Monday, March 24, 2014

what I'm reading: 'first world problems' - have we really suffered?

He had me at "Hello". Or, at least, at the first line:
There is a temptation in writing a book about suffering to romanticize one's struggles or, worse, to insensitively rank and compare trials, as if victimhood were a matter of one-upmanship.

Far too many people have suffered the sort of tragic reversals that I have been spared, and no one but God knows or understand the full extent of another person's pain.

At the same time, people who haven't experienced major setbacks sometimes feel that their hurts are somehow less legitimate or real.
Do you ever feel that? I do.

I sometimes wonder if I have a right to write about suffering. My son has had a chronic illness for 4 years now, and yes, it's hard, but I know there are many worse off than me: the man whose son has cancer, the woman who lost her daughter in an accident.

There's an unspoken agreement, especially among Christians, that we should minimize our pain. "First world problems", we say; or just, "I'm fine, thanks"; or even, "It's been hard, but I'm learning so much." Or others say it to us: "Well, it could be worse". But on the inside it feels pretty bad to us! And we don't always feel like we're moving forward - sometimes it feels like we're going backwards, deeper into pain and confusion. But we don't always admit that. It seems like a failure of faith.

If you've ever felt like that, you'll love this quote from Tullian Tchividjian:
We each have days that couldn't end quickly enough ... The individual factors may be trifling, but the suffering is all too real. Sure, there's not anything particularly dramatic or glamorous about such everyday misfortune, but that does not invalidate it.

When we resist classifying it as suffering, we embrace the misconception that God is interested only in the more tragic situations of our lives. Yet so often the little things are the big things.

I do not mean to trivialize suffering or suggest that broken fingernails are the same as broken hearts. In fact, the intent here is the opposite: to broaden our understanding of suffering in the hopes of being a bit more honest with God and ourselves. ...

Everyone is suffering in some way, today, right now. ... Mary Karr said ...
The most privileged, comfortable person ... from the best family, has already suffered the torments of the damned ... We are all heartbroken.
Religious people in particular have a tough time being honest about their suffering. Occasionally we can even foster an environment of denial ... You might say, "I'm having a bad day, but at least I don't have pancreatic cancer" ... Eventually we'll edit our prayers along these lines ...

The appropriate response to life in this world is grief and pain. In fact, nowhere in the Bible do we find God sanctioning a "suck it up and deal with it" posture toward pain ... Job's unravelling wasn't wrong or sinful; rather, it was emotionally realistic ...

The good news here is that Christianity is in no way a stoic faith. It fundamentally rejects the "stiff upper lip" school of thought ... We live amid devastating brokenness, and the cure for this is nothing less than Jesus dying on the cross for sinners like you and me.

Sean Norris ... describes a life-altering interaction with a professor:
He told us to stop comparing ourselves to others, stop comparing ourselves to people in the third world, to people who are "really suffering." He levelled the playing field and destroyed the categories and false hierarchies I had put myself in. Instead, he told us the truth ... I was pointed back to Jesus Christ and His cross, the one who knows our suffering and chose to suffer in once and for all ...
God is not interested in what you think you should be or feel. He is not interested in the narrative you construct for yourself or that others construct for you. He may even use suffering to deconstruct that narrative.

Rather, he is interested in you, the you who suffers, the you who inflicts suffering on others, the you who hides, the you who has bad days (and good ones). And He meets you where you are.

Quotes are from Tullian Tchividjian's Glorious Ruin, introduction and chapter 3.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Fantastic. Helpful. Thank you.