Suffering. We are both its creator and victim.
Being a Christian implies forgiving people that hurt you, even when they don’t deserve it. Then again none of us “deserve” forgiveness. Come on, let’s be honest; even when we know we should forgive, the context of our story can get in the way. Forgiving can be so frustrating.
Suffering is a reality we all wish never existed. We try our hardest to flee from its sight. Repulsed by its touch and sickened with its embrace. Rarely do we see it coming like an impending storm that’s been building before it hits and we can at least prepare for it.
Mostly, out of nowhere it assaults us like a venomous snake attempting to fill our hearts and minds with deadly poison; especially our spirits. It wraps around us, squeezing the life out of us. We want to be free from its clutches, free from its influences, from its pain. But we can’t. It is a part of us, a byproduct of what we are. An integral part of our fallen world. We ARE both its creator and its victim.
I could write a list of victims that fell prey to my past behaviors and bad choices. I can also write a list of sufferings I have endured as a victim…two failed marriages because of my ex’s adulteries, three miscarriage experiences, bipolar episodes and their aftermaths, abandonment by whom I thought were close friends, false allegations of child abuse, years of fighting for my children and being separated from them, I could on. The worst, separated and alienated from God.
I was 19 and had been out of school for a year. My girlfriend was 18 and had just graduated high school. We married that very same weekend after we had been dating for three years. Fast forward almost a year. Our marriage and relationship was not the same. I worked and went school. It soon became to the point that I rarely knew what she was doing and with who.
One allegation. I needed confirmation of the truth. One confession. One decision. Another allegation. Did my wife and best friend whom I grew up with since childhood betray me? Another confession. I made my decision and walked away. I suffered the sting of betrayal for years allowing its poison to bleed onto others.
Years later remarried. Allegations a second time only to be denied. I was asked to leave under the claim I was dangerous to our children because of my bipolar. A phone call months later after the divorce by my ex-father-in-law confirmed the allegations. The worst suffering, separation from my children.
I was wounded and suffered. I trusted no one and nurtured my bitterness and anger as if they were my source of life. The very sound of my ex’s voice or mention of name and I would get enraged. Bitterness was just too easy. Anger felt so right. But suffering was heavy and the wounds were so deep.
Brokenness can destroy us. Wounds can cure, but they can also kill. Too much trouble can shackle us to borderland, bury us there; especially when the wound is in the heart. A friend betrays us. Another deserts us. A colleague undermines. A spouse is unfaithful. A child turns their back on us.
Sometimes our wounds are inflicted to spite us, other times in spite of us. Some are acts of vengeance, but some are acts of indifference, done without us in mind at all.
What about when our deepest heart wounds have been inflicted by people who never set out to hurt us? When they themselves are victims. Is it worse? At some point they stop caring that what they have done would hurt. You have become beside the point. Your existence ceases to matter. The importance you believed you occupied in the heart of the other, the place of cherishing you thought was reserved for you, turned out to be a myth.
These are personal wounds, against us, a canceling out of who we are. Yet they lack the sense of impersonal randomness of a madman’s wounds. Either way; our wounds inflict to spite us, wounds inflict in spite of us, and they are killing wounds.
If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
If a foe were raising himself against me,
I could hide from.
But it is you, a man like me,
My companion, my close friend,
With whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
As we walked with the throng at the house of God
David knew what it was like to suffer at the hands of those close to him. He cried out to God knowing full well God understood and only He could provide the comfort David so desperately needed.
Suffering exposes our true character–what we are on the inside. It either reveals the beauty of a Christ like character or brings to light the ugliness of our sinful nature. I wish I could humbly proclaim that my past reflected a Christ likeness. But all too often I have let the strength of my human nature over power my good intentions.
Suffering can bring out of us those wicked attitudes and actions that we thought were dead or reveal dimensions of our character we never knew existed. Suffering is no respecter of persons. Its wounds we all share, crossing all economic, religious and racial lines. We live in an unsafe world.
I have come to realize, to our downfall, most western Christian approach suffering from a secular worldview. We make happiness and prosperity our prizes for our existence making suffering a cruel obstacle.
The point of suffering is to not get through it, or get over it, or learn to prevent it, or even make it go away. I will not have triumphed over suffering the day I forget my grief. The point of suffering is not to wallow in it or let it determine our goodness. The point of suffering is not to teach us a lesson (although we can learn many lessons through it). The point of suffering is to walk with Christ, in the moments before salvation was accomplished, treasuring His pain, taking it as our own. In experiencing the Cross, we experience blessings.
These wounds we share. These wounds are deep. Can they cure us? Not, “Can we be cured of them?” But, can they, that are messy, dirty us, and are poisoned; can they themselves cure us? Is it ever possible to find that a wound inflicted, no matter if it’s knowingly or unknowingly, to kill us, a personal wound, give us life? Can suffering be a source of life?
My belief; yes, but it’s not easy.
The suffering we inflict and the wounds inflicted on us ultimately find their mark; literally find their mark, in Christ: “See the marks in my hands. Put your hand there.” These wounds we give and receive are gathered into the wounds He took. It was the prophet Isaiah who said, “By his wounds we are healed.”
We gave those wounds. We lunged the spear, brandished the hammer, and lashed the whip, pressed down the thorns. We did it. By the very wounds we inflicted, we are healed.
Suffering is one of God’s deepest forms of intimacy. The weight of the world’s sickness and sin was braided into a whip and brought down on Jesus’ back. It was woven into a thorny crown and pushed on His head. It was shaped into rough wood and pressed hard on His thin body. It was forged into cold metal and driven through the spot of His hands.
Some of the hardest decisions in our lives are not whether to walk away from something, but whether or not to become bitter or broken. Both are born out of being wounded. Out of suffering. Bitterness leads to bondage which seeps its poison out onto every aspect of our lives. Brokenness leads to forgiveness. Through forgiveness comes freedom.
It took much effort and a lot prayer, but eventually I forgave my ex-wife for her affair and false child abuse allegations. Today we have recon ciliated and are able to co-parent our children. Some years ago I had forgiven my first wife for her “in discrepancies.” Today we consider each other friends. Some years later after the event my ex-best friend and I reconciled. Although we drifted apart, but not as a falling out or anything similar. The relationship just wasn’t the same.
Forgiveness can be painful. It will downright hurt in the midst of suffering. It’s the last thing we want to do. But what I have learned is that each time we choose to forgive, freely give, I am set free and healing can begin. That’s how wounds heal.
Christ wears His scars on His sleeves. He showed them off. They are for all mankind to see. I wear my scars on my sleeves. Literal scars as a result of an attempted suicide. I wear my scars because I am proud of who I have become, not who I used to be. These scars remind me that with God, I can conquer all things. And through Him, healing for all my suffering is possible.
My failures, mistakes and wounds are NOT my most treasured moments, but because of His love, I have a living testimony of redemption and grace.