and magazines, and maybe you say a prayer or feel sad, but to see it in person...it changes you. A whole new set of questions for God began swimming around in my mind: why are they hungry while I am not? Why do these children have no parents? Why is an entire continent struggling? Why does nothing seem to make it all go away?
Then, as many of you know, I lost another baby on New Year's Eve 2008. So very sad. Such feelings of hopelessness and what-do-we-do-now and having to come home from our vacation knowing that the last time I was in my house, I was happily expecting a baby. A difficult homecoming, to be sure.
Each of those things could be included in a summary of my own personal suffering. Certainly there are other difficulties here and there (kidney stones, anyone?), but most of my ponderings can be viewed against that backdrop. And I have a mostly charmed life, I think, especially compared to many. I am happy, I am filled with joy, and I am optimistic.
Lately however I feel like so many around me are hurting. Friends just lost their very first baby to miscarriage. Two seperate dear friends each just lost a parent within the last week. I have friends with children who are chronically ill, extended family members battling cancer and depression and some in broken relationships. Two family friends were just recently diagnosed with cancer. It's gotten to the point where it feels like bad news is EV.ER.Y.WHERE. My heart hurts for each of these dear people and I have shed tears over many of these situations.
And here's the thing. I've been a Christian my entire life. Literally. I cannot remember a day when I did not know the love of Jesus or when I did not believe God was working in my life. Even amidst the ups and downs of my spiritual journey (how emergent of me), I knew deep down that God was there. I knew the Bible stories and I prayed and I trusted, more or less. Yet ever since 2004 I've been hungry (and downright curious) for answers about suffering. There are so many different paradigms and theologies that people use to explain the whole phenomenon. Many of them ring hollow. Most of them are pretty interesting. If nothing else, we all seem to intuitively understand that suffering is part of the universal human experience and that it matters to God.
I read a fantastic book last year that I've blogged about before. There is a bit of controversy when it comes to Mother Teresa (I know, right--drama over an Albanian nun?!), especially in Reformed Protestant circles (where people may or may not want to discredit her life and her work for theological reasons), but whatever. What I've taken away from her, and other similar, writings, is that there is mystery in suffering. And somehow we can identify with Jesus when we are hurting, and we can offer Him our very selves in those moments. It's almost like a discipline. I don't think God likes seeing us hurt or seeing us wrestle through hard times in this life. At all. And yet in some ways maybe the ability to suffer is a small gift, a glimpse into God's all-loving, all-good heart. We see in those moments how broken our lives are, how inconsequential so much of our world is, and we long for something far better. We feel just a small twinge of what perhaps Jesus felt as He laid down His life so that none would perish.
To be honest, I have not enjoyed suffering through hard times myself, and I have also not enjoyed seeing loved ones hurting. I want to fix things and of course I can't. Recently I've been feeling as if "real life" is chock full of sadness and I don't like it, yet at the same time...at the same time I am compelled.
I am compelled because I believe there is redemption in suffering. I am compelled because I know that I am living, and living means hurting. I am compelled to take risks and follow after Jesus, even if it means going into deep waters, because He's all that matters, the only thing that lasts. I find myself drawing courage through suffering--both through my personal limited experience with it and through others' that I see around me. It's hard to describe, but I think God will speak to us in our suffering if only we will listen.
None of this is to say that we should ever get used to suffering. It feels unnatural, even though it is pervasive and common. But like anything else, I pray that God will redeem it and use it in my life. I'll probably always be exploring the concept of suffering, and not because I'm morbid, but because I think there is a lot there to digest and process. I wasn't really raised with a solid approach to understanding suffering, so it's something I'm genuinely curious about. Each of us endures it one way or another. We will all suffer. I don't want to make easy peasy, "safe" life decisions to avoid the potential for suffering. It'll happen. Better to live well, love deeply, and give everything up to the Lord and live a good story.
On a personal note (time for the cheesy "life application" segment of this blogpost), this is something I've thought a bit about during this adoption process. Being open to adopting children with medical needs means being open to some unique parenting challenges. We certainly can't foresee the future, we can't know what interventions or therapies our future children will need. I don't know how attachment will progress, how they will receive our current children, or what will happen, what stigmas we will face. I.don't.know. But I'm not backing away. Through much prayer and discussion and discernment, we have concluded that God has equipped us and our family for this task, this journey. It will be challenging. It will be hard. Transition usually is. BUT, I know God will be working in the midst of it, and that there is hope.
Perhaps especially in suffering.