Stewarding Your Suffering
by Cara Soto
“But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” Matt 25:18
When I was in my teen years, my family and I loved going backpacking up into the mountains of Idaho where I lived. Sometimes, the backpacking trips would last from 7 to 10 days and what I packed was all I had. In preparing for the trip, I would choose the lightest items of food, clothing and sleeping gear that was possible, because every ounce mattered. If the pack was too heavy at the end of the day my feet, shoulders and back would be really aching. The journey which had beautiful scenery and heavenly smells would quickly lose its beauty due to the pain that I was experiencing.
I often think of our lives in this manner. We all find ourselves carrying backpacks like the famed Pilgrim carried in his quest for the Celestial City. To some extent, our packs can be lighter or heavier depending on what has happened to us, and how we respond to significant personal events. Because we live in a world that at times is riddled with suffering, our insidious enemy the devil works to stuff our backpacks full of untold suffering and pain, some of it due to painful abuse or neglect at the hands of others.
While some suffering is just unavoidable, we are not doomed to be passive victims to it. In 1 Peter 5 Peter confirms that our enemy the devil is trying to destroy us. But he then challenges us to stand firm in our faith because our brothers and sisters are enduring the same suffering. Next he points to something so beautiful that I will explore further in my next blog, he says after we have suffered for a little while that Christ himself will restore us and make us stronger and firmer. It’s how we handle our suffering that determines whether we lighten our load or add to the weight of our backpack.
In that vein, not long ago I listened to a thought-provoking sermon by Fredrick Buechner. Buechner defines the stewardship of pain as a redemptive way in which we deal with our pain. He goes on to say that the most natural response to pain is to run from it, forget it, deny it, or hide it. Our families often implicitly or explicitly ask us to hide the pain, and the world often asks us to forget it ever happened. After listening to the sermon I sat back and wondered: what have I done with my suffering? Have I been a good steward of it? Stewarding our suffering well asks us to acknowledge our suffering as a first step in our healing.
When we are poor stewards of our pain, we fall prey to dealing with it in negative ways. We may use it as an excuse for the failure in our lives, we may blame others inappropriately, we may use it to elicit excessive sympathy, and sometimes we become embittered by it. We may numb it with addictions, or we may try to hide the shame of it, and yet it still leaks out. All of these poor stewarding skills (coping mechanisms) unfortunately lead us to carry a heavier and heavier load, and the beauty of life soon substantially diminishes.
However, there is hope!
To experience genuine transformation in our lives we must learn to steward our suffering well. In Matthew 25:8 the servant is taking what has been given, (which is his responsibility or freedom to choose), and hides it. When his master comes back and asks what he did with what he had been entrusted with he says that he hid it. The master promptly takes away what has been given to the servant and throws him into darkness (most likely a consequence of his actions, not strictly a punishment).
In our quest to acquire wholeness, freedom and fullness through lasting transformation, again, we must start with acknowledging our suffering. Next, we gradually learn to take the responsibility for the part of suffering that we have caused ourselves. We continue the process of unpacking our backpack by confessing to God our negative responses to our suffering, and then learn to change the way we think about our suffering, by learning new skills to process it.
Gratefully we are not alone in this journey. 1 Peter 2:21 says “Because Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps. The good news is that Christ has already suffered. Jesus knew that owning his suffering and pain was ultimately going to be the source of joy and salvation for all. Jesus did not evade his suffering; he did not repress it. Likewise, out of our pain and suffering can come our greatest joy and hope.
With that, I encourage you to start the process of unpacking your heavy load. And if you have already started the process, I encourage you to keep doing the hard work. It’s not easy facing our pain and suffering, but the result is well worth it.
Opening the door to your pain and suffering will help assist your healing and the healing of others. In many ways, we need each other to heal. I have found that a person who hides their pain often implicitly invites others to do the same.
We can meet each other in our suffering, and see the Lord work through the encounter. This is one of the major reasons Christian therapy works so well. During a session, Jesus, the therapist and the client work to unpack the suffering that has been weighing down the backpack. The load becomes lighter and true healing and freedom come from sharing our story of pain.
If there is some way in which our ministry can come alongside of you on your journey, please let us know. We love to participate in seeing God bring healing and freedom where pain and suffering once prevailed.
Regardless, may God grant you the grace to follow the Spirit’s promptings to steward your suffering in ways that lead to greater fullness in your life.
Blessings on your journey.