When I learned that my aunt’s health was in serious decline I telephoned my parents. My father answered the call.
“Your sister has taken an unexpected turn,” I said to my dad. “She’s on her way out.”
I wiped my sweaty palms as I waited for a response.
“Well,” said my dad with rising inflection. “That’s how it goes.”
I was silent, but my mind raged.
That’s how it goes? Your youngest sister is going to die at the age of forty-nine and all you can say is, ‘That’s how it goes’?
“Hey,” said my dad cheerfully. “Did Mom tell you we got a new fence?” He then recited a lengthy description of my parents’ brand new super-fantastic backyard fence. Stunned, I heard almost none of what he was saying. I was starving for emotional feedback by the time the fence excitement finally ended, so I asked to speak to my mother.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. For as long as I can remember my dad’s reactions have been excessively flat lined, no matter the gravity of the news:
“Dad, I’m getting married!”
“I lost the baby.”
Dad wouldn’t describe his apparent emotional emptiness as apathetic, but rather as a consequence of an intentional philosophical stance. “I focus on the object of aggravation,” he once explained, “like a headache for example, and accept it for what it is, but I deprive the aggravator of any energy, thereby dissolving any influence it may have.” Dad believes that nothing can be defined as either good or bad, and that every thing simply is.
Life is saturated with adversity. There’s no way to avoid it and simply ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Dad’s method is nothing more than a coping mechanism and provides little chance for healing.
When faced with adversity I consciously grab on to my confidence in the Lord. By faith, I know I’ll get through it. The problem is that I also know the only way I’m going to get through it is to physically and mentally—go through it. This means I’ll have to dwell in the pit of the issue. I’ll have to feel it, soak in it, experience it, and yes, that means I’m probably going to get hurt.
But that’s part of the whole picture. Without suffering, we’re left with little chance of improved character and spiritual growth. Sensations of joy are inconsequential without the knowledge of suffering. To dwell in the pit of sorrow and suffering where there is 'wailing and gnashing of teeth' is to experience the heart of life on earth.
‘And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ (Romans 5:2-3 NIV)
Dad doesn’t know Christ, so I can almost understand why he would want to numb his emotions. I understand clearly what it’s like to suffer without Him, since I did it for four decades. I know what it’s like to travel through life carrying the heavy weight of unresolved past hurts—to have no energy left to deal with emotions.
I’m grateful to now know what it’s like to suffer with Christ at my side. No experience feels more loving, more enriching, or more spiritually infusing than looking up from the blackness of a deep hole and raising my arms like a small child crying out to my Father, “Up, Father. Pull me up.” Then letting my Father in heaven scoop me into his gigantic palm where I rejoice in the swirling comfort of the Holy Spirit and His son Jesus Christ.
I wish my dad could have a taste of this and I pray for Dad to come to know his Holy Father and to dwell within His unspeakable love.
It is when I’m climbing out a pit of suffering that I feel God’s light shinning most brilliantly. Suffering and the joy of the glory of God are a packaged deal and I would not consider giving up one to lose the other.
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