We enter into Silence, we pursue Solitude, we seek Stillness and Simplicity, but Suffering is something that no one enters into, pursues or seeks. This is the gift no one wants but everyone needs. Whether it is mental, physical, or spiritual Suffering comes upon us, uninvited and unwelcomed, takes us by the hand, envelopes us in her embrace, and then leads us where we would not choose to go.
In all other aspects of Contemplative Christianity we participate in the Divine process with willing action. With Suffering we simply respond; we offer to God our pain, perplexity, and problems as an oblation poured forth for His Glory. We respond to her encroachment, and try to do so with poise and grace.
Lord, I offer my suffering to you as a song of praise. Use it as you will in ways I see and don’t see, in ways I understand and cannot understand. I offer it up to You and declare that you are holy, and just, and righteous. You are my Savior and Lord, I give to you all that I am, all that I have, and all that I ever will be. In Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the one aspect of Contemplative Christianity that is not universal in degree. Yes, every person has a measure of suffering in their life, but thank God not every person called to a contemplative life experiences a life of suffering. But whether our sufferings are more normal in their proportions, or extraordinary, they can all be offered as incense before the Throne of the Almighty. Some of us just get to offer more.
I have known continual chronic pain since the late 1970s, for more than 37 of my 60 plus years. For most of that time I have fought with and against pain, tooth and nail. I have resisted its intrusion on my days with every ounce of my strength. For twenty of those years I did so with powerful narcotics. I have now, by God’s amazing grace, been “clean” for 17 years (which is not to criticize those who do use pain meds.) I also suffer from ongoing mental health issues. I respond by avoiding the activities that make my mental health and physical pain worse. For the physical pain I also take at least two scalding hot baths a day. This helps more than anything else, thanks be to God.
Only recently did I see that fighting my physical pain does not help. Cursing it is not a cure. I suddenly saw my need to embrace it as a reality. Once I embraced it, leaned into it rather than away from it, the Lord then showed me I am to offer it as an oblation, a sacrifice of praise poured out to Him. I will not offer to my Lord that which costs me nothing, and this has cost me almost everything. He is worthy. Yes, Suffering comes . . . unbidden, unwelcomed, unwanted . . . and all we can do is to choose how we will respond to it, and what we will do with it. Do I ever seek for healing? Yes indeed, many times over. But until I am healed, here or perfectly in the hereafter, I choose to respond with acceptance, and to offer it in praise to the Lord.
Sanctifying My Sufferings
I sanctify my sufferings by offering them as incense on the Altar of Incense which is between the Golden Candlestick and the Table of Showbread, before the Veil in the Holy Place. The fire is kindled and I sprinkle my pain and my crushing on that fire and, instead of just a continual source of discomfort, pain, even at times agony, they become a sweet smell in the nostrils of my God. And so my sufferings are made precious, valuable; sanctified, set apart unto the Lord God Almighty.
This changes my whole approach. No longer are they a curse, they are an opportunity. No longer are they a wasted part of my life, they are a resource for deeper worship. And no longer do I continually share them with others; I share them, give them, and offer them before the Lord. Yes, I am human enough to want sympathy and human comfort when I am in severe distress, and I occasionally slip into complaint, but if I must choose between offering them to all who will listen and offering them to the Lord, I choose to esteem their value and appreciate their significance by offering them to the Lord. My comfort then comes less from the understanding of others and more from the pleasure of God at my offering, made pure and refined by the painful process; it comes from the joy of the Lord at the priceless treasure I have given Him. This enables me to value my own life more, to take joy in my sorrows, and to bear my pain with silence and grace.
God is good. Praise His Holy Name.