I would like to share a homily (and accompanying images) that I preached this morning in chapel.
Greeting and Introduction
…I would like to especially thank you for your prayers during my period of convalescence since November 2010. God has been answering those prayers for the return of my health, slowly, in God’s own time.
This morning I would like to share with you what God has been teaching me through my suffering and encourage you as you experience whatever suffering is a part of your life.
Question for Reflection
Someone has said, the best question we can ask one another is, “What are you suffering?” It gets at the heart of our human experience. If your best friend, or someone who loves you and whom you trust asked you, “What suffering is a part of your life right now?” What would you answer? Take thirty seconds to consider.
Telling My Story
The Apostle Paul, who suffered much in his life and his ministry, wrote these words, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” I would like to share with you what these verse have come to mean to me.
In November 2010, after two wonderfully rewarding and exhausting weeks of ministry
and teaching in the Democratic Republic of Congo, my husband and I flew France.
I was feeling so happy and alive.
We checked into a hotel in Paris where we were planning to rest for three days before continuing home to the United States. The first night, I woke up and could not breathe. We feared that I was having a heart attack.
While Tim asked me questions about my symptoms, I left my body.
We were staying on the fifth floor of the hotel and strangely, I saw my body laid out flat, with my feet first, go right through the closed window, and as if on a conveyer belt, move towards the horizon. When the conveyor belt had taken me a long way from the hotel, I suddenly understood that I was dying. Without thinking, I screamed “NO!!!! I have a husband, I have two sons!”
Immediately, the conveyor belt stopped. Then, it jerked into reverse, and took me back through our closed hotel window where I reentered my body.
When we got to the hospital they explained that a blood clot that had formed in my leg on the long airplane ride had broken loose, gone to my heart, splattered and then gone to my lungs where it had killed lung cells. That’s why it was difficult for me to breathe. They told me I was lucky to be alive, and that it would take at least a year to regain my health.
My life had changed in an instant. I had no idea how much physical and emotional suffering was to come as my body and spirit tried to heal.
God has used the past fifteen months of healing to teach me more about what Paul meant when he said, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
Reflections on Suffering from a Christian Perspective
Rejoicing in hope, as you know, is not always easy.
Our Christian hope is not that we won’t have suffering, but that God will use our suffering for good. Suffering changes us. If we allow it to, it can help us become more sensitive to the suffering of others. When we have made peace with our own suffering, we are no longer so afraid of the suffering of others. We can be with them and help them in the midst of their pain. We can sit with them, pray with them, and love them in whatever ways God shows us they need.
I remember one day when the physical pain my body was overwhelming. On a scale of 0 to ten, with zero meaning I felt no pain and 10 meaning that all I felt was pain, my pain ranked at an eight or maybe a nine. I was with a friend and we had prayed together, asking for healing in my body. When we were done we sat and looked at each other, saying nothing. Then I started to cry. “Kate, do you the pain will ever go away?” I asked. I am sure each of us remembers a time when we asked that question, “Will this pain ever go away?”
My friend answered me very wisely—and with great compassion. “Yes, Jill,” she said kindly, “but it is going to take time.” I clung to her words, even though my fear made me doubt that they were true. Sometimes we lose our hope; that is when we need others to hope for us.
Our Christian hope is not that we won’t have suffering, but that God will use our suffering for good. Suffering changes us. If we allow it to, it can help us become more sensitive to the suffering of others. When we have made peace with our own suffering, we are no longer so afraid of the suffering of others. We can be with them and help them in the midst of their pain. We can sit with them, pray with them, and love them in whatever ways God shows us they need. Our suffering is not without fruit. If we allow it, God can use our suffering for good.
Suffering reminds us that life is far beyond our control. In our need, we can turn to God who was willing to come to this world and suffer himself. Nothing that we suffer is greater than what Jesus suffered. Because Jesus experienced suffering of every kind—physical suffering when he was tortured, spiritual suffering when he felt abandoned by God, emotional suffering when people he loved disappointed him as his disciples did in the Garden of Gethsemane, and relational suffering such as when his friend Lazarus died, we can have confidence that in the midst of our suffering God can understands what we are going through. Our hope right now is this—we are not alone in our suffering. Our ultimate hope is that one day there will be no more suffering of any kind.
Paul urges us to rejoice in hope, but he also reminds us of our need to be patient when we suffer.
Being Patient in Suffering: Illustrating Our Hope
Being patient in suffering is a lot like crossing a busy road here in Myanmar.
Every evening Tim and I have to get from one side of Kabar Aye Pagoda Road to the other.
First, we wait for an opening in the flow of the busy, oncoming three lanes of traffic. When it is possible, we get to the center white line and wait.
Looking back at where we’ve come from is of no use, we have to focus on the traffic that is coming towards us, making sure not to get hit, and waiting for just the right moment to continue across three more lanes of busy traffic to the other side.
Sometimes when I stand on the white line in the middle of those six lanes of traffic, even though my husband tells me that it’s safe to cross and urges me to keep going, I’m too afraid. Then, he has to take my hand and lead me to the other side.
Whenever we get all the way across that busy road safely, relief and gratitude well up in me!
Being patient in suffering is not so different! When we suffer, we try to find a way to get to the other side of it. We set off, finding a way to distance ourselves a little from the pain we’re experiencing.
It’s as if we make it to the center white line. But then, we find our way blocked by the oncoming challenges that are such a normal part of our lives.
Sometimes these difficulties keep coming and can make it impossible for us to move for a long time, so our suffering continues. Looking back to all we’ve already suffered only makes the current suffering greater, so we find it much more useful to look in the other direction, seeking a break that will let us cross to the other side of the physical, emotional or spiritual pain we’re enduring.
Sometimes an opening presents itself, but we’re so afraid that we don’t move, or take advantage of it.
Sometimes, someone who cares for us and knows how much we are suffering, takes our hand and helps us get safely to the other side. When our suffering finally ends, we feel both relief and gratitude.
Applying the Message
What are you suffering? Right now? I know that God cares about whatever difficulties are a part of your life this morning. I would like to offer us a minute of silence in which we can each talk to God about our suffering and also to listen to what God might want to say to us as He is present to our suffering.
In silence, let us pray.
(one minute of silence)