Friday, March 23, 2007

Don’t Waste Your Suffering

Not a Sermon - Just a Thought

The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. is a mind-numbing depiction of the vast suffering of the Jewish people during Hitler's reign. A tour begins with a ride in an elevator of cold steel to the top floor. You slowly wind from top to bottom through the exhibit, spiraling downward as if you were tumbling into the collective Jewish conscious, sinking deeper and deeper into the darkness and evil of the holocaust. The walls are covered with images and artifacts of the terrible reign of power, as well as evidence of suffering and death for the Jewish people.

But on the very bottom floor you will find the powerful juxtaposition of evil and hope. Children's artwork captured on ceramic tiles forms a mosaic testament to the power of the human spirit to overcome even the darkest of evil and of suffering. Modern children have chosen to look at all the pain and suffering of the Holocaust and turn it into a beautiful work of art. It is not some unbridled optimism when I say this, but what we choose to do with evil and suffering matters. And we do have choices!

You may be stuck with a situation, condition, or illness that you cannot reverse, but what you choose to do in that situation can change the outcome of the story. You can choose to blame God, to blame others, to blame evil forces, to blame the government, to blame your parents, to blame yourself. You can choose to wallow in the mud of martyrdom, you can choose to allow your story of suffering to become your own little ad campaign for depression and constant wailing, you can choose to remain stuck and do nothing.

You can choose those things.

But you can also choose to draw closer to God in your suffering. For when you do, you are able to experience the mystery of a God who suffers with us. You can choose to draw closer to family and friends in your suffering. For when you do, you are able to experience the strength of true community that shares pain. You can choose to be the person God made you to be, writing a story that includes a chapter of suffering, but not be limited by suffering. For when you do, your life can be defined by your response to suffering.

This is not stoicism. I’m not saying to clench your jaw to “grin and bear it.” But do not let pain and suffering define you. Instead, define it. Allow God to use the pain like a tool to shape your final outcome, to shape your relief, to capture you as a portrait of perseverance. For you are a work of art, full of light and shadows, hope and struggle. Your suffering can be wasted or put to use in God’s reign, if you choose.

I’ll be talking about this in more depth this Sunday at Willow Meadows Baptist Church. We’ll gather at 9am and 11:10am for worship that will include a sermon entitled Don’t Waste Your Suffering. It’s based on that tricky Pauline passage, Romans 8.28-30. Hope to see you there.

Pastor Gary

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Romans 8.28-30 – New International Version
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.


Mayden's Voyage said...

My goodness- this was beautiful...
thank you~
I needed to read this tonight. said...

i have pondered the question of suffering, in my former life as a registered nurse. i saw much suffering. incredible, grotesque suffering. and the experience of losing my youngest son had me question the purpose once again.

and the conclusion i've reached ... almost 10 years after losing my son ... and after giving up nursing ... the purpose is not mine to question. i must just travel the road, and know i never walk alone.

indeed you make a such a point here. and ... i have reached the conclusion that our suffering occurs for the purposes of others. it is a hard concept to wrap one's head around, tho, in the throws of excruciating physical and/or emotional pain. and .... for us who witness, its also a hard concept to wrap our heads around the fact that not all suffering can be, or will be alleviated.

suffering indeed helps us grow and builds our character, if only we can move thru it ... and not get swallowed up by it. it also, i believe, knocks us down a peg or two on the arrogance scale. to witness suffering ... and feel the real humility that comes with it ... a very spiritual experience i found.

helen keller said ... "when one door of happiness closes, another opens, but we look so long at the closed door, that we do not see the one that has been opened for us."

so true.

ps. one need not go as far as the holocaust museum in DC to witness suffering. one only need to the poor, slummy parts of your city. suffering surrounds us. we must witness it, rather than look away.