My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. - James 1:2-4
There is a simple lesson that I have had to learn over and over again. The lesson is this: Suffering really hurts. This statement is so obvious that it seems silly to write it, yet it has been a hard truth for me to internalize. In my experience, it is very easy to have romantic ideas about suffering that bear little resemblance to the actual fact.
This is an important thing for me to get straight, since the suffering of Jesus lies at the heart of my faith. Out of love for us, Jesus endured the fullness of suffering and death, revealing a doorway into redemption and unlimited life. His resurrection is so radiant that it can be tempting ignore the reality of the dreadful agony that preceded it.
Yet Jesus' life was deeply marked by anguish. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus retreated to the desert for 40 days, eating and drinking nothing during that whole time. He experienced the pain of starvation and prolonged solitude during his lengthy sojourn in the wilderness. At the end of that period of self-denial, Jesus had a breakthrough - a triumphant encounter with the dark powers that sought to undermine his mission. The Adversary believed that 40 days of starvation and isolation would make Jesus more vulnerable to attack, but in fact the experience of those days had only deepened his relationship with the Father. Suffering had focused Jesus on that which was truly important.
A great mystery that Jesus reveals to us is that this radiant life emerges not from outward victory, but from patient endurance in suffering. The height of glory is found in our lowest moments. It is only when a seed dies that it can sprout into new life and bear fruit. It is by embracing suffering that we come to know true peace.
How have you experienced the refining power of suffering in your own life? Where have you seen God at work in the difficulties that face your family, community, city or nation? How have you experienced the reality of the cross, and of the resurrection?