Suck it up, buttercup!
For much of my life, I have lived by this motto. Suffering isn’t something I embraced. Instead, I have ignored, stuffed, moved on, etc. I have done this in various aspects of my life.
Physical ailments, I rarely mention, and if I do it is really bad. If I SAY I have a headache, it isn’t your average headache, it’s debilitating and I am probably minutes away from tossing my cookies. If I SAY I have a sore throat, you better advise me to go to the emergency room because my throat is near swollen shut and it is time for steroids. If I have a cold, you will only know by the sound of my voice made different by my stuffy nose or first-hand witnessing my nasty cough, not because I actually SAID anything about it. I have asthma and it has proved helpful to have a nurse along on bike rides because I don’t know when to stop, wheezing up a hill until I am told to get off or an ambulance is going to be called.
Emotional suffering I have handled the same way, tucking it deep inside, not speaking of the events that have caused me hurt, anger, anxiety, depression, etc. Rarely did I let a tear slip down my cheek or pound my fists in anger (I did do other damaging things, things nobody saw, but in an effort to escape not embrace). I sucked it up, moved on, pretending there was no suffering at all. In fact, I have so hidden from suffering that until recently I didn’t even believe I had ever actually experienced any suffering. It has taken affirmation from others, people telling me “Yes that is/was bad” for me to see the truth, and yes, it is the truth, I have suffered. We all do. There’s no escaping trouble in this world (John 16:33).
Early last year, it seems that this way of life caught up with me. It was as if there was no room left to stuff and so things started to overflow. I cried often (still in private…as often as I escaped to the bathroom it is a wonder nobody told me to get checked for IBS) and I got sick—headaches, dizziness, constant shaking, extreme weight loss (10 pounds in one week, I didn’t mind that…too bad I found it again), hair loss, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, etc. During that time, I had some wonderful people come along side me and encourage me to suffer. That’s right; they not only let me suffer, but encouraged it.
During this Lenten season, where thoughts are turned to the final days of Jesus, I believe that this embrace of suffering is not only healthy (much of what I was experiencing last year has subsided), but in line with following the model of Christ. As I explore His interactions with people throughout His public ministry, I never hear “Suck it up, buttercup!” but see a man filled with compassion. As I look at the way Jesus spent His last three years, I don’t see that he stuffed His own emotion either. He cried (John 11:35). He turned tables (Matthew 21:12). Certainly in His final days, He did not run away from suffering, but endured much in our place.
He was betrayed and beaten. He was denied, disgraced, demeaned, and disregarded. He was taunted and tried. He was condemned and crucified. The weight of His suffering can be seen in His anticipation of it as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest.
“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me’” (Matthew 26:36-38).
“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground “(Luke 22:44).
Christ didn’t just redeem us in His suffering, He identified with us, and when we suffer we also identify with Him (1 Peter 4:13, Romans 8:17).
In addition to identifying with Jesus, suffering is a place where God grows us immensely.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, speaks of this kind of suffering, the suffering that produces such things as perseverance, maturity, character, and hope.
“There is such a thing as consecrated griefs, sorrows that may be common to everyone but which take on a special character for the Christian when accepted intelligibly and offered to God in loving submission. We should be watchful lest we lose any blessing which such suffering may bring” (From the Grave, p. 23).
I absolutely love this thought—consecrated suffering! To consecrate is to set apart, to declare sacred, to make holy. When we accept our suffering, embrace it, rather that ignoring it, and when we offer it to God, He does something amazing, takes something caused by a world wrought with sin and sets it apart for His own purpose, redeeming it by using it to grow us into people closer to and more like Him.
I can certainly attest to this. As I have embraced my suffering, God has done and continues to do an amazing work. I have learned what it means to rely on the strength of God instead of my own. I have experienced what it means to truly persevere through hard things instead of running and hiding from them. I have come to better know the character of God. I have enjoyed the presence of Jesus as He comes alongside and walks through the suffering with me, bringing deep healing.
I hope that you too may learn to embrace suffering, and as you do that you will see the blessings God has in store for you as you let Him take something hard and make it holy, that you can echo these words found in Romans with much confidence and hope, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (8:28).