Walking Our Faith: Suffering and transformation | SummitDaily.com

Walking Our Faith: Suffering and transformation

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

“In the televised version of the race on Amazon, I can’t recall a single reference to God. Did you find one or more?”

I received this question from Dan after my column about the “World’s Toughest Race.” I replied, “I don’t believe there was.”

Perhaps it is because I spend a lot of time thinking about God, and what it means to walk this journey of faith, that I look for examples in the larger world to increase my understanding.

Jesus often taught in parables because he knew that using stories was the most memorable way to teach. As I watched the “World’s Toughest Race,” it was the background stories that made the athletes’ performances compelling. Those stories told us the obstacles they overcame. Story allows us to see ourselves in others and to take encouragement knowing that someone else has overcome what might seem impossible to us.

The athletes seemed to go through two stages of suffering. The first stage was physical, a result of the harsh environment in conjunction with a lack of sleep, which pushed their bodies beyond their physical limits.

The second stage seemed to be emotional or psychological suffering caused by sleep deprivation and physical pain pushing against a will to complete the race. This second stage of suffering often brought personal transformation. 

I think about it as new shoots that come after a forest fire, growth that would not have been otherwise possible without the burning away of everything else.

What I find so moving about this transformation is that it is entirely voluntary on the part of these athletes. They are pushing themselves beyond their normal endurance knowing full well they are unlikely to win the race, yet they choose to push toward something greater within themselves.

What does this have to do with faith?

Saint Paul hinted at a similar spiritual transformation, which also came as a result of suffering. He complained about a thorn in his side that caused him distress:

“Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” — 2 Corinthians 12:17-19

Of course, there is suffering for which there is no adequate explanation. I wrestle with God about why children he loves suffer in illness or war or at the hands of adults. And like Job, I don’t know that we will ever receive an explanation we understand.

Yet, even inexplicable suffering can become the catalyst for change. It can galvanize people to act swiftly to obtain justice for those who cannot gain it for themselves. Or it can provide the impetus for medical breakthroughs, such as the progress St. Jude’s Research Hospital has made in the fight for children with cancer.

From suffering can come world-changing revolution. Without the suffering Jesus Christ endured on the cross, we might never have known the depths of his love or the example his life taught us about caring for the least among us.  

Suffering can give us compassion to understand the suffering of others. My lifelong walk with depression has made me more compassionate toward others who have mental illness.

God understands our suffering, even when we are no longer able to express it in words.

“The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” — Roman 8:26-28

Here is Psalm 42. It reflects both the depths of despair and the hope found in entrusting our suffering to God. If you are suffering, I hope it will bring your comfort. Please know that you are loved.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon — from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking Our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com.

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