As I’ve been thinking and praying about the subject of suffering, I’ve realized there are many proverbial land mines that I can step on in this process. I can see how easy it is to twist this concept of suffering and make ourselves into martyrs. If we study suffering a lot, we can think that we are suffering all the time.
There’s a joke on Twitter where people will describe something that’s mildly uncomfortable and ask if that’s persecution. “My husband didn’t want to watch The Bachelor tonight. Is this persecution?” Or “Someone took my favorite parking spot. Is this persecution?” Or “Indoor seating is closed at Starbucks. Is this persecution?”
Those are dumb examples that I just made up, but I hope you get where I’m going. I want to avoid seeing suffering that way. I don’t want to talk about suffering in such a way that we see it everywhere. I don’t want to adopt the mindset that if something mildly inconveniences us, then we’re embracing suffering for Jesus. Sometimes things just go wrong in our days. Sometimes things are just inconvenient—that’s not the same thing as suffering. And it’s certainly not the same as suffering for Christ.
One of the other big potential pitfalls that I can see about this subject is that we can focus on the wrong thing. We can make suffering the goal instead of making Christ the goal. Suffering isn’t something that we should seek out, but we shouldn’t be surprised when it finds us.
We are called to be Jesus-focused, not suffering-focused.
Jesus’s life was full of suffering. Just think about it for a second: he surrendered everything and completely emptied himself to become fully man. Though Jesus was perfectly loving his entire life, he was rejected by the very people he came to save. He was constantly misunderstood by his disciples, who were the closest friends he had. He was despised by those in power who were threatened by him and was, ultimately, killed unjustly by the very same people. We don’t know how many meals he skipped or how many sleepless nights he experienced because he was homeless.
Jesus suffered during his 33 years on earth, but his focus wasn’t on the suffering. At every step of the way, he was focused on God’s mission, kingdom, and presence. And I think that’s a good model for us to follow.
When we seek God’s kingdom and his way of doing things, we will experience blessings (Matthew 6:33), but we will also suffer. If Jesus suffered even though he was righteous and holy, you can bet that we will also suffer when we live a fully-devoted life. Jesus, who loved everyone perfectly, was despised and reviled, so we can expect to be hated too when we choose to love radically.
I’m not an expert on suffering, but I would imagine that one of the keys is remaining focused on God. It is probably tempting to get wrapped up in the mechanics of suffering or showing off our struggles because of our devotion to Christ, like a medal. But that’s not how Jesus did things. He didn’t draw attention to his suffering. Instead, at every step of the way, he pointed people back to the Father.
Let’s choose to focus on God and his kingdom, knowing that when we do, suffering is likely to follow.
How does your life change when you focus more on Jesus?
What practical steps do you think we can take to remain Jesus-focused instead of suffering-focused?
To go Deeper: Read Shifting My Perspective, Living the Characteristics of the Kingdom