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R&V In the Word: Embrace Suffering

Image: Alekon Images

Luke 9:18-27 MSG

Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?

Luke 9:23-25 MSG

This morning, just as the sun was cresting over the hill and casting long rays of light through the bare branches of our trees, I watched the deer bedded down in the leaves behind our home. They vanished into the palette of browns and then reappeared in the sudden flick of their ears and the turn of their heads, and then they vanished again in their stillness.

There are three deer in particular that seem to call our land their home, a doe and two adolescent fawns. We know them and recognize them, especially the doe, because she has been handicapped for the last two years, her back right leg unable to bear weight, probably hit by a car. Her fawns are almost full grown now. Despite her injury, she seems to be holding up really well.

I think it’s because of all my compost scraps.

I’ve been thinking a lot this year about suffering, not because I am suffering but because there never seems to be a moment of our lives that is free from the presence of pain. If we aren’t in pain ourselves, we know someone right now who is—a friend who is battling cancer, a family member who is living with depression, a family member recovering from surgery, a friend capsized by the loneliness of raising young children. 

Someone in our lives is suffering right now.

Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic and other books, says that pain has a purpose. It is to draw us to one another. It is life’s signal that something is not right, and that injustice, that injury, that wound, that rupture is in need of repair.

But when we try to numb the pain, avoid the pain, dampen the pain, or ignore the pain, we blunt the community’s role in healing the source of the pain.

According to Jesus, the way to heal isn’t over or around or away from pain. It is through. There is no other way to resurrection and life, except through the gate of suffering and death. Suffering is a formative life experience, and it is central to the message of the gospel.

We live in an age that is obsessed with numbing pain. We have found so many ways to diminish our ability to feel the aches and injuries in our lives, from prescription drugs to alcohol to binge-watching television to doom scrolling on social media, even healthier yet equally addictive outlets, like manic exercising or calorie counting, and more, more and more ways we strive to block out the warning sound of our pain: something is not well, and it needs to be healed.

In order to heal a broken bone, all mammals—including my doe—go through three main stages: inflammatory, repair, and remodeling. The inflammatory stage happens immediately after injury, and its purpose is to clean up debris and prevent infection. Inflammation is like the body’s crisis response team. The repair stage is when the body starts to rebuild the bone, forming a callus that helps to stabilize the fracture. During the remodeling stage, the callus is gradually remodeled to resemble the original bone structure.

That same healing process is true for our souls. “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope,” writes Paul in Romans 5:3-4

When we’re able to say “I’m in pain, help me,” the inflammatory system of our community circles around and prevents the spread of greater pain and suffering. The suffering itself leads to character (repair), and then to hope (remodeling).

Suffering is the gateway to new life. Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection is the firstfruit of the new creation. We get to participate in the ongoing harvest. That means listening to the pain and leaning into the suffering in order to find new life and healing.

“​Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

The doe found space in the woods behind our home to rest and recover in her suffering, surrounded by her fawns and a bountiful harvest of food scraps. She’s forever changed but recovered, and here

May we be the kinds of neighbors who see each other’s pain and walk through our suffering in community, to be brought through on the other side to new life.

Points of Reflection

  1. Is there a time you can recall in your life that was obviously hard and painful, but the suffering changed you for the better?
  2. What pain and suffering are you actively avoiding in your life or the lives around you?

For the Kids

  1. What do you think Jesus meant when he said that self-sacrifice is the way to find your true self?
  2. Who do you know that is currently in pain or suffering? Think about people at school, family members, etc. What might you do to ease their suffering?


The idea of embracing our suffering is highly counter-cultural, but when we turn our eyes on the reality of our experience, the Light of Christ sweeps in to begin healing the wounds that are sending out those painful signals. Identify one person in your life that is going through a season of suffering and determine to do something, like send a note, make a meal, plan a coffee date, or drop by for a visit, to ease their pain.


The role of suffering in the Christian life has come up over and over again in the last few months, but probably the most influential book I’ve read on the topic so far this year has been The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone. I highly recommend this difficult but important book and its nuanced understanding of suffering and the Way of Christ.

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