Pain with Poise: Learning to suffer well

So, in my last blog I shared my difficulty in accepting this current season in my life, and how it’s pushed me to re-embrace a theology of suffering. Our culture, like most cultures, rejects suffering, because of our propensity to be in control, reject trust and dependence on God and interdependence with each other.

Like Peter, we take our suffering friends aside and rebuke them, offering platitudes and pale reasons, which only increases their loneliness. Remember Jesus’ stern words, “get behind me Satan!” (Mark 8:31-33) Even “the Son of Man must suffer many things.”

And just as God brought beauty in resurrection through the despicable cross, he creates beauty in our lives, even through suffering. In these months, I’ve had some practices that have kept me sane, at least most of the time. I offer them now.

Practices for Suffering Well

I. Daily office.

I’ve been reading the lectionary each day (well, not every day, but most!) Praying through Old and New Testament readings, a gospel and Psalms unites me with Christians around the world reading the same passages, anchoring me in the Faith. They anchor me in God’s story, revealing to me his goodness and lovingkindness.

I don’t believe that God is pleased when we suffer or that God causes our suffering. Suffering just IS. I do believe that because God is so creative and powerful, he can generate transformative beauty, even from unjust suffering. He’s not limited by our suffering circumstances.There are apps or sites on the Internet that show the daily readings.

II. Praying the Psalms.

The daily office includes Psalms, but I’ve found that sometimes I need more immersion; therefore, I pray the Psalms out loud. They provide a framework for my whys, laments, and sometimes, curses. They give voice to my suffering. Ultimately, however, they lead me to trust in God’s steadfast love (hesed) despite my circumstances.

III. Service.

Getting fired frees up all kinds of time! Therefore, I’ve had space to serve my family, to take care of my nieces and nephews, help my sister move house, hang out with my parents—and friends. Those in my community often need an extra hand, grocery shopping or cooking a meal when their time is pressed. Creating nice meals for friends and neighbors offers space around the table for conversation, good food and rest.

IV. Creative hobbies.

Yup, there’s time for hobbies! During this season of “in between,” a friend has coached me in woodworking. Cutting, planing, sanding and oiling call forth the natural beauty of wood. A metaphor, I believe, for the beauty God is producing in my life (even the parts that hurt, like the cutting, planing, sanding and oiling).

After building a self-irrigating, raised-bed garden, I’ve experimented with growing vegetables. Getting my hands dirty and nurturing these little plants opens me to nurturing my own soul. And I’m learning how to play the mandolin! Learning music opens my mind and heart to new experiences. I love the sense of accomplishment of practicing and playing a new song. I’m terrible, but somehow making these connections between mind, hands and heart generates life and energy. Opens me to vision for the future.

The “mundane” or “ordinary” is not always easy for me, and sometimes I feel that my life is hidden, what am I doing? What happened to my “important” work? Will I ever have that profound sense of satisfaction in my vocation again? It’s especially difficult to endure the loneliness. I’m energized when participating in creative, collaborative teams. But for now, I must wait…trust.

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Shelley Trebesch

Shelley Trebesch

Shelley G. Trebesch (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) has served as vice president for capacity development for Prison Fellowship International, as well as assistant professor of leadership and organization development at Fuller Theological Seminary and in Singapore as global director for Membership Development for OMF International. An active consultant, trainer and seminar leader, Trebesch has facilitated complex change processes and developed leadership curricula for churches and organizations around the world.
Shelley Trebesch

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