A Strange Sort of Gift

I had no plans to write this week. I was going to give my mind a rest. My heart, however, had other plans.

This heart of mine is full of thoughts and questions and it needs some release.

The idea of suffering fills me up these days.

My heart is full and heavy for my sweet sister, my brother's wife, this 26-year-old mommy of a 15-month old who is crazy with pain, fighting for her life from this aggressive cancer that threatens to overtake all of us.

I think about our broken, fallen world.

I think about a God who loved us when we offered Him nothing but hate.

I think about a God who did not spare even His own Son in His plan to rescue us.

I think about what we demand from God and what we can truly expect from Him.

I think about my divided heart that can trust God and know His character, that He is always in control, always good and always love, yet can still be overwhelmed with pain and hate for what is happening to those around me.

I sit in a few stolen moments of quiet and read through Philippians. I am reading this book through, in one sitting, several times a week.

And then I notice.

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. ~Philippians 1.29-30
"Granted to you on behalf of Christ...to suffer for Him." Granted to suffer? As if it was a gift?

I keep reading. And I notice again.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. ~ Philippians 3.10-11
"I want...participation in His sufferings." A desire for suffering?

Perhaps the word "suffering" doesn't truly have the meaning I give it. Perhaps the original Greek has a different connotation.

I pull out my Strong's.

Nope. The word translated as "suffering" is slightly different in both of those passages but are both related forms of the same word "pathos". The words are "pascho" (verb) and "pathema" (noun) respectively: something undergone (hardship or pain), an emotion or influence; to experience a sensation or impression (usually painful).

So Paul really does consider suffering a gift from God and he desires to experience it.

Now, I understand that to be made like Jesus will fulfill us in a way that simply being comfortable never can. I get that being like Christ will bring us the most joy and contentment. I also understand that suffering is one of the main ways that we become like Jesus.

I hesitate in my wonderings. Desiring a gift of suffering seems to take this idea one step further.

I don't understand how to do this.

I wish that this were a blog that only gave answers, that only spoke of distant, philosophical concerns.

I am grateful for a God Who welcomes my questions and my doubts, Who is big enough to teach me the hard things.

I search the commentaries and find this regarding verse 10: that participation in Christ's sufferings means

actually bearing the cross whatever is laid on us, after His example, and so "filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" (Col 1:24); and in the will to bear aught for His sake (Mat 10:38 16:24 2Ti 2:11). As He bore all our sufferings (Isa 53:4), so we participate in His.
I search to find where else this word "suffering" occurs. Here is just a glimpse of what I find.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. ~Romans 8.18

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have
suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. ~I Peter 5.10

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he
suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. ~Hebrews 2.9-10

I discover many clues in just these few verses. I also discover more questions.

I can see God in suffering. I can eagerly expect Him to transform and redeem the ugly things into something beautiful. I can long for the day when He will make all of the sad things come untrue.

I cannot, yet, desire suffering as a gift. Not for myself and not for those I love. I do not understand this way.

If this is the true way, I pray that God will teach me. I will continue to seek.

painting is Christ Crucified by Velázquez

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