How can we rejoice in suffering? It really seems like an outlandish question, doesn’t it? Suffering and rejoicing feel like opposites, and we prefer the rejoicing by a landslide. So how can these have any compatibility?
They cannot be compatible unless we can live in the depth of them both. We have to resist the superficial “just rejoice and be happy.” We cannot ignore our suffering.
Part of our problem is that we idolize comfort and efficiency. We live under the idea that if something is comfortable, then it is good; and if it is also efficient and productive, even better.
Enter: our suffering.
Christians are really good at asking about what we are learning in suffering, as if every horrible event that brings us to our breaking point could be summed up in some three-point action plan for becoming better people. I once heard someone say that we want suffering to be like a pregnancy—pain and discomfort for a set time, then a wonderful life lesson emerges in the end.
But suffering is real and painful. And we have no promise that in the end, if there even is an end, we will gain some lesson to pass forward. In suffering we encounter the reality that this is not how it is supposed to be, and that God is close to the brokenhearted. To grasp both of these is to rejoice.
Two years ago when I was thrown into the role of widower and single dad to four kids, I experienced a level of suffering that seemed unimaginable. By God’s grace and in my own frailty, I sat in my grief. I tried to avoid any quick fix, like a new addiction or moving on. I just sat and cried and suffered.
During that time, I felt completely inefficient and unproductive. Eventually, my joy began to return in the midst of this brokenness. James 1:3 says the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. I saw this steadfastness in the way God gave me the strength to get out of bed each morning; such a simple thing to rejoice in.
It is interesting that James moves from suffering and the benefits of suffering to this instruction: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let Him ask of God, who gives generously.” Perhaps our suffering is where we grasp the wisdom and goodness of God, and in this wisdom, we rejoice in His grace.
Suffering has the ability to shatter any superficial idol of comfort, and we would be wise to let it. Don’t run from your suffering, but rejoice that God will never leave you.
Written by Jason Tippetts