Rejoice in Suffering

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. –James 1:2-3

But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. –1 Peter 4:13

rejoiceSuffering hurts, its pain is debilitating, it cripples us, changes the course of our lives, isolates us from our friends. But to rejoice at our suffering and consider it a joy when we do, seems to contradict everything we would imaging, except for one thing, God.

The news this past week has included stories of several suffering people.

Brittany Maynard, a 29 year-old woman diagnosed with terminal brain cancer just a year after she was married, planned to take her own life under the Oregon assisted suicide laws by swallowing a pill and dying in her sleep. She scheduled her death for Saturday (November 1, 2014) but changed her mind because she was feeling better. She still plans to carry it out at a later date.

A second story involved a Raleigh, North Carolina seminarian, Phillip Johnson, 30, also with terminal brain cancer and his beautiful letter to Brittany asking her to reconsider, to understand that to unite her suffering to the suffering of Christ draws us closer to God.

And, 19-year-old Lauren Hill, a college basketball player from Cincinnati, is also dying of brain cancer. Her message is to never give up as she struggles to practice with her team and wants to play in a game. She will get her chance a week from today. Normally, 50 people would be in attendance, but this game is sold out. 10,000 were tickets sold in one hour to see her play.

Three cases of brain cancer, each terminal, but each has a different approach to perseverance. Brittany’s is simply to give up, end it herself, on her own terms, to “die with dignity.”

If taking your own life is dignified, then does that make it less dignified or undignified to continue to fight and die naturally?

Are Phillip and Lauren’s lives undignified? Or, is it that they simply choose not to play God and unite their suffering with Jesus on the cross.

When suffering knocks us on our knees, we are in the perfect place to reach out to God, to pray! In the bible, we read that suffering tests us, purifies us, gives us a means of greater joy in glory, and causes us to rely on God’s faithfulness to care for our souls.

But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. –1 Peter 4:16

If we persevere we shall also reign with him. –2 Timothy 2:12

As a cancer survivor, I can tell you that prior to my diagnosis, I lived life with a soft focus, but after cancer, life became crystal clear. I understood priorities, began to live in the moment, and appreciated everything I was blessed with. I understood that suffering is part of life.

The most satisfying joys of my life have come not from comfort but from the clarity I received from suffering.

All of us, at some time in our lives are going to suffer. We will face many trials, a job loss, divorce, the death of loved one, financial problems, and yes, even the prospect of our own death.

Are we going to make Brittany’s choice to simply end the suffering, or Lauren’s choice to fight until the end, or Phillip’s choice to unite his suffering to the cross and continue his studies for the priesthood?

In the book of Romans (5:4-5) we are given reason for hope:

Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. –Romans 5:4-5

It’s something for each of us to think about. And, while we are at it, let’s send up prayers for Brittany, Phillip and Lauren and for those friends and family that might also be suffering today.

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