Our pastor spoke today about suffering and I think he did a really good job. As you can imagine, since I have chronic migraine, this is a topic of interest to me. So, here is a copy of an email that I sent our pastor this evening. You can listen to the sermon later this week at www.faithwaupaca.org.
"So, really appreciated your sermon. Suffering is something that I've done a lot of reading and studying about in the last ten years. I appreciate how delicately and candidly you approached the subject. The Bible says so much about suffering, but we need to read it carefully in context and not deploy it like a weapon on those who are in the midst of suffering. Yes, the Bible says that suffering develops character, but when I have a 10/10 migraine and I'm vomiting is probably not the time to mention it!
I like how you pointed out that we groan in suffering and that Jesus also did that. There is nothing wrong with accepting where we are in life as long as we understand that we are always to walk forward with Jesus. Jesus tells us "blessed are those who mourn" and Paul tells us to "mourn with those who mourn". Clearly, we aren't to always put on a brave face. Our sorrow in our circumstances does not embarrass God. He can handle that his children are in dire straits sometimes. God can handle my crying during a migraine. He's got this.
I'm also glad that you didn't take the Piper-esque "Don't waste your cancer" tack. Certainly God can and does use our suffering for our good and his glory, but when we are in the midst of suffering, Jesus never says in the Gospels that we are to buck up and figure out how to witness to the rest of the world when our world is falling apart. The Holy Spirit is called our Comforter for a reason. When life is hard, God is with us. Jesus walks with us in the dark places. When we are ready to re-evaluate our situation, God is there for us to use the lesson we learned from our suffering to reach out to the rest of the world. But, that's not the first thing we do when we suffer.
During the first five years of my chronic migraine, I didn't have the wherewithal to minister to other people. I was doing well to take care of my family. As I've lived these last five to seven years with this illness, I'm no less tired and in no less pain, but I've learned how to manage my illness and I'm much more able to reach out to the world around me. (And let me tell you, if suffering build character, I've got plenty!) Suffice it to say that I have a couple of small areas of ministry that I can manage right now. I'm not setting the world on fire, but now I can use my illness to do good in the world and let Jesus' love shine to more people than just my family.
People who are suffering are fragile. Sometimes physically, but almost always emotionally. When someone is suffering, we as the church need to come alongside them and hold them up as they get through the difficult times ahead. And we know that Jesus is working in all of us as we act like the body of Christ that we are.
Eric, thanks so much for focusing on the things that we needed to learn and how we can help each other instead of just on the final reward of perseverance and character."
That's what I sent to our pastor. What do you think?