As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, Romans 5:1-5 is a key text in addressing suffering. Let’s look at it again:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)
We rejoice in our sufferings. Do we? I don’t very often or very well, but Paul certainly implies that we ought to. So, how do we do that? I am not an expert, but I’ve read people who are—the Apostles and the Church Fathers.
There seem to be several steps involved in moving toward being able to rejoice in suffering. First, we must acknowledge suffering for what it is. If we can’t identify it when it is happening to us, it is difficult to deliberately do anything in response.
Suffering is anything that causes us displeasure or pain. You might object to calling spotty WiFi in your hotel suffering—and compared to poverty, hunger, and mortal danger, it is trivial—but if it annoys us, it is a chance to rejoice and to reap the fruits Paul outlines in the above passage.
If we don’t take the opportunity to practice rejoicing over the small bumps in the road of our daily existence, how will we build up the capacity to rejoice when it feels like we have driven into a wall? To identify our minor inconveniences as suffering accomplishes two things for us. First, it allows us to identify them as an opportunity to grow in endurance. Second, it humbles us by bringing into focus how selfish we are that these slight interruptions of our will cause us agony.
Next, once we identify suffering, we must stop complaining and whining about it. We cannot rejoice and whine at the same time. We must learn to silence our tongues, cease our sighing, and refrain our eye rolling. Only then can the hard work of silencing our inner whining begin.
From this place of silent endurance, we can then dare to attempt to rejoice. We can try to thank God for the opportunity to practice grace and forbearance when we would normally be brooding and huffing. We can thank God for using an instance of suffering to show us how far we have to go in achieving Christ-likeness. It ought to drive us to him in prayer, asking for the strength to be able to overcome ourselves in the face of such minor things.
If we attempt to reframe our reaction to suffering in this way, we may build endurance and character. This will reward us with hope that God’s love is actually being poured into us, when we see fruit in our lives because we are becoming more patient and long-suffering just like he is.