The Lessons Learned through Suffering

Since I can’t send this to my own 2010 self, I’ll open it up to everyone else

Dear Pre-Suffering Self,

Thank you for going through everything you’re about to go through; it’s going to suck. You’re going to feel the fire and regret and loss of being human. You’re going to weep. You’ll wish you could stay in bed all day. It’ll overwhelm you: you’ll find yourself hating your life, yourself, your choices. You’re going to go through every negative feeling imaginable.

But, you’re going to keep waking up, going to work and class, going to church. You’re going to fail and fall down again and again and again, collapsing in tears and loneliness, until finally you learn that only God can pick you up. You’ll find yourself unable to do anything but pray for hours on end. You’re going to suffer, to be chastened, and you’re going to grow.

And, when you’ve gone through it, you’ll know what matters and what doesn’t. Where you had pride and confusion, you’ll grow humility and clarity. You’ll learn to ask for help and figure out your limitations. You’re going to find out that those limitations are what make you you and God God. That will become very comforting.

So, thank you for going through all this so that I can be who I am and know what I know, as your own future, post-suffering self. The amazing thing is, the whole time you’ll be praying and struggling and learning, you won’t even be confident I exist. You’ll never quite believe there will be a post-suffering you until you become me. If you could know that, I think it would be easier.

I wish I could convince you that one day, you’re going to walk into a coffee shop and someone you don’t even know will comment on how remarkably happy you look. And, it will be true: there won’t be a more contented person than you in any room that you enter. You’ll have a hard-won smile, bought with weeped darkness and painful hours. All those months of soreness chiseling the flabby bits off your soul will leave a cool, resolute peace. The personality that remains will be a lean personality, fit and ready. For the first time, you will begin to become patient, joyful, generous, strong, humble, and gracious, all learned through suffering.

You’ll discover that what you once called “joy” was always tainted with fear; it rested on shaky supports. Those things are all about to be pulled back like a curtain. The bright light that blasts through, shriveling up all your false supports and half joys, will threaten to blind you. It’s Christ, and he’ll do the opposite, and he will do it cleanly and fully. But, it will be a surgery and a flame, and you will learn that great phrase: “Our only hope (or else despair), lies in the choice of pyre or pyre: to be redeemed from fire by fire.”

You’ll fall into the arms of Christ, because you won’t be strong enough to stand. You’ll whimper, “You must do this. I cannot.” And, your tear-cleaned eyes fixed on Christ will detect close-up textures and features that startle and upset you; he’ll look different than you remembered from your soft days. Until now, he’s always patiently let you play with the little images of him you hand-picked out of your favorite Scriptures and your favorite virtues and your favorite sermons. But, he’s about to teach you that you don’t get to choose the Christ who welcomes the children without choosing the Christ who flings tables in the temples. And, he’s about to remind you that you need the table-flinging Christ, because you – temple of Christ – have weighed yourself down with idols, and they’re crushing you. For years, you’ve approached theological arguments with proud and pious discernment, thinking you’ll be the judge of their virtue; and, for the first time in your life, they’ll turn the tables and you’ll realize that you’re the one being judged. And, naked and vulnerable, you’ve been found wanting.

Once, you might have run away from this unbearably objective God; now, you have no where else to turn. 

You’ll be all alone in a room with the God you’ve always said you loved, and you’ll realize one of you needs to change for this relationship to work. One of you. And he’ll kindly ask you: Are you willing?

You’ll realize that the thing that you were trying to force God to remain was not a God big enough for all your injuries. Discovery: the radical, wild ways He wants to behave are the only ways that can save you from death. It turns out you disagree with him and that he sometimes makes you feel very, very uncomfortable. The moment of clarity comes when you realize that’s a problem with yourself, and not with him. Once you resolve to change yourself around Christ, instead of hoping he’ll change himself around you, the surgery will start. The Doctor is working. That doesn’t keep the pain from being painful. You’re still going to hurt a lot, and I do and I will. But, I’ll hurt with less fear. Your first fearful steps into the shallow end will start my journey toward the deep end. There, walking beside Christ, we’ll experience that gorgeous paradox of increasing danger and decreasing fear.

One day, you’ll hear people share their fears, and the fears will sound foreign, like a language you’ve almost forgotten. How could I fear car accidents, if they would send me to heaven in God’s timing? How could I be afraid of never getting married; if God wants me to marry, won’t it happen? How could I fear abandonment when Christ will never abandon me? Little fears will wander around, but the only thing you’ll fear deeply is your own ability to turn from Christ. And, that fear will keep you praying, and that prayer will keep you from all the other fears. You’ll know, when fears creep back in, that it’s time to pray more. And, when you pray, you’ll feel the fears shrink back, and the cool, hard-won peace of the cross will help you through the sufferings that will always continue. (Yes, the cross: the truth is, most of the suffering that won my peace won’t even be borne by you.)

But, I wouldn’t know this if you didn’t go through the things you’re about to go through. So, thank you. I know this isn’t going to be easy for you. Thank you, thank you for going through all these lessons and all this discipline so I can know this. Thank you for the mornings you’ll choose to get out of bed when you just don’t want to face the world. Thank you for the hours you’re going to spend praying. Thank you for the Sundays you’ll go to church. Thank you for enduring. Thank you for wrestling through the hard times and offering the one thing you can actually offer – obedience – by which you will make it possible for me to start becoming the most content of all creatures.

I won’t say it won’t hurt. It will. All I can say is this: thank you. I’m so glad to know all the things you made it possible for me to learn. And, I would do it again. In fact, I know I will.

Under the mercy,

Your Post-Suffering Self

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