Suffer

~ bind my wandering heart to thee ~

At Baylor University’s Line Camp for incoming freshmen every summer, we discuss our top five strengths according to Clifton’s StrengthsFinder test. We integrate these into a discussion based on our story and testimonies. As a student leader on a different kind of line camp – Missions Line Camp in Guatemala – we also incorporated discussing our strengths from a servant-leader standpoint.

Connectedness is one of my top five strengths. Here’s a blurb from Clifton’s description of what it means to be strong in a connectedness theme: (it’s okay to skip over this)

“Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. But whatever your word of choice, you gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from one another or from the earth and the life on it. This feeling of Connectedness implies certain responsibilities. If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit because we will be exploiting ourselves. Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system. You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures. Sensitive to the invisible hand, you can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives. The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life’s mysteries.”

In summary, I am very certain that everything happens for a reason. Every trouble, conflict, miracle, love, hate, friendship, etc. happens for a reason. We are not here on accident. We have a purpose. We have a set plan written and designed by our intricately intentional Lord. The way Clifton phrased this strength has given me a way to better reflect on my own life and that of events taking place in our world now. But even though I “know” that everything really does happen for a reason, it’s still difficult to grasp and really know that this is true.

A few weeks ago, my friend was just skimming Twitter and saw someone tweet something along the lines of: “[in regards to Hurricane Harvey] where’s your God now, Christians? If he’s so good, why is this happening?”

Great question, random citizen. Why would a supposedly good God allow such tragedy happen to innocent people? Well, here’s my 19 year old attempt in answering that.

Jesus led a perfect life. A life filled with temptations similar to what we face today, but even more so. He also lived a life with no shortage of suffering. We always give Jesus such pretty titles: Jesus, man of love; Jesus, man of grace; Jesus, man of miracles. While these are all true, we tend to forget that He also faced many conflicts and needless mockery. Jesus, a PERFECT man, was beaten. Jesus, a man who told NO lies and was SO precious, was mocked and tortured. His whole life was not pretty and glamorous. Jesus suffered. And so must we.

There is nowhere in the Bible that lends the idea that we, as followers of Christ, will lead easy lives. There is NOWHERE in the Bible that says we will not make acquaintances with adversity or look in the eye of tragedy. In fact, it says quite the opposite. Paul hits on this in 2 Corinthians…

“This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

…as well as in Acts:

 “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.'”

Acts 9:15-16

In fact, much of the early church wanted to suffer for the name of Christ. Many early Christians made it a point to live their life to eventually become a martyr. Suffering was a sign of true devotion to Christ and His ministry. As for me, suffering has played an integral part in developing my own individual relationship with our Lord. Growing up, I lived in a seasonally Christian household; we went to church when we woke up on time and kind of held the whole CEO Christian lifestyle (for those of you not hip to the lingo, CEO = Christmas and Easter Only). I couldn’t tell you the books of the Bible, I could only tell you a handful of the Sunday school stories, and had no idea what a relationship with God looked like.

Well, let me tell ya, God had this whole crazy plan to turn my life upside down my senior year of high school and the beginning of my freshman year of college. I had relationships completely ripped out of my life. My images of people close to me were completely tarnished. My heart was broken several times. I felt a stronger urge to veer my car off the road than to talk to anyone. Depression became a huge chunk of my attention- not just within my own mind, but in others close to me. I saw my favorite person in the world become entirely broken. There was no upside.

In the midst of all of this, it is SO hard to see what possible good can come out of misery. While I was on Missions Line Camp this August in Guatemala, I was overcome with a very specific image of suffering. This little girl of about three years old wandered into my room sobbing and crying for her mom. She had no idea that she was at a malnutrition center; she had no idea that she was in the specific place she was in order for her to grow and heal. Instead, she was crying for the only thing that seemed to make sense in her little mind- her mama. This is exactly how it is with us! We get “stuck” in places that make no sense why we’re there- like depression, like misery, like in the face of tragedy. We cry out looking for lifelines and comfort; it is impossible for us to understand why are somewhere until we made it through and are looking back.

The joy I can now find in Jesus Christ outshines ALL of what I have seen and is yet to come. Because of my suffering, I have found the importance of leaning on Jesus and all that He is. He IS love. He IS grace. He IS a miracle worker. He also suffered. And my fellow humans, so must we.

In the end, the suffering that spans my life will have had the ultimate underlying goal: to bring me closer to Jesus so that I may also bring others closer to Him. My suffering is not meaningless. The victims of all these hurricanes’ suffering is not meaningless. Jesus’s suffering was DEFINITELY not meaningless. His suffering yielded salvation for people like me that do not deserve it!

That little girl was placed in the center for a reason. I suffered how I have for a reason. And y’all- suffering is so much easier and bearable with Jesus within your heart! He allows us to rest in joy and grace.

Ultimately, our God is a good God. While He does not necessarily want us to suffer, He knows that this is an imperfect world currently controlled by sinful humans like us. With imperfect people, there’s imperfect situations: like suicide, like storms. He lets the world do as it will, hoping and trying to get people to turn their eyes toward Him instead of within. Suffering is an opportunity to do just that.

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. ‘If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.’ Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master ‘ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

John 15:18-20

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sweet girl reaching to be picked up:) (no particular reason for this picture other than she’s precious and I miss her)
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