"The Lord has made everything for it own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil." Proverbs 16:4
"I don't need this." "I am not going to put up with this." " I don't deserve this." "I can't believe this is happening to me." THIS could be chiseled on the cornerstone of a building that is collapsing on top of us. THIS reflects the chaos, confusion, dust and debris of encountering the unexpected consequences of our own action or the undeserved results of other people's toxic trafficking in our lives. What is T.H.I.S.? It is, "The Hurt I Suffer."
The Proverbs are filled with some challenging statements. T.H.I.S. is one of the toughest to grasp. Just when we think we are getting a hold on the way God works in our lives, some unwanted interruption blasts in uninvited. It knocks the breath out of us, and brings us to our knees. Not a bad place to end up when you get taken down by circumstances out of your control.
There are times in our lives that God brings a person across our path to give us insight for the journey. I remember fondly every moment I was able to spend with a man named Ron Dunn. Over a 30 year period, God allowed a long distance admiration to develop into a personal friendship. I will always be grateful that God brought Ron into my life. To know more about him find your way to the website of Sherwood Baptist Church, Albany, Georgia. The Senior Pastor, Michael Catt, has done the world a great service by establishing a link that will put you in touch with Ron's work. He went to heaven in July 2001, but thank God Michael will not let us forget a giant walked among us.
Ron Dunn had a great perspective on pain and suffering. He had earned it. He would often say,
"Good and evil travel on parallel tracks and arrive at the same time." This may have been the greatest legacy he left for my life. He would tell the story of a woman who once came to him with a grandchild in her arms. The woman told a heartbreaking story of abuse and abandonment that had happened in her daughter's life at the hands of worthless husband. Her final words were, " I wish she had never met that man!" Ron was no coward. He was like a moth to the flame. He soared in to the fire even if he got singed. With the wisdom of Solomon and the courage of a lion he asked the question, "So, you are ready to give up the baby." The immediate response of the woman was to step back and hold the baby with a tighter grip and say, "No! I would never give up this child. This baby means the world to me." Then Ron would say, "Good and evil travel on parallel tracks and arrive at the same time." Did I mention Ron had left the pastorate.
Whenever I would have Ron come and lead a Bible Conference in our church or meet him at an airport to grab a bite of lunch, I would pour out my heart and wait for wise counsel. Ron would sit and listen patiently to my litany of woes. After enduring my "whine" list for a few minutes, he would interrupt with something sarcastic, yet supportive, "Stop! Please stop! You're making me homesick for the pastorate! I miss all those weddings and vacation bible schools and deacon's meetings." I got the message. This is life. Deal with it. Winning and whining seldom follow parallel tracks. If you want platitudes for painless living Ron's not your man. His words hit like a 22 oz. rib-eye right across the lips. "Don't just stand there, pray something!"
The message to be gained from Proverbs is very simple. Bad things do happen to good people. One of the most challenging assignments I have ever been given was to speak to a Jewish congregation in Houston on the topic, "The Christian View of Suffering." In the audience were several hundred people who were Holocaust survivors or the relatives of those who had died in it. I was young and stupid enough to accept the invitation, but smart enough to lean on the message of Joseph, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Gen. 50:20) I quit talking when I saw their heads nod in agreement. They had forgotten more about suffering than I would ever know.
Thanks Joseph, for not getting twisted off by what you went through and leaving me a light to shine into the darkness of sufferng.
The truth is, suffering is hard to take by itself. God does have a purpose for it. He can give meaning to it. When it is taken alone, it is like trying to swallow a pill without a glass of water. You choke on it, before it can do you any good. The cure will kill you, unless there is some perspective that God is still at work in your life through T.H.I.S.
For the past two years, I have tried to stand by my wife as she has fought for her life in a battle with breast cancer. She has had her share of people try to minimize the experience with, "Oh at least it is curable." Tell that to someone after they have had six months of chemo and both breast removed, and you may get more than a rib-eye across the mouth. My wife just looks little. There have been others that felt compelled to blurt out, "O, I had an aunt who died from that." Well thanks for sharing. Dana had a younger sister die from it, but thanks for putting that curse into our minds. It is hard to put your head on the pillow at night and not have that blast from the past scorch your brain cells. Both of these extremely toxic remarks were spoken by well-meaning people within the walls of a church. Bless their hearts. Note to self: Stop saying that if you don't mean it.
When people minimize or trivialize our suffering, it is demeaning. Why? Major surgery is what I am having. Minor surgery is what you are having. Before you can feel for someone, you have to hurt with them. When we allow people to maximize suffering by injecting panic into our lives, it is disheartening.
I have been comforted over the past two years by the words, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose...to become conformed to the image of His Son." (Romans 8:28-29a) God never intended this verse to be a driver's manual that we toss from our window into the wreckage of suffering. Rubber necking our way past the crash site of personal crisis and dropping these words calleously into the destruction is not a wise move. Yes, it is a word of hope, but timing is everything. There are times when people are so deafened by suffering they cannot hear the truth. They are so blinded by it they cannot even read your lips when you say it to their face. What people need to be able to do, in time, is to have someone help them loosen their white-knuckled grip on T.H.I.S.. It is usually done best by someone who has been through the same thing, and learned that God can bring something good, even out of T.H.I.S. .
A picture is worth a thousand words. My mind's eye recalls watching my wife share her cancer diagnosis with our church and walk from the platform down into the congregation. She had asked people to pray for her as she began this battle. I asked people to back up the hearse and stop ordering flowers. This was a fight not a funeral. Two ladies, spontaneously, from different parts of the room moved towards her. They did not say a word. They held on to her like bookends of mercy, and wrapped their loving arms around her crisis. I found out later that both of these warriors had fought this battle, and had walked away victorious. There was a confidence, and a smile on their faces as they spilled tears on my wife's shoulder. Their radiance was a confirmation that they had become champions over cancer. Their suffering had taken on a whole new meaning when they sensed Dana's pain. They did not minimize T.H.I.S.. They knew better. They did not maximize T.H.I.S.. They prayed for her. You can't make this up.
That's it. Talk Less. Pray More and T.H.I.S. (The Hurt I Suffer) will bring us to the end of ourselves and the purpose of God. All aboard. The Monday morning train is leaving the station.