Two things that no one likes: 1- anything that provides me the opportunity to work on patience, and 2- Suffering.
After college I lived in Wyoming for a two years. I had no idea what to expect going from an urban lifestyle to a rural one. There was lots of vacation time offered at this new job, and tons of mountains with great fly-fishing nearby. ‘Nuff said, I’m in. And even though everything else was a question mark, such as where I would live, what my work situation would be like, if I would make any friends, how I would adjust to a 2,000 person town, etc., I moved to Wyoming awaiting the new and exciting life changes ahead of me. While the job ended up being a great situation, I struggled in many other areas. During my two years in Wyoming, I worked a ton, made zero friends of any consequence, never went to church, pursued God at a very minimal level, and pursued weight lifting, fly-fishing, and hiking at a maximum level. I became very selfish, and knew it the whole time.
Finding a reason for my existence in Wyoming during those two years was a struggle. It was fun pursuing all my favorite hobbies, but it felt devoid of meaning. God had led me to Wyoming, but why? I experienced loneliness, a distance from God, and a level of suffering I had never known. I became increasingly more impatient with God. The times I did spend with the Lord were all about me, what I could get from God, and my not wanting to be in Wyoming. They were never about what God wanted me to lean into.
Questions swirled around in my head those years. “Is this all a waste of time?”, “What am I doing with my life?” “Am I really supposed to be here or did I just choose it because I like mountains and fishing?” But the most predominant question was,“Why?” I could not piece together the reason I was there, and I needed a reason, a purpose. Everything had to make sense, and nothing did.
The question soon grew exponentially, and I began asking it in much bigger, more staggering ways. “Why I am I here on earth at all?” “What is my purpose, not for just Wyoming, but for my whole life on this earth?” “Why are any of us here?” I knew it was more than just making enough money to have a house, a car, pursue the things that bring enjoyment, and have a few luxuries and comforts in life along the way. Just like the other men on this site, Wyoming had brought me to this intersection of faith and real life.
If what I claim to believe as a Christian is really true, then how does that affect my life beyond the narrow scope of hobbies, comforts, and self-serving relationships?
Scripture approaches this idea of being patient in suffering in James chapter 5. In this idea of suffering I find purpose for not only the suffering itself, but for the life that we are living. The three-fold idea in James 5 begins with one who pursues self-indulgence, riches and the comforts of life. In the process, these people are fattening themselves like cattle for the slaughter. Instead of pursuing wealth and the luxuries of life–essentially pursuing yourself–submit yourself to Christ and the righteous suffering he has in store. Then, when you are in these struggles in life, pray, and lean on other men, confessing your sins to each other.
It is one of the many paradoxes of the gospel, and, at face value, an extremely unattractive one. Leave behind everything you love, hold dear, and enjoy, and come with me to experience suffering! But if you look at the words of Christ, this is exactly where he stands. As I continue to learn what it means to deny myself and follow Christ (Mark 8:34-35), I find there is more pain and suffering than I originally signed up for. Wyoming seemed to just be a starting point. As I deny myself, and hold with open hands more of the things that are dear to me, then many redeeming things are made available too. Things like community instead of loneliness, acceptance from my creator and His family instead of searching for validation, joy instead of empty happiness in vain pursuits, forgiveness and redemption instead of separation and wandering, purpose instead of randomness and searching.
After taking the first few steps of faith, the suffering I didn’t expect to experience fades in light of God’s provision. It is in this deflected path that I am beginning to experience the paradox of the gospel. The more I let go of my life, and embrace the suffering God says we can expect (John 16:33), the more I am starting to experience the abundant life that God wants to give me (Mark 8:34-35, and John 10:10).
This is the “inside-out, upside-down Kingdom.” As I embrace suffering, I find encouragement in a community of people who are in the same place. As I acknowledge the brokenness and weak places in my soul, I find healing and restoration. As I empty myself, I am filled.
What are the situations you are suffering through?
How might God use those situations to refine you and draw you closer to Himself?
Father please help me through this season of suffering and trial. Help me to turn my focus toward you and not to myself. In my actions and words give me the courage to honor you through the storms of my life. Amen.