Necessary or Unnecessary Suffering

Necessary or Unnecessary Suffering

Is suffering a good thing? Is suffering to be embraced? Or avoided?

Suffering never feels good. That’s why it’s called suffering. Some Christian believers seem to embrace suffering and grow from it personally and spiritually. Other believers seem to avoid it at all costs, wonder why God doesn’t always relieve their suffering, and wonder what’s wrong when suffering continues.

Much of that confusion, I believe, comes from a failure to understand the difference between necessary and unnecessary suffering.

Unnecessary Suffering

There are countless ways in which we suffer – physically, emotionally, spiritually. But not all of that suffering is necessary or inevitable. It’s not a pleasant thought, but sometimes you cause the suffering yourself.

What about the suffering of material lack – poverty? Have you invested your time and energy well, refusing to blame others for where you are in life? Have you learned good money management skills, staying away from debt? Have you learned to be a wise steward of any physical resources you have?

What about the suffering from the breakup of a marriage? Did you give up too soon when your marriage might have been saved with hard work? Did you neglect your spouse too long in too many ways? Did you compromise your boundaries, or refuse to deal with damaging things in your own character?

What about physical suffering? Are you experiencing the consequences of a lifestyle of unhealthy eating, no exercise, or substance abuse? Have you cared for your body well, with appropriate rest and medical care?

Wallowing in shame and guilt about any of this is not useful. But it is sobering to realize that some of our suffering was caused or at least made worse by the decisions we made and actions we took.

That’s actually good news! Because it also means we can now reduce our suffering in those areas by making new decisions and taking different actions.

Necessary Suffering

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Forgiveness in Marriage: How to Do it Well

Forgiveness in Marriage: How to Do it Well

Your spouse has hurt you. Guaranteed. If you haven’t been hurt by your spouse, you either got married five minutes ago (and you’re not reading this!) or you’re lying. There is absolutely no way you can connect your life that closely with another human being and not get hurt. The question now is, how can you forgive your spouse when they have hurt you?

When you hear the word forgiveness in the context of marriage you likely have one of two reactions.

  • You cannot imagine forgiving your spouse for what they’ve done. You respond to your spouse with the kind of treatment you believe their shortcomings deserve. You internally keep score, and feel justified in your less-than-loving behavior because of what your spouse has done to you. You may manipulate and control, using your spouse’s weakness as a weapon to “keep them in line.”
  • OR You are resigned to suffering as you “forgive.” You feel somehow entitled to your misery because of how your spouse has treated you. You’re determined to follow Jesus’ command to forgive, and that means you’ve chosen to “take it.” Whether the offense is small or large, current or long past, you see your wounds as yours to bear. You think you’re loving your spouse when you put up with their bad behavior.

Neither of those choices is forgiveness. You know deciding to wound your spouse in return for their wrongdoing is not forgiveness. But neither is the second choice – becoming resigned to suffering. Neither option gives any hope for restoration of your relationship.

Forgiveness is This, not That

Forgiveness is not an easy thing to learn, but once you do it opens the door to amazing freedom, connection, and love. I had to learn about forgiveness – as I believe everyone does – the hard way. Thankfully I had learned enough about forgiveness before I got married to make our marriage happy, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. I believe you can learn how to forgive now – even if you’re in the middle of a miserable marriage.

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When Your Children Break Your Heart

When Your Children Break Your Heart

You will always be a parent, even when your children are grown. And sometimes the choices they make are completely inconsistent with the values you worked so hard to instill in them. Or you may see some things you wish you had done differently as a parent, and now that your children are older it seems hopeless. It hurts when children break your heart.

In our most recent survey I heard from a number of parents. Your children may be teens, young adults, or even middle aged, and the way they are living seems to be far from God. And it hurts you to see it. “That is what breaks my heart.” “And my heart breaks!!!!!” “It grieves our hearts.” Your pain is deep and real. I can hear your tears and feel your heartache.

When your children were little you could control their behavior somewhat. You could take them to church, punish them if they did wrong, and make sure they ate their vegetables. You could decide what TV shows they watched and which friends they spent time with. During their teen years (if not before) all that began to change, and you are now no longer in charge. The tearing away may have been happening right under your nose without you realizing it until a serious break in your relationship with them forced you to see it. Or it may have been gradual and relatively pleasant until they were out of your house, and then they walked steadily away from the kind of Christian lifestyle you wanted them to have.

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The Blessing of Limitations

The Blessing of Limitations

We love stories of people who overcame limitations. There’s Harriet Tubman – escaped slavery as a young woman, then became instrumental in leading many other slaves to freedom and advancing the cause of abolition. There’s Jackie Robinson – first African-American to break the Major League Baseball color barrier, becoming so successful that he was admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. There’s Nick Vujicic – born completely without arms and legs, who now travels the world inspiring others and telling them about Jesus.

And we could name many others. There are plenty of Biblical examples also; Moses – a disgraced former Egyptian leader who God used to lead His people out of Egypt, David – a shepherd boy who became King of Israel, or Peter – an impetuous uneducated Galilean fisherman who Jesus transformed into one of the premier leaders of the early Christian church.

We focus on the come-back story, the impact these individual’s lives end up making, the glory at the end. We look at the biography, the obituary so to speak. We stand amazed, and we should. We may even feel a little envy. Why can’t I have that kind of impact? Why doesn’t life give me that opportunity? Why doesn’t God use me in that way?

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Developing Spiritual Resilience for Troubles That WILL Come

Developing Spiritual Resilience for Troubles That WILL Come

Tall TreeThere is no way to get away from trouble in this world. Sometimes things happen that we cannot prevent. Sometimes we have an inkling of what may be coming, but nothing can truly prepare you for the overwhelming waves of pain or anger or grief or exhaustion that will hit you when it comes.

That’s why you need to develop spiritual resilience now.

Looking back over the past few months of my husband’s illness and his death only days ago, I know I would have coped much worse if I had not previously invested in my relationship with God over a long period of time. When fatigue or emotions or stress builds up what’s deep in your soul is what comes out.

I hope your trauma is not as painful as mine. But whatever it is, you will need some inner reserves to make it through. One day you will face one or more of these troubles, if you haven’t already:

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