Don’t you love to suffer? In our culture, we do all we can to avoid suffering. It’s often priority number one. We may not say it out loud (or notice when we do), but we go to great lengths to avoid suffering. Here’s the problem, when we avoid suffering, we avoid love.
To love is to suffer. It’s an inseparable part of the equation. Yet we run from suffering, and in doing so, we miss the opportunity to love. Here’s a real life example. My wife was recently upset about something minor and then proceeded to go on a little tear around the house. What did I do? I said, Stop! The circumstances don’t warrant your response. Go take a break.
Here’s what I was doing. Number one, I wanted my suffering (my wife’s emotions) to stop. They were upsetting me. Number two, I was telling her to take a time out in an effort to eliminate my discomfort.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t sound like the occasionally jerk I am. I sounded perfectly reasonable. I said, Honey, this is no big deal, let’s not get worked up about this. Why don’t you go take a break. Sounds reasonable, right?
Reason has it’s place, but it’s quite limited in it’s ability to reach the human heart, soul, and expanded mind. Love – loving into someone’s suffering – is not easy. But we all instinctively know it’s really powerful. What my wife needed was for me to walk beside her as she suffered – not try to stop it – or send her away. She needed me to suffer with her – to understand and take on her pain.
Suffering avoidance plays out with our kids as well. Take time outs for example. We think that by sending them away, alone, that they’ll learn a lesson and come to their senses because they’ve obviously crossed some line. The line we fail to see is our own suffering avoidance. Instead of loving and suffering with the emotional pain of our child, we chalk up our disciplinary actions as good parenting.
Now, I’m going to take a leap here and start talking about Jesus’ emotional time in the Garden of Gethsemane just before he was captured by Roman soldiers and subsequently crucified. Don’t worry – it’s one heck of a correlation to what I’ve said above.
In Tim Keller’s book, King’s Cross, he talks about how Jesus was facing ultimate suffering. Jesus’ response to this was unique. He didn’t face suffering stoically. And he didn’t run from it, or try to fight it off. Instead, he broke down and cried out loud to God pleading, Take this cup from me. To understand the breadth of his suffering, Keller notes that Jesus was “astonished,” and “overcome with horror.” He was an emotional basket case. And rightly so, as he was facing God’s wrath.
When we read the story in the garden, we notice two interesting things. One is that Jesus expresses his emotions openly and freely. He’s not hiding his pain. He’s not taking a time out. He’s not running away. He’s feeling it. The second is that he’s not alone. He’s desperately and intimately praying to God, Dad, please, if there is any other way, get me out of this, but I’ll do whatever you say. He’s also with his closest disciples. He’s in community.
There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of lessons in this intimate moment in Jesus’ life, but the fact that Jesus didn’t run from suffering, and freely expressed his turmoil within earshot of his friends can not be overlooked. In our culture, we train each other, ourselves, our kids to avoid suffering. Take the easy road, we say, you deserve it.
In my case, when my wife and kids get emotional, I’m a lot like the apostle Peter. I reach for my sword to fight off the onslaught. But Jesus says, no Peter, Put your sword back in its place. Might is wrong. I’m right.
In the words of Keller, Jesus says, I’m going to put others ahead of myself. I’m going to love my enemies. I’m going to serve and sacrifice for others.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson