Beautiful Suffering

I’ve had this realization lately:

Life doesn’t have to be happy.

In fact, if life is happy all the time, there is something seriously wrong. Over the past few months, I’ve been going through some tough stuff. As I’ve sat down with a few trusted friends to share small pieces of the things I've been facing, the question that is often asked of me is, What are you doing to make the pain go away?

This is a pretty normal question to be asked. I mean, haven’t all of us been that friend sitting across the table from someone, drinking coffee, listening to the friend share her woes, and then brainstorming with that friend the ways to make her situation happy again? The “here’s how we fix this” conversations are just completely, absolutely, 100% normal in our culture. For the most part, we don’t see any other way to approach these situations. I mean, if you’re in pain, then you should find a way to escape that pain, right?

But – is that right?

I’m starting to think it’s not. I’m starting to think that actually, it’s completely, totally wrong.

Jesus Christ the Messiah came to earth with the purpose of enduring the most agonizing pain and death in order to make a way for us to be right with God. He was mocked, ridiculed, betrayed, scorned, whipped, tortured, and killed. This is God we are talking about. He absolutely, 100% could have found a way out. He could’ve said, “Forget this, these people aren’t worth it. I’m going back to my Father,” and left the pain to return to glory. But He didn’t.

We are told time and time again that we are to follow the example of Christ. And the Bible doesn’t hold back any punches when explaining what this means. Here are a few samples of what we’re told in scripture about what it looks like to be a Christ-follower:

Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 1 Timothy 3:12, NLT

For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. Philippians 1:29, NLT

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. 1 Peter 4:12-13, NLT

To follow Christ is to be willing to endure pain. It’s just that simple. Here in the western world, I am realizing that we have really lost sight of this. We have come to Christ for the benefits He can give us, for the rewards and the promise of heaven. We come to him expecting Him to be our genie who fixes everything and makes us successful, then we pat Him on the shoulder and say, Thanks man. That was so nice of you.

Now don’t get me wrong, God wants to bless you so you can be a blessing! But this doesn’t mean He’s promising a life without pain.

Believers in other parts of the world see this so much more clearly than we do. And I’ve really been coming to the realization (thank you, Lord) that we in the comfortable Western world are given the opportunity to see things the way the persecuted Church does, if we are willing. In his book, Driven byEternity, John Bevere sums this up so well:

In many countries where Christians are persecuted, they come to Jesus knowing they are losing their lives. Today in Western societies, we come to Jesus for a better life and entrance into heaven. But we must lose our lives for His sake as well. (pg. 89)

But how do we, in our comfort, take part willingly in losing our lives for the sake of Christ? One very practical, very real aspect of this is discipline. I believe that there are many of you out there who, like me, are genuinely saying to the Lord, Make me more like You. Prune me and mold me with Your character. I want to be like Christ. But then, when we are faced with a difficult situation, a situation where the Lord is actually trying to answer our prayers of pruning and molding, we walk away because we don’t recognize that God allowed this circumstance into our lives so that we could become more like Him. We walk away because we are in pain, and we have been groomed to believe that pain is bad.

I really believe that there would be a revolution, a revival, in our western churches if we could recognize this kind of pain as being good, if we could see with clarity that God is putting us into seasons of discipline and pain on purpose so that we can become more like Him, so we can be used for all  of the purposes He has prepared in advance for us to do.

I have definitely been in a season of discipline. It’s been a time of pain and growth unlike I’ve anything I’ve ever experienced, and I thank God because I do believe it’s because He opened my eyes to recognize what was truly happening, so I haven’t opted out or run away from the pain. Instead, I’ve opened my heart to the pain as God has been teaching me so many lessons – lessons about unfailing love, about trusting in Him fully, lessons about humility and a willingness to be unseen. 

These lessons have been so hard, so painful. I’ve cried endless tears and I have been very open with God about how I feel. And I keep hearing Him say to me, Yes, I know. Well done. It hurts so much, but you’re choosing to endure it and submit to it anyway. And so, you are becoming like Me. You are learning that to live is CHRIST, and to die is gain. Your flesh is dying, so I am being renewed in you more and more each day (see Philippians 1:21 and 2 Corinthians 4:16).

So no, I don’t believe the goal of life is happiness. The goal of life is Christ. And if we live in such a way as to embrace suffering with joy more than we chase happiness, our reward in heaven will be beyond compare. Let me close with these words of Christ. Without this perspective shift, these words are so hard to understand, but my dear prayer as I write this is that now you will understand what He is saying – that a life lived for comfort will end in despair, because it will have missed the point. It will have pursued the praise of men and the comfort of temporary pleasure.  But a life lived with an expectancy of the pain that comes with following Christ – that will end in an eternity of joy and reward, because it will have been lived with the right perspective, that Christ is everything.

“What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.

 “What sorrow awaits you who are rich,
    for you have your only happiness now.
“What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now,
    for a time of awful hunger awaits you.
What sorrow awaits you who laugh now,
    for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow.
“What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds,
    for their ancestors also praised false prophets.”

-Jesus, Luke 6:22-26, NLT

Here’s to a life of beautiful pain. May the revolution begin. <3