One of the greatest benefits of this break was the opportunity it afforded me to glut myself on various books of the Bible. I loved having the time to sit down and wander straight through a minor prophet or a Pauline epistle, unalloyed by time constraints and to-do lists.
If I were to choose one theme with which God was repeatedly hitting me over the head with in most of my readings, it would be “the legitimacy of my suffering.”
You see, I tend to live with a mental ranking of suffering; martyrdom and torture belong to the top tier. Starvation and other physical injustices are on the second tier. Losses of loved ones are third, followed by other traumatic losses (ie: loss of a house during a flood). Depending on the level of trauma, these can change tiers a bit here and there, but they comprise the main categories of suffering in my mind.
According to these criteria, I have never suffered in my life. I’m a middle-class, highly educated white girl who was so pampered as to have grown up in a culture that has enriched me mightily, while simultaneously retaining citizenship to one of the most privileged nations in the world. I complain about not having any money while living off of more money in a week than some families have to live off of in three months. I know. Whine about it, Lauren.
I’m starting to think, though, that ‘suffering’ may be a bit more subjective than my neat little rating system. In the first chapters of both James and I Peter, the authors mention “trials of many kinds.” They don’t delineate between which trials are legitimate and which just need to be sucked up and dealt with. (Actually, I would go one step further and say that it’s actively sinful for a Christian to just “suck up” any kind of pain in his or her life without bringing it before the Father–if that pain stems from sin, confession is in order. If it stems from living in a sinful world, He offers comfort, strength and a new perspective. “God helps those who help themselves” stems from Greek mythology, not Scripture).
Certainly the sufferings I encounter are different than those encountered by, say, Richard Wurmbrand, the early church, or what Christians in Iran have begun to experience in the past two weeks. And while that should inspire me to pray fervently for those who are suffering trials that are more obviously painful than my own, it does not mean that I ought to shrug off the pain I may be experiencing. The mindset I so frequently have (“This isn’t suffering. . .this just sucks”) serves a two-fold purpose.
First of all, it keeps me from being able to experience the comfort and help the Father offers to those who are in need. I often refuse to pray about situations that I think I should be able to handle because they aren’t valid or ‘spiritual’ sufferings (Pride, meet readers. . .readers, pride!). The most natural result of this asinine action is frustration with myself for giving credence to “illegitimate” pain and bitterness toward God for making me go through such apparently benefit-free affliction.
This, in turn, leads to the second consequence–that of depriving God of glory (oh, hullo, sin) and myself of growth and blessing (stupidity what?). I can’t rejoice in sufferings that I won’t acknowledge; God’s sufficiency won’t be revealed in my life if I won’t admit that I need Him. And then I’m not privy to the benefits of suffering (the development of character, faith, deeper intimacy with and dependence upon God, and so on and so forth). Furthermore, if I don’t consider my various trials as “suffering,” I manage to avoid the biblical injunction to rejoice in times of trial. It’s a nifty little maneuver of semantics that I think will fail to hold a lot of weight at them pearly gates.
I hope I don’t sound as though I’m eager to raise up a generation of whiners who are eager to exaggerate a hangnail into suffering. . .indeed, whining is an inappropriate response to all suffering, hangnail-related or otherwise. But I am ashamed to think of all the times I have robbed God of glory and the chance to love and comfort me as He yearns to do, merely because I compared my trials and pains to those of someone else and found them to be inconsequential.