Cornerstone

“God's Word shows us that suffering well is not about presenting endless positivity, but pouring out our hearts to the Lord and receiving His grace in all our felt weaknesses.”

It goes without saying that this has been a very difficult time for us individually, as a community, as a nation, and as a world. In my longing (my battle, really) to be faithful to the Lord through this season, I have struggled with the question of what it means to suffer well in this time of COVID. These are three of the biggest questions I’ve asked along those lines, and the sweet comfort I find when I look to Scripture for answers. 

1.     Does suffering well mean not having or not verbalizing negative feelings?

Perhaps some of you have felt the same emotions I have felt: unusually deep sadness, at times a strong desire to somehow escape, or an indescribably deep discomfort. Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking, “If I really knew how to suffer well, I wouldn’t feel negative feelings. If I was really spiritual, I’d be immune from them.” I fear it’s what we unintentionally communicate to each other with well-intended phrases of encouragement: “Have faith! Stay positive!” Somehow this translates in my mind into, “Don’t ever make mention of how hard things feel for you.” While some good intent certainly revolves around trying not to complain and practice gratitude, this can also be incredibly isolating, build barriers between us, God, and our community when we are hurting, and ultimately be more a show of pride rather than humility.

I find comfort when I look at the examples of both the Apostle Paul as well as our Lord Jesus Himself. 

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-8, the Apostle Paul describes some kind of affliction he suffers at the hand of Satan which causes so much suffering that Paul pleads with the Lord not just once, not just twice, but three times for removal of this affliction. Paul is not hesitant about entreating the Lord for relief from the hardship. The Lord Jesus also demonstrates for us a validation of - and freedom to express - feelings of agony. In Matthew 26:37-44, Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and also pleads three times with the Father to take the coming cup of bitter suffering from Him. In both cases, Paul and Jesus are raw and honest with the Father about their longing for deliverance, and if they aren’t positive spiritual role models, I don’t know who is. 

This tells me that my Father does not condemn me for my aching, my sorrow, my groaning under the weight of suffering. But in both cases, we also see that the Father does not immediately lift the suffering after pleas have been uttered threefold (2 Cor. 12:9-10; Matt. 26:42-46). Instead, the Father gives them grace to submit to His will and press forward. And I realize that as long as I live in a fallen world where suffering is to be expected, this is what my soul actually needs more than anything – the grace to submit myself to His sovereignty, faith to hide myself in Him, and strength to press forward despite my felt weaknesses in the midst of real suffering. The Father gives this to Paul and to His beloved Son, and He promises to give this to us (Romans 8:31-39). 

I am so grateful for the ways Christ shows me through His incarnation that He understands the heaviness we bear in our suffering. The Apostle Paul and the Lord Jesus both show me that I don’t need to squelch, deny, or hide the negative feelings I’m wrestling with. Suffering well is acknowledging these feelings, submitting them to the Lord, and opening our souls to the sufficiency of His grace made perfect in our weakness.

2.     Does suffering well mean I have to be an extraordinary human?

I must preface this next section with a humble acknowledgment that it is written out of a place of relative privilege right now, where I still have a job and a stable living situation. This said, I hope with all my heart that the Scriptural truths acknowledged here still bring encouragement to all readers, even those in very real and dire financial situations.

This season of physical distancing has all at once taken away so many things we used to be able to do when we could move freely in the world, while also compounding the amount of work - and attempted leisure - we attempt to do within the confines of our homes. Social media can be a tricky place in this unique time of suffering because we look for creativity and inspiration in the midst of quarantine life, but we can also be sunk by the feeling (or at least the impression) that other people are “killing it” – those who seem always joyful and always over-accomplishing the combination of working while homeschooling while maintaining a tidy house at Marie Kondo level while also finding time to try out new homemade baked goods. 

Again, I look to Paul’s life for what the Bible identifies as truly suffering well. Paul was socially distanced against his will – in prison, to be specific. He faced significant challenges with financial and social stability. He didn’t have much to show for according to our modern standards. He certainly couldn’t pull out a cell phone and post on Instagram, “Five new ways to brighten up my prison cell with creative decor!” But he worshipped and trusted the Lord, testified of Jesus to the people he did see, and he wrote letters of encouragement and care centered upon the Gospel. I heard once that given Paul’s passion to bring the Gospel to the nations, being in prison could’ve been considered his worst nightmare. But God, in His sovereignty, used Paul’s imprisonment for the greatest spread of the Gospel as Paul penned letters that would end up in Scripture to be distributed throughout generations, all over the world. 

Rather than give into the world’s lies that suffering well means being an extraordinary human who can do all the things despite all of life’s new constraints and demands, I can look to Paul’s example to see that suffering well means doing just one thing with all my heart: bringing glory to the Lord through my worship, my testimony and my care for others. 

3.     Does suffering well mean being sin-free in this time of hardship?

This can feel complicated to consider as we find ourselves in a situation where the stresses we face are new in both type and degree, and thus we likely find ourselves struggling with sin in new ways. We know God desires our holiness, but we also know our inability to be completely free of sin on this side of Heaven.  Again, we look to an example set for us in Scripture.

When we read the story of Joseph (Genesis 39-50), we see a man who stayed faithful in integrity before the Lord despite being betrayed, falsely imprisoned, falsely accused and unjustly forgotten. I love this story because I love reading about a faithful saint in the midst of hardship and God’s redemptive work in and through his life. But if I’m honest, I’m also a little disheartened because I know I don’t possess the same level of steadfastness as Joseph. It’s not until I take a step back and realize that he is not just an example of a believer’s faithfulness, but a foreshadowing of the perfect faithfulness of Christ, who endures betrayal, false accusation and imprisonment, and being forsaken by His own Father so that all of us who are weak and sinful can be saved and empowered to follow the Lord with new hearts. 

Joseph shows me what it looks like to choose holiness in hard times. But as Joseph’s example also reveals to me my own sin and weaknesses, he ultimately points us to Jesus and not ourselves as the ultimate example and source of holiness in us. Suffering well is about pursuing faithfulness, while leaning ever more deeply into the perfect work of Christ as my true and perfect source of righteousness. 

Our circumstances seem surreal, but there is no question our suffering is very real. The worldly idea of suffering well—staying positive, making the most out of my circumstances, or maintaining some kind of hero status—appeals to my flesh and my perfectionist tendencies, until I find myself falling on my face daily. God's Word shows us that suffering well is not about presenting endless positivity, but pouring out our hearts to the Lord and receiving His grace in all our felt weaknesses. Suffering well is not about proving we can do all the things in quarantine life, but resting in deep soul satisfaction from sitting at His feet in worship (Luke 10:41-42). Suffering well is not about achieving perfect faithfulness, but trusting in Christ as our perfect Savior. Oh friends, do you see the beauty and freedom that I see? Suffering well in the time of COVID isn't a challenge to step up our performance before God and man; it is an invitation to find and rest in deeper intimacy with our Healer, our Counselor, our Redeemer, our Everlasting Father. 

Alina Sato

Alina is a member of Cornerstone and serves the church as a servant minister.

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