Merciful Suffering

It’s the wrong season, I know.  The weather grows colder, the air turns.  The sky is filled with yellows and golds and the street, if you live anywhere near the east coast, is littered with those Starbucks red cups with remnants of some kind of caloric nightmare of mocha/mint/gingerbread something or other.  There are already hints of it in stores and on commercials and in counting how many shopping weekends are left to save.  The advent is coming, and it never fails that with each passing year I cannot visit the child in the manger without getting caught up in the crucifixion.

On a much smaller scale, it’s exactly like going to see Titanic in the theater when I was in the 7th grade.  I wept at the opening- the grand sweeping staircase, the jewelry and the gowns, the clinking of glasses and the rubbing of elbows.  I knew it would all be gone, that those people who were someone’s mother or brother or lover or friend would have to endure a kind of suffering no one should have to experience.  It was a bit deep for a 13 year old, but that’s how I roll.

These last few days I have been fixated on the death of Christ.  Well, rather, the night before.  As a public forum, all of you have been privy to most of the suffering we’ve endured over the last few years.  Part of what I love most about this type of venue is that it feels like an instant bridge between peoples-  unfinished, unedited, a bit raw and perhaps peppered with grammatical errors, but truthful in it’s content.  We have suffered.  I have questioned why.  Here, in fact.  And it’s led me to the garden of Gethsemane every, single time.  But tonight, in a new way.

I was always taught that it was this cry, from Jesus to his Father to let the cup of death pass him by, that made him the most human and the most divine.  We can know that Jesus suffered.  This in and of itself was supposed to be a comfort.  That He suffered.  That He knew what it felt like.  May I be completely frank in that, that fact was never a comfort to me.  I wish it was.  It would certainly be more, well, Christian, I suppose.

Something happened to me recently as I was reading the same passage in Matthew over and over.  I read when he asked his friends to stay and pray for him.  When he was over taken with sorrow.  When he begged his Dad not to let this happen to him.  But I never read the silence after.  I never read the fact that though Jesus, who was sinless still had to LEARN through suffering.  That to become close to His Father, to be Mercy to the world, to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the ONLY way was to LEARN through suffering. Though he was fully God and fully man, His Father still had something to teach him.

If Christ, the only sinless man, still could not forgo the lessons of suffering in order to walk in the abundance of all His Father had planned for Him, and for us, how is it we think that our own lives, not absent of sin, should be absent of suffering? That we could live a life fully redeemed, fully abundant, full of joy without learning the merciful ways of suffering? Could this be what this means? That to consider it pure joy when we encounter suffering of any kind because suffering is the only way through which we access the fullness of who we are in God, and who He is to us.  Christ’s suffering for us was God’s mercy.  His suffering was Merciful.  Could ours not be the same?

I would never, not ever wish suffering on anyone I love.  In fact, I am human and would prefer to not experience it again for myself.  But I have seen it, and lived through it and have known deeply the impact that suffering has had on my identity in Jesus.  And I can see His hand of mercy- that even some acts of the suffering itself have in fact, been examples of His mercy on my life and on others- to draw me closer, to let me breathe deeper of my inheritance, my daughterhood.  I know He wants all good things for His children.  Sometimes, the good looks like new jobs and sold houses and healthy children and sometimes, it looks like suffering.  But it is all, all mercy.

He is always good.


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