A recent study found that when completely healthy people discussed pain the part of the brain that copes with pain became very active. The conclusion that scientists came to is that talking about your pain can actually make things worse.
It got me to thinking that I really don’t have much suffering going on in my life. My life is good…pleasant. I have a comfortable home, my basic needs are met and I get the occasional night of Chinese take out and a Lindt candy bar to enjoy. I’m in love with my husband and he with me, we have five great kids and a wonderful church family. We have a fantastic school that our children attend so we’re part of a great community there. We’ve got good friends and good health. Life really is sweet.
But because I’m human and we all live in a fallen world I do face trials of various kinds. Some are hard, others harder, and some only exist inside my imagination. Some of my trials are worse than what some others face and some of mine don’t even begin to compare to the genuine suffering that some people endure on a daily basis.
So what does it look like to suffer well? To, as James goes on to say, remain steadfast under trial? The more I have pondered the more I have come to see what it does not look like.
I have a sweet young friend with three children under the age of three. Her husband works from early morning until early evening and yet you never hear her complain. Now it would be utterly ridiculous to assume that because she doesn’t complain must mean that she has no struggles and her life is like some kind of Disney movie where she only communicates with her children via song and birds help fold her laundry.
She has three children under the age of three. Of course she has various trials and sufferings! How could she not? She’s a sinner, her husband is a sinner, and so are her sweet beautiful children. But her struggle is not lessened by complaining. Her burden is not made any lighter because she makes sure everyone knows that the struggle is real, y’all. This is, I think, the gentle and quiet spirit that God deems beautiful.
Another friend has four children of her own, yet without hesitation she took on the child care of a friend’s little one when it became an urgent need. It’s not surprising to see her with another friend’s three littles when a day shift has been scheduled either. She has a gift for helping others in this way no matter the extra work it may create for her and she uses it to serve others.
Still another friend has suffered more than a few tragic miscarriages but I didn’t even know this for a long time. She doesn’t live in the pangs of the past constantly bringing up the horrible things she has gone through. But she does quietly use those hard and difficult experiences to minister to others when the time is right. This is how we comfort those with the comfort we ourselves have been given.
What I am getting at is that suffering well doesn’t look like complaining. If your circumstances are genuinely difficult you won’t need to constantly remind people…they’ll know. Suffering well doesn’t look like cutting yourself off from the outside world. It doesn’t shrink your world to what happens within the walls of your own home. Remaining steadfast under a trial means that you don’t hold onto and nurture the pain of the circumstances. And part of that is not constantly trying to prove that your suffering is worse than what someone else goes through. You know you’re not in some kind of competition and you can allow others to have their struggle without it invalidating yours or feeling the need to bring up your own hardships.
In Philippians we are told that suffering is a gift. And I think suffering well means that you accept the gift graciously seeking to glorify God through it. But that can be so hard to do! I know this. But God has told us how to do it.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus. ~ I Thessalonians 5:16-18
Give thanks. A grateful heart, one thankful even for the really hard stuff, the trials and the suffering is the key. Knowing that each and every moment we live is the will of God…how comforting and precious the thought!
Throughout Scripture the words thanksgiving and sacrifice can be found together. God doesn’t tell us that it will be easy but He does say,
“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” ~ Psalm 50:23
My prayer is that God will use these simple words of mine to encourage you as you walk through your various trials and sufferings. May you bear your burdens well and in a manner that is worthy of the calling He has given you.
This blog post on Thanksgiving is part of a blog circle I participate in each month. As my fellow blogging friends add their links I will share them here so you can enjoy the goodness.