Sorrow and Suffering: Traveling Companions {Book Club}

Sorrow and Suffering: Traveling Companions

Here in Kenya, there are people called Intercessors. We had intercessors back in the US, too. But these are different. In the US, they were people who were committed to prayer. Here, they hire themselves out to pray for whatever you want. The fees vary according to what kind of blessing you’re asking for.

Often people hire Intercessors to pray for healing. The Intercessor tells them the fees. They pay, he prays, but – and this is important – the person requesting the prayer must have faith, otherwise it won’t work.

We may know that someone has been ill, and we call to check on them. They’ll say something like, “Oh, I was so bad, but the Intercessor prayed for me, and now I feel great.” Meanwhile, the person is still stuck in bed and hasn’t been back to work yet. They aren’t feeling any better, actually, but they have to say they are. Because that’s faith.

It sounds absurd. BUT. As I read this week’s chapter of Glorious Weakness, I realized that I harbor similar beliefs.

I don’t pay anyone to pray for me, but I put on a façade of things being fine when they aren’t because that seems like how it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be thriving, right?

Alia Joy presented a paradox in her writing that I keep thinking about.  On the one hand, she said, “I had to believe that the only thing that mattered was eternity.” On the other hand, she felt compelled to present her life as super great, neat and tidy, no problems here.

If eternity is the only thing that matters, then suffering or prospering in this life can’t matter. So why do we prefer to bury the one and conflate the other? Why do we keep up appearances? At first, I want to say that it’s only for non-believers. We think that if they see how great we have it, they’ll come to Jesus. But don’t we keep up appearances within the church as well? Don’t I hesitate to share any trouble we have here with our partners back home?

“If we fail to dig into a theology of suffering and the way we as Christ followers will hurt right alongside a troubled world, we write off people’s trials as an anomaly or a reaping they had coming instead of a place we connect with God’s solace and peace and even our purpose in walking with and weeping with those who weep.”

When things are going wrong, the human tendency is to assume that those suffering must have done something wrong. These things are happening because you have unhealthy habits, because you aren’t praying enough, because you don’t have enough faith, because of some hidden sin in your life. Living without faith or prayer, with unhealthy habits or hidden sin are all problems on their own. Though these can all cause more problems, suffering is part of life. It’s part of the Christian life.

When I was in college, I read Hinds’ Feet in High Places, which is an allegory similar to Pilgrim’s Progress. While Christian’s traveling companion (in Pilgrim’s Progress) was Faithful, Much Afraid’s companions are Sorrow and Suffering. Though I don’t remember much else from the book, that has stuck with me. Sorrow and Suffering.

Alia Joy says, “Sorrow is sacred. Suffering is not an indictment against God; it can be the single space we identify most deeply with Christ, who knows it best.” The problem is, “when we are hurting in church, we put our masks back on and pretend everything is fine because we think our testimony is supposed to be our faithfulness. But our testimony is only ever how God is faithful to us, not the other way around.”

This chapter is a challenge. Or maybe several challenges. First, to stop assuming that suffering is evidence that I’m not doing something right. Second, not to fear that others will judge me that way. Third, to continue developing a theology of suffering. And finally, to freely lament with hope “because after lament, I am always found again in him.” Rejoice and be sad.

What does this chapter stir in your heart and mind? Do you wrestle with trying to preserve an image of the good life in the midst of suffering?

Here’s our schedule for the rest of the book:

November 19: Chapter 9

November 26: Chapters 10 & 11

December is going to be so much fun! We will read two (free!) holiday short stories, plus chat about our favorite books from 2019. Stay tuned!

Photo by Kerensa Pickett on Unsplash

1 Comment

  1. Phyllis November 17, 2019

    I highlighted a lot this week. This year has been one of extreme grief (and joy!) for me.

    Some of what I want to remember from this chapter:
    “Grief pushed down comes out sideways.”
    “It’s okay to leave some questions on the books. It’s okay to be angry and to admit we can’t see the good of it all right now.”
    “The questions are the place to admit our need, not just for answers, but for awareness of who God is.”
    “I wish I had known the questions are the invitation for Jesus to enter our sorrow and reclaim the dead space. I wish I had known Jesus is the God of all lost things.” (I do know this. I recently sobbed through the song in the newer Mary Poppins, where the children sing about the place where the lost things go.)
    “Let us pour out the oil of gladness and praise from our lips but let us not forget the wails and cries and pounding fists.”

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