Have you noticed that we don’t look alike, act alike, dress alike? We have different tastes in food, in music, and in the books, we read. We have dissimilar backgrounds, goals, and motivations. We have different philosophies, politics, and religions. Our weights and heights vary. So, does the color of our skin.
But there is one thing we all have in common; we all know what it means to hurt. Suffering is a universal language. We can’t escape its pain. Things just go wrong. Trouble comes. We live in a fallen world. Our bodies wear out. Albert Schweitzer, who earned five doctoral degrees and who distinguished himself in the fields of music, medicine, and missions once said, “Every man must bear his share of the world’s suffering.”
So, what do we do when suffering knocks on our door?
- Don’t be perplexed, prepare.
A myth has circulated for years that because I am doing everything right in my life then things will go smoothly. Not true. You can do everything right in life and still have problems.
Job, the Old Testament character, for instance, was a righteous man. He had vast wealth, and in Old Testament times that was a symbol of blessings. He had had robust health, a large and loving family, and a sterling character. He was one of the best men that ever lived. Then through a series of tragedies, he lost everything—his wealth, his health, his children. Everything broke loose in his life, and he was doing everything right.
We are not shielded from the tragedies and misfortunes of this world, simply because we are good. We all get hammered occasionally.
Mark my words, suffering will come. No one is exempt. So, what are we to do?
Be prepared. The Boy Scouts’ motto is fitting for the trials of life—“Be prepared.” I want to live in such a way that when the misfortunes strike, I’m prepared.
2. Don’t complain, celebrate.
It has been said, “No society has ever developed tough men during times of peace.” Suffering is prosperity to those who possess a positive attitude in the midst of their suffering.
Few people knew Abraham Lincoln until the great weight of the Civil War showed his character. John Bunyan was imprisoned, but in jail he wrote the timeless classic Pilgrim’s Progress. Martin Luther was also imprisoned for his beliefs and teaching that ignited the Protestant Reformation; but while confined in the castle of Wartburg he translated the Bible for the common man.
Each of these individuals had reason to complain. Yet they chose to demonstrate a positive attitude in the midst of their suffering.
They knew what we learn as kids. Kites rise against the wind, not with it. When the adverse winds blow, allow it to be to you what a blast of wind is to the kite—rejoice because you have a force that lifts you higher and higher.
3. Don’t despair, commit.
The proper response to suffering will make us stronger. Character rarely develops in comfort.
A man found a cocoon of the emperor moth and took it home to watch it develop. One day a small opening appeared, and for several hours the moth struggled but couldn’t seem to force its body past a certain point. Deciding something was wrong, the man took scissors and snipped the remaining bit of cocoon. The moth emerged easily, its body large and swollen, the wings small and shriveled. He expected that in a few hours the wings would spread out in their natural beauty, but they did not. Instead of developing into a creature free to fly, the moth spent its life dragging around a swollen body and shriveled wings. The constricting cocoon and the struggle necessary to pass through the tiny opening are God’s way of forcing fluids from the body into the wings. The “merciful” snip was, in reality, cruel. Sometimes the struggle is exactly what we need.
A final word. The Chinese have a proverb that says, “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”