Tag Archives: suffering

Grief: It Is a Very Large Word Indeed

Grief. It’s a far bigger word than we usually think.

Oh, we all know that it applies to the loss wrought by death as we’ve stood at the graveside of a loved one, smelled the flowers, felt the emptiness, and wondered how to face a world so suddenly changed.

And every day changes. We may think we’re doing, well, some better. At least, maybe making small steps in the right direction. And then we get up on the next day and find ourselves, it seems, having taken two, or twenty, steps backward.

Following the death of his wife, C. S. Lewis wrote of grief’s pervasiveness, “Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection . . . I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”

Grief seems to color everything. We long for the time to come when it isn’t the first thing that hits us in the face yet again each morning and the last thing we think of before we finally find sleep each night.

Such is so very true regarding death-induced grief.

But grief is spelled L-O-S-S, and loss comes in many bitter flavors.

Whatever dreams you had for your marriage, only your nightmares would have included the divorce that throttled those dreams.

Whatever your dreams for your child, well, only bad dreams included . . .

Your dreams for your business or profession were bright and optimistic and seemed real at the time, but . . .

Maybe you’d dreamed of traveling in retirement. And now? You are. Mostly to specialists and pharmacies.

In any of your dreams for the future, did these words figure in? Cancer. Addiction. Bankruptcy. Jail. Tragedy. Hurt. Disappointment. Depression.

Need I mention that those are not words you’ll ever lightly drop into a Christmas letter?

And by the way, in the midst of such loss is one that colors it all and may surprise you until we name it. But we need to name it. It’s the loss of control.

“I don’t know what to do about . . .”

“What now?”

“Here’s what needs to happen, but I can’t . . .”

“I have no clue what . . .”

“I can’t imagine how I’ll . . .”

The ship has already embarked. You’re in the midst of the sea and the storm. And the rudder has broken loose from the wheel.

Need I tell you? This is frightening. Worse, really. This is terrifying.

Will it help much if I point out that none of us was ever really in control anyway? That was largely an illusion.

But maybe it will help a little for us to consider where we actually might try to exert a little control. Maybe just in small moments at first. But in our attitudes. In our next footstep. In sincerely asking for help, for each of the ten thousand times we’ve asked and failed yet again to truly “cast our cares” on the Captain of our souls (and leave them there). He really does care for us, love us, more than we can imagine.

As deeply frightened as I often am on life’s sea, I believe that the “man of sorrows” really is “acquainted with” our grief in all of its forms. We can believe in and trust his willingness to “carry our sorrows.”

And, paradoxically, stronger and deeper, more real and pervasive than any of our genuine grief, is his joy. When all of our griefs and hot tears have faded away, his joy will remain for a thousand forevers.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


When Your Whole World Seems Tilted in Its Orbit

It’s very nearly as weird-feeling as it is heart-rending—a day when you wake up and realize it’s just another ordinary day for most of the world around you, but your whole world has tilted in its orbit, shifted on its axis.

For you, almost nothing feels the same, and even the things that do, don’t. Their very sameness in this new universe renders them incredibly strange.

You brush your teeth just like you always have. Part your hair in the same place. Take your keys off the same old hook. Just like you did in your old universe. But this morning you feel as if you’d opened your eyes in a universe where two plus two could not possibly still equal four. Is plumb still plumb, level still level? You know it must be, but you wonder how as you take your first steps in your suddenly off-axis world.

This morning you waked up for the first time in your life in a world where the mother or father who gave you life didn’t also wake up. You wonder how many times you’ll have to think, “I need to call Dad,” before your mind will face that fact that you can’t.

How long did it take this morning for you to realize that you were alone in the house? No shower sounds. No smell of coffee. Nobody else’s alarm going off. Your spouse really has left. Some of the last words before that were a little loud. But this jarring silence seems louder.

This morning you took your first breath of consciousness in a world where the child who was the light of your life no longer breathes. People say sadly that you lost a child. No! As if you could misplace your own heart! You didn’t “lose” her. Cancer or tragedy or incomprehensible accident seized her, wrenched her out of your arms. But not your heart. Never your heart. It still beats. And you wonder how.

Whatever the grief—and grief is the name of this thing that feels so strange—you waked up this morning in a universe that seems completely tilted.

You managed to get out of bed, but could that really have been you yesterday in the doctor’s office? Did she really say that the test results confirm that you have a life-altering disease? Now you’re staggering between the uneasy “peace” of at least knowing the reason for your symptoms and the abhorrence of the new label you never wanted, the name of the disease you’re told you that you have but right now seems to have you. “Your” symptoms? The disease you “have”? You resent “having” something that’s “yours” that you have no option to throw away. The old words are not adequate in this new world where the ground won’t stop shifting.

Hear now some words that point to a reality that is rock-solid, foundational, unchangeable, always trustworthy. Grief has a name, but so does Hope. God’s “mercies” really are “new every morning,” every moment, even in what seems a new and unwelcome universe. The only thing greater than your pain is God’s love. “Great is his faithfulness!” It is no accident that those words, deeply true, are found in the tear-stained Bible book named Lamentations (3:22-23).

When your old world “was,” when you don’t know how you can ever stand in this new world that “is,” when you’re deeply afraid of what “will be,” trust, one moment at a time, in the great “I Am.” The God of the universe is your Father. He loves you. That has not changed. It never will.

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

 Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


When God Walks with Us in the Fiery Furnace

One of the finest of many great gifts my mother gave me when I was just a little guy was reading to me. Most of all, she read me Bible stories.

Since I wasn’t a declared English major in my youngest days (that came later), and since Mom was smart, she didn’t, when I was little, read the stories straight from the King James or any other Bible version; she read them from a couple of really good Bible story books. I suspect that she also edited and embellished a bit as she went, at least in places where she found the story books a bit inaccurate or lacking.

The best thing about the story books (I still have them) was that they had great pictures. I still have those, too. They’re tattooed into my brain and, unlike most tattoos, won’t go out of style, leaving you with the equivalent of having your high school senior pic, coolness date long since expired, grafted onto your saggy bicep.

One of my favorite stories was from Daniel 3. It was the story of “Three Men in a Furnace.” Pictured in the illustration is quite a mighty fire, and pictured in the fire are four fellows, not three. The text of both the Bible and the story book agreed with the picture. (Read Daniel 3.)

We called them the “three Hebrew children.” I don’t know why. Children they were not. They were some of most impressive of the Israelites taken captive by the Babylonians. These three—renamed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (I liked the names)—were from Judah and had been specifically trained for service in the king’s court.

I’m not sure how the three felt about their lot, but it could have been worse. Well, right up until the time when it got a lot worse.

King Nebuchadnezzar, suddenly afflicted by the kind of modern-as-tomorrow fit of megalomania that you’ve probably noticed powerful world leaders still regularly fall prey to, ordered a 90-foot-tall, gold-plated idol to be built. When he struck up the band, all of his people were to bow, nose down in the dirt, or else be tossed into a furnace of fire.

You really should read the story. I’m abbreviating ruthlessly as I just tell you that our three men of faith didn’t need more than the one God, would not worship the idol, and, after they courteously and consistently defied the king’s order, were thrown into a turbo-charged fire where they were joined by a strikingly glorious fourth figure. They came away unharmed, un-toasted, and highly respected. And ol’ King Neb learned an important lesson from the highest King.

Oh, I loved that story of great faith in action and of God’s salvation and power. I still do. The outcome is utterly amazing.

But I think that now the most striking part of the story to me is not the obvious miracle but is found in what those three heroes actually said to the king as they affirmed their faith. The “God we serve is able to save us,” they said, but “even if he does not, we will not serve your gods.”

Even. If. He. Does. Not.

God may give me exactly the answer to my prayer that I want. He may amaze and astound me. But you tell me which takes greater faith: to see the fourth figure present in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3 or to trust that he is walking with you through the fiery trial you face right now “even if” the show-stopping miracle you want seems not to be in God’s present plan?

I submit that God’s presence in both is very real.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Strong Faith: How Badly Do We Really Want It?

If God exists and is all-powerful and all-loving, why does he allow suffering in the world he created?

Life’s biggest questions, the ones that truly matter, can be condensed into a few that can be counted on one hand. The question I’ve just asked is one of them. It, and the very few more in its league, are worth asking. I’m convinced that our God will help us face such questions in his strength if we really want his help.

But if we’re fat and sassy, dollar-blinded and bloated and quite comfy, swimming along in the warm stream of our society’s sea of selfishness . . . If, most of the time, pretty much our highest goal is to get through life with more and more stuff and not lose too many golf balls . . . Well, then we easily shove out of our consciousness the questions that matter.

Yes, but then one hope-withering medical test, one terribly sick child, one life-shaking tragedy is all it takes to toss us out of the hot tub and into very deep, cold, and turbulent waters indeed. Then the questions that really matter really matter, and easy answers and “throw-down,” “Facebook-faith,” TV-preacher platitudes will never weather the storm.

I hope you’re not in such a storm right now, but we don’t have to live long to know that we will all go through times that shake us to our core. Before the time of testing, it’s best to remember that strong faith cannot grow in a heartbeat. However badly I want a 50-year-old oak tree to shade me from oppressive heat, I won’t get it this afternoon by planting a seedling this morning. As G. K. Chesterton said, “No one ever grew a beard in moment of passion.” Some things just take time. Possessing faith that is strong and mature is one of those things.

Don’t misunderstand. You can sincerely give your life to the Lord in a heartbeat and your contrite heart will be accepted into the Father’s warm embrace. Even mustard-seed faith, Jesus said, can be real faith.

But if we think “baby faith” is all the faith God wants to build in us, and if we think genuinely trusting God is easy, we’re mistaken. For our faith to mature, we need to yield our wills to God and follow our Lord in practical ways. The Son worshiped the Father. He spent time in prayer. He was steeped in Scripture. He lay down his will, wrapped himself in a towel, washed the dirty feet of those who should have been washing his, and, because of his deep love for and trust in his Father, went to a cross.

If I want strong faith, I’ve got to walk the way of the cross. Can I carry a cross if I can’t even go to worship? How can I expect to grow in selfless, mature faith if I’m chafed by singing a song I don’t like in worship (but that might bless someone else)? More spiritual still, how strong is my faith if I won’t carry out the trash for my wife or switch off the TV to read our kids a Bible story?

God wants us to love him with all of our hearts, souls, and minds. He’ll help us to grapple with hard questions and live through hard times. But for our hearts, minds, and souls to be strong and integrated, real relationship and growing faith is required—not to buy God’s favor; God’s people already have that. No, we need faith to help us through life’s storms. And the question is unavoidable: how badly do we really want it?

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Day the Healer and Real Healing Came to Bethesda

What a surreal sight it must have been. The lame, the blind, the paralyzed, and people suffering from all sorts of diseases. A sad assemblage of hurting humanity, lying, sprawling, crawling, languishing around Jerusalem’s Pool of Bethesda. In the fifth chapter of his Gospel, the Apostle John describes the sad scene.

As is so often the case surrounding the most poignant examples of human suffering, humans trying to survive the situation and ravaged by an incredible range of emotions, are torn between varying mixtures of faith and “magic,” genuine trust and irrational superstition.

Verse 4 here brings up an interesting (and astonishingly rare) textual question we’ll not tackle, but verse 7 tells us what at least one man lying by that pool believed strongly enough that he somehow managed to get to the pool and spend days, weeks, months, years there.

I’m pretty sure we can assume that the rest of that sad crowd shared the same belief. They believed that when the water of the pool was “troubled,” the first person who got into the water following the “troubling” would be healed. Word was that the intermittently stirred up waters were stirred up by an angel, and, somehow, power was left in the water. Get there first and get healed.

I find myself with some questions here. I wonder, for example, about the focus of this sort of “faith.” Was it faith in water, faith in an angel, faith in a procedure?

We still hear about that last sort of “faith.” “Faith” that God will have to give me the “right” answer (that means the one I want), if I do enough mental gymnastics to convince myself that no other answer is possible. It seems to me that the focus of such “faith” is more on me and my effort than it is on God.

I don’t know what most of the suffering folks beside the Pool of Siloam were thinking on the day Jesus was there. But John tells us a little about what one man, a man suffering terribly for 38 years, was thinking as Jesus asks him a great question, “Do you want to be healed?”

It’s a serious question. Many people meet hardship with courage, but the sad truth is that others choose to make “victim” their identity. Healing is the very last thing they want. Such sickness is far deeper than physical and harder to heal.

Perhaps the sad man nodded his head, but his roundabout answer refers to a procedural problem: “I have no one to get me into the pool, so whenever the water is troubled, somebody else always gets in first.” So he’s saying, I’m messed up! Because of my bad situation, I need to get into the pool, but because of my bad situation, I can’t. I’m a victim of my circumstances.

How much faith does this man have and where is it focused? That is debatable. But the Lord who is stronger than any circumstance, our God who is not impressed with our recipes for magic—however “religious” they may sound—and who is stronger than our weak faith, says simply, “Rise up! Take up your bed and walk.”

Real healing has come to Bethesda. No trip to the pool required.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


In a World Full of Questions, a Few Answers Matter Most

 

It is no proof of superior intelligence, but even as a young man I was theoretically sure that I would not always be a young man.

As I (rarely) contemplated middle or old age, though they seemed light years away, I figured that a major consolation of being old and crotchety, say, 45, would be that by then I would probably have found answers to a great many of life’s most vexing questions.

I’m an incredibly vibrant 60 years old now. Since I can’t imagine much worse than living to be 120, I’ll admit that 60 may, at the very least, bump the outer range of middle age.

The bad news (which is not really bad since it means I’m still seeking and inquisitive) is that I have more questions than ever. The good news is that the older I get, the more I realize how few of those questions really matter much. In fact, I’d say that life’s biggest questions could be numbered without getting much past the fingers of one hand. (I can probably do with five, if you would later let me add a related question or two beneath a couple of these.)

Does God exist?

What kind of God is he?

Has he revealed himself to mankind and how?

Is he absolutely good, absolutely powerful, and absolutely loving?

And, if the answer to that last one is yes, then why does God allow pain and suffering?

These are questions of belief. That does not at all mean they can’t be approached rationally; it does mean we will always, even when we’ve seriously and diligently sought their answers, still have to say, “I believe that . . .”

And, it seems to me, even after we’ve come to confident peace about the first four, and even the fifth, we will repeatedly face situations in our own lives and the lives of others that bring us back pretty regularly, and sometimes poignantly, to that last one.

Two words are “the answer.” Free will. Of this, I am sure.

And two more points here, one of which I know, and one of which I believe. 1) “Knowing” the philosophical answer to the “problem of pain,” does not take away pain. Agonizing pain is still agonizing. 2) With all of my heart, I believe that our deepest pain hurts our Father even more than it hurts us.

In The Cross of Christ, John R. W. Stott asks, “In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”

He writes, “I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, . . . detached from the agonies of the world.”

But he continues, “Each time after a while I have had to turn away . . . to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, . . . plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.”

God suffers to one day end all suffering.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Why Does a Good and Powerful God Allow Suffering?

 

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It’s one of the oldest questions in the world. And maybe the hardest: How can a completely good and powerful God allow suffering?

The question ranks among the handful that truly matter. As the question asked most often, most poignantly, in the midst of the deepest shock, pain, and perplexity, it defies the easy answers we let leak from our lips when we’re short of answers and our highest wisdom would be silence. Pain is the solvent that melts away glib answers, plastic platitudes. The real answer, like all real answers, is not easy.

It is given through tears. It requires rephrasing the question: “How can a good, powerful, and loving God not allow suffering?”

When God created humanity in his own image, he gave us the gift we call “free will” which gives life and love meaning but necessarily carries the possibility of pain. Unlike puppets dangling from a divine string, puppets who could never make the wrong move or dance the wrong dance, we can choose for good or evil. If the terrible choice for hate and evil and despair were no option at all, would choosing for love and goodness and hope mean anything at all? Only in a free universe are our choices invested with real meaning and significance as they open our lives up to genuine joy.

Would the love of your spouse so warm your heart if they had no choice but to give it? Would the hugs of your four-year-old daughter so light up your life if there were no possibility she might choose to turn away? Would our love of the God of all joy and light mean anything if he had not given us the freedom to choose to spurn him and follow evil and the Prince of Darkness instead? Real choices must have real consequences.

It’s one thing to ask those questions when life seems good. It’s quite another to ask them when the whole fabric of your universe seems to have been ripped into shreds, and pain and evil and wickedness seem to have won the day. Most of us have seen such times. And all of us will. But thank God himself that we have also seen the awesome power of goodness, fierce love, and nobility even in the midst of the deepest pain.

It’s a truth that rips our hearts apart, but God himself could not create a universe where beauty and goodness could mean anything real if there were no possibility of evil and thus pain.

To seek an easy answer is to ask to be deluded. The answer of the Christian faith—not of the sideshow barkers who often claim to speak for our faith—is anything but easy. God is so good, so powerful, so loving that through his own unfathomable pain, he took our hurt into himself. Literally. Genuinely. Powerfully. Forever. Christ’s sacrifice means that one eternal day pain and suffering will be forever banished. Oh, Lord, come quickly, and may it be so!

“Weeping may tarry for the night,” writes the Psalmist, “but joy comes in the morning.”

Dear God, when we or those we love are walking through an exceedingly dark and difficult night, grant the faith, the strength, and the vision only you can give us to look up for the light of the morning and trust that it will come.

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Reminder That God’s Light Is Always There

 

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As if it happened yesterday. That’s how clearly I remember the experience I’m about to relate. Not wanting to make too much of it, I’d hate to make the opposite mistake by failing to say to the Giver, thank you.

By the way, the weather guy is predicting ridiculously high winds and detestable blowing dust today. He didn’t say “ridiculous” and “detestable,” but they will be. Around here, weather folks rarely ever miss when they predict wind and dust, apart from which, our climate would be almost perfect, which I suppose is like saying that Jack the Ripper would’ve been a fine guy except for the unfortunate murderous streak in his nature. Anyway, living here we deal with it.

In this fallen world, trouble is like blowing dirt in west Texas; it goes with the territory. And we all go through seasons when the difficulty is particularly painful.

My family and I have been incredibly blessed, so as I give you the background to my simple story, I don’t mean to whine, just to tell the truth. It was the sort of time everyone faces from time to time. You’ve been there (or, sorry, if you’ve not been, you will). The difficulty driving you nuts tends to be the last thing you think of when you go to bed and the first thing you think of when you wake up. That’s the bad news; the good news, and you’ve probably also learned this, is that such times force you to more prayer. And prayer, even when it may well have more to do with desperation than “righteousness,” is not at all a bad beginning and ending of the day.

But even prayer has its temptations. Lengthy prayers in the midst of some difficult times can be a mistake. Short ones are the ticket. The long kind too easily become just one more way you allow yourself to wallow in the mud rather than to trust in the Almighty.

So I waked up that day and, true to form, picked up the problem. I wandered into the living room, sat on the hearth, and, frustrated at myself for being so faithless and, truth be told, impatient with the Almighty’s seeming slowness to deal with the difficulty, just breathed a rather ticked off petition, “Oh, Lord, can you just get us through this!?”

And that’s when—that’s exactly when—as the whispered words were still hanging in the air and barely out of my mouth, the deliciously warm, blindingly brilliant shaft of sunlight blazed through the window and hit me in the face.

It was both amazing and surprising, and not. From several mornings’ experience, I knew that, at that exact time, the sun and our windows are lined up. The sunlight washes over the cross hanging in our window and emblazons in a field of flaming gold yet another cross, its shadow, on the opposite wall.

So most of what happened was really no surprise; it was just, once more, breathtakingly beautiful. But the light hitting me in the face, right at that moment? A complete surprise.

I’d not call it a miracle, just a very nice gift and much-needed reminder that even in windblown, dark times, God’s children live in the warmth and light of the cross. Sometimes I need to be hit in the face by the light of his brilliant beauty to make me remember that it’s always there.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

  

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


“Give Thanks in All Circumstances”

 

thankful01 “O most gracious God,” wrote the eloquent sufferer, “on this sickbed I feel under your correction, and I taste of humiliation, but let me taste of consolation, too.”

John Donne, poet and priest, so wrote in one of his “devotions” in 1623. In Christianity Today some fifteen years ago, Philip Yancey shared a brief edited, somewhat modernized, excerpt of Donne’s “Devotions.”

As Yancey explains, Donne had fallen seriously ill. Not unreasonably, he assumed he had contracted the bubonic plague, the scourge filling graves with masses of people during those dark days. The “Black Death” had made its presence unmistakable. London’s church bells tolled “dolefully,” and Donne wrote his famous poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” reminding his readers that the loss of anyone is a loss to us all. So, don’t ask “for whom the bell tolls,” he penned, “it tolls for thee.”

In his “Devotions” (as Yancey shares them), Donne writes of all the blessings God has given.

“Nature reaches out her hand and offers corn, and wine, and oil, and milk; but it was you [God] who filled the hand of nature with such bounty.”

Donne thanks God for the blessings that come from fruitful labor, and he acknowledges that, no matter how hard and well the laborer has worked, it is God who guides and “gives the increase.”

He thanks the Lord for friends who “reach out their hands to support us,” even as he acknowledges, “but your hand supports the hand we lean on.”

I’m continually amazed at how suffering is used by some as Exhibit A against God, at the very same time as others, passing “through the fire,” eventually come out with faith strengthened and “tempered.”

On his sickbed, Donne writes, “Once this scourge has persuaded us that we are nothing of ourselves, may it also persuade us that you are all things unto us.”

In striking contrast to the verbal drizzle of those who promise health and wealth to the faithful, or to those whose “faith” is in consumer religion as long as it “meets their [most shallow] needs,” Donne reminds us that when God’s own Son on the cross “cried out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ you reached out your hand [Lord,] not to heal his sad soul, but to receive his holy soul.” And Jesus surrendered his soul to his Father in trust.

Donne would recover. His sickness was not the plague. But before he knew the certainty of the outcome, he was certain of his hope: “Whether you will bid my soul to stay in this body for some time, or meet you this day in paradise, I ask not.”

But he wrote his confidence: “I can have no greater proof of your mercy than to die in you and by that death be united in him who died for me.”

Following the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18) is not even a little easy. But if our lives show that our faith is in God—not in luck or our own power or circumstances—we will learn that easy lives and blessed lives are not the same thing. And not just our own faith will strengthened and affirmed, and not just our own lives will be blessed by that trust.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Suffering Is Often What Makes Growth Possible

 

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We know it, don’t we? We don’t like it, but we know it: we grow through suffering.

We dislike the accompanying book-end truth almost as badly: too much unbroken ease, comfort, and “success” constitute far more serious dangers to our souls than suffering and difficulty ever do.

Author Philip Yancey says that the amazing German theologian and pastor Helmut Thielicke was asked, years ago after an extensive tour of the United States, what he considered to be the greatest “defect” of Christians in America. His reply? “They have an inadequate view of suffering.”

Not just mistaken. Or wrong. Or misguided or naïve. Not just faulty or illogical. He might have truly said any of those things.

But the word he chose was “inadequate.” Just the right word, I think. Weak. Not up to the task. Not strong enough. Not able to stand the stress of any kind of real test.

A bridge may look fine. It may even look beautiful. But the only way to truly determine its strength is by testing it. Drive something heavy across it. See if it stands when gale-force winds lash it and waves beat against it. If its strength is illusory, you’ll soon know. If it is inadequate to a real test, that truth will soon be made obvious.

Now, real testing is never enjoyable. The tests that come to bridges, cultures, and individual lives are no fun at all. But come they do, and come they will.

In “The Lord’s Prayer,” we’re taught to pray simply for such earthly and non-glitzy concerns as our “daily bread” and, immediately, for what we need daily just as badly, the forgiveness we covet for ourselves and, inseparably linked to it, the mercy we desperately need to extend to others. Do we want mercy? The test comes in how willing we are to extend it.

But then comes another daily need, a recurring petition, “Lead us not into temptation.”

I’m told that perhaps a better rendering would be, “Lead us not into hard testing,” a petition I think many of us find ourselves praying with deeper poignancy the longer we live, particularly at those times when that cow’s already pretty much out of the barn. Times when, though we’ve no doubt the “testing” and trial could get even harder (with all of our hearts we pray for mercy that it won’t), we know for sure that it is already very, very hard.

Then with the psalmist we also pray earnestly, “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge / until this time of trouble has gone by” (57:1). And we pray that, if the suffering must be endured, “Dear God, may we not miss the shaping, the molding, the tempering that your Spirit can work in our souls only when the fire is hot and the anvil hard.”

In his fine book (what a title!) Creative Suffering, the faith-full Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier writes, “That which disturbs our lives, puts us out, irritates us, annoys us, affects us, makes us suffer—severely sometimes—does not make us grow and develop, but does make growth and development possible, on condition, of course, that we are not destroyed by it . . .”

Talk about an “inconvenient truth.” But true nonetheless.

 

 

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Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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