Why choose suffering?

Why would anyone choose a lifestyle that might make them susceptible to suffering?

It's a fair question.

After all, we're conditioned by the world around us, and our own desires, to seek comfort and ease. Why would anyone choose a lifestyle that might make them more susceptible to suffering?

And yet, in our Christian communities, we see others who have chosen to walk a road of suffering. Some of these are adopters and foster carers.

Why have they chosen to make their lives harder? Why has that couple just adopted three kids when they should be on the brink of retirement? Why is that young woman fostering when she doesn't have a husband to support her? Has she scuppered her chances of marrying?

I wrote here about the kinds of suffering faced by such families. Caring for vulnerable children is a tough order, a high calling, and it will take every ounce of your energy.

It's no surprise, then, that many of us shy away from this challenge. After all, life is difficult enough. Surely we should be making things as easy as possible, so that when obstacles present themselves, we're in a good place to surmount them. Right?

Sadly, this comfortable-living theology doesn't seem to pop up very much in the Bible. Jesus called us to 'deny ourselves' and 'take up our cross' (Luke 9), told us we needed to enter by the 'narrow gate' (Matthew 7), and assured us that those who follow him would be persecuted (Mark 10).

He expected his disciples to leave family, friends, jobs, possessions and everything they'd ever known, and frequently challenged people to defy their 'comfortable' culture. In short, God is more interested in our character than our comfort.

Shouldn't we be getting the hint? God's call on our lives involves suffering.

Let's be clear: this doesn't mean that God wants us to suffer. He doesn't want us to deliberately put ourselves or our children in positions of danger, as if this kind of martyrdom will satisfy His displeasure.

No, that displeasure has already been dealt with. Jesus suffered in our place. We owe nothing – our debt has been paid.

But, in giving God our lives, we must expect that He will call us to challenging and difficult action. This might be forgiving an employer. Donating a large amount of money to a cause. Or giving a safe, loving home to a vulnerable child.

Suffering is not something to be avoided. On the contrary, suffering as part of God's call has the capacity to draw us more into God's heart.

It's a holy mystery that I admit I can't always understand - if it is not God's will for us to suffer in the first place, then how can it draw us closer to Him?

Firstly, suffering shapes our character. In Romans 5, Paul writes that 'suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope' (v.3-4). In James 1, we read that when our faith is tested, it produces perseverance, which makes us 'mature and complete, not lacking anything' (v.4).

This is good news for all who are suffering right now. However negative your situation seems, God can use it to shape you into the person He wants you to be. In other words: your suffering is not in vain. Whatever the outcome of the situation – and I recognise it may be serious – there is at least one promise: God is working in you through it.

Secondly, suffering enables us to take part in God's redemptive work. Until we see the new heaven and the new earth, God is in the process of redemption. First, He redeems us: we become aware of our own sin and the ways in which suffering occurs as a result of them. Next, this awareness leads to compassion for others who are suffering, praying for God to redeem people and situations that we don't have the power to change.

If you're suffering right now, you may connect with the language Paul uses in Romans 8: 'frustration', 'bondage to decay' and 'groaning as in the pains of childbirth'. Sound familiar? But it has a purpose: ‘We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to son-ship, the redemption of our bodies’ (v.23).

Thirdly, suffering shows us God's heart. The Bible is full of examples of God's compassion for those who are suffering. He is a ‘father to the fatherless’ (Psalm 68:5), our ‘Comforter in sorrow’ (Jeremiah 8:18) and He ‘redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion’ (Psalm 103:4).

When we get involved with the messy work of adoption, our will starts to align with His.

Families who adopt or foster are entering into their child's suffering, walking them through it and taking some of it upon themselves. That child will suffer regardless of whether he is cared for or not – but if he's in a loving family, they may help to carry some of his burdens.

Adoptive families often look different. Think of that weird family at church who display as many skin colours as they have children. Or the strange couple that seems to be choosing to adopt kids with disabilities rather than try for birth children.

Do you know what? These brothers and sisters aren't weird or strange. This is where the Kingdom of God is at work! Don't hold them at arm's length - get to know them and learn from them.

Offer prayer support, take round a meal, sit with their kids during services or children's groups, persevere, become a friend who's in it for the long-term. The chances are that God will shape your character, redeem you, and show you more of His heart as a result.

And, if you are one of these families, and you're experiencing so much suffering that you're wondering whether you have the capacity to do this at all - be encouraged by these words from 2 Corinthians 4:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed...For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:8,17)

I can't promise you that the challenges will reduce, that things will get easier, that God will give you the victory. But I do know that your eternal glory is promised.

Thank you for doing what you do – whether that's caring for vulnerable children, or wrapping around those who do. Thank you for engaging with the suffering that so often comes with God's call.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

Be blessed, as you battle through the messiness of fostering or adoption.

Author:
Written for Home for Good by Lucy Rycroft (LucyRycroft.com)


Date published:
30/11/2018


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