Monday, April 20, 2015

what I'm reading: suffering as vocation

"Suffering is a vocation, a calling from God."

Eight words on the first page of RC Sproul's Surprised by suffering, and I'm stopped in my tracks. I've never heard anyone say that before. I think it's a knowledge Christians lost somewhere along the way. Yet the awareness has been nudging at me for years, and it's good to hear someone say it.

Suffering. It's the calling no one wants. The gift no one asks for. "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him" (Phil 1:29). The word "granted" literally means "gifted". But who would want a gift like that?

You know what I thought my life would be like? What I saw as my vocation? How I thought I'd use my gifts? Marriage. Children. An active ministry to women.

Tick to the first two. But the last one has been put on hold more times then I can count. The year my youngest child went back to school, when many women edge their way back into work and ministry outside the home, my oldest son became chronically ill. I spent four years caring for him and, last year, for my husband who has cancer.

Do I resent this? Well, yes, sometimes, when I'm tempted to compare myself with others. But truly, no. My love for my husband and son has deepened. And like many who have suffered, I wouldn't swap what I have learned about God's love for anything. What I used to know in theory, I now know from experience: there really is nothing he will not give us grace to face.

But of course part of me asks: what happened to the life I planned?

Here's what happened: God had better plans for us. Harder and better ones. We run this race in the sight of others. And if we have to make Jesus known through our pain and our tears, then so be it. Because I would rather have this life with him than my carefully planned life without him.

Right now, we're called to the vocation of suffering. It's a high calling, and a hard one. It will drive you away from God, or drive you deeper into his love: there are only two ways about it. If we choose to turn to him, even when it hurts, he will never let us down or let us go.

I was going to tell you more about the book Surprised by Suffering, but my thoughts got stuck on the first page. I'll save the rest for another day. For the moment, this knowledge is enough:

"Suffering is a vocation, a calling from God."


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post Jean, it really resonated with me. I agree with you that Christians have lost the perspective of suffering as a vocation or a gift - everyone just wants it to go away. People constantly ask me if my husband is getting better from his chronic pain and I have never once yet been able to say yes. It seems hard to understand how suffering can be better than a good thing like ministry to women or (in our case) the chance to attend Bible College full time. But I would echo all you said about the gift of suffering. Although this isn't the life I planned and hoped for in my 20's I wouldn't trade it, and the lessons I've already learned in this school of suffering for anything. And now I have another book to add to my reading list!

Jean said...

Thanks, Karen. It is hard when the focus is always on getting better when we are struggling to come to a place of acceptance of the present trial and to be able to bear it well and with faith and joy in our Lord. Praying you can both do that well. xxx

Ruth Chapman said...

'We run this race in the sight of others. And if we have to make Jesus known through our pain and our tears, then so be it. Because I would rather have this life with him than my carefully planned life without him. '

Such an important perspective. Thanks for penning it.
My experience is also that you really understand that there is no one else apart from our Heavenly Father who can help when we are in great need and this knowledge brings great comfort and rest.(contentment)

Lorraine THOMSON said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you Jean. I cannot begin to imagine how unsatisfying my planned life would have been. 34 years of marriage and lots of hard roads trod along the way but always Jesus has been my strength. Pain is not pleasant but I can say with full assurance that God never puts us through exams that we cannot pass. May God bless you Jean.