You’d think by now I’d be used to it. I’ve heard it everywhere I’ve been, but it still amazes me that people who have been Christians for decades still view suffering the wrong way. Yes, we suffer in this life. All of us suffer in one way or the other. So why do those few think that the reason for their suffering is so they can be “Queen for a Day?”
Probably only a few of you remember that show. I was very young myself. Originally it aired on a local radio show in LA, but it was picked up for national broadcast by NBC on January 3, 1956. It has been called the first “reality show” and it was roundly criticized even in its day. It went like this: three or four women showed up to tell their stories of woe and suffering and the audience voted on who was suffering the most and that one “lucky” woman received a robe, a crown, a bouquet of roses, and several prizes, in effect being treated like a queen for one day. A contest to see who is suffering the most? Really? But isn’t that what so many in the church do? “I deserve more attention than so-and-so because I have more problems than she does.”
People who constantly complain about not getting enough attention are giving themselves away for, as Jesus says, “Out of the heart the mouth speaks,” Matt 15:18. Indeed, if my suffering were as severe as my “Woe is me!” attitude, I wouldn’t be thinking about the attention I do or don’t get, but about the trial itself. But all that is beside the point. Suffering is not about being served.
Peter tells us that suffering refines us, makes us pure and stronger (1 Pet 1:6-9). James seems to indicate that suffering brings wisdom (Jas 1:2-6). But I think that even those things don’t reach the ultimate reason we suffer. Suffering is about discipleship. A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher, Luke 6:40. Why do we think we can be a disciple of a suffering servant and never suffer like he did?
So why did Jesus have to suffer? Hebrews tells us that because he suffered he is able to help those who also suffer (2:18), and that as a high priest he is able to sympathize with us (4:15.). He learned obedience by the things he suffered “with loud cries and tears,” (5:8). Yes, he really suffered and the whole purpose of his suffering was so he could help others who are suffering the same way.
So why do I suffer? Doesn’t it make sense that as a disciple of Christ, I am suffering for the same reason he did, so I can accomplish the same thing he accomplished? We neither suffer so we can be the center of attention nor so we can stand as judge over others who give that attention. We suffer so that we can better serve those who are suffering similar things. Even the purity, strength, and wisdom that come from suffering helps us accomplish those ends. As with everything else in a Christian’s life, my suffering is not about me, it is about others.
Have you been forsaken by an unfaithful spouse? Be willing to talk openly to those who are going through the same things. You may well be the only one who understands the thoughts that go through one’s head, the looks you get from others, the ordeal of custody battles and the instant poverty that sometimes accompanies this betrayal.
Have you survived cancer? Look for new victims who feel the constant pressure of wondering not if it will return, but when. Look for still others, not just cancer victims, but anyone with a bleak prognosis. No one understands the axe hanging over their heads like you do.
Have you been the victim of violent crime? No one understands the constant terror that one lives with after that, the burden of overcoming paranoia—seeing a boogeyman behind every face in a parking lot, in a grocery aisle, passing you in a car as you walk to get the mail. No one else can understand the embarrassment of once again becoming a little child who is afraid of the dark.
Have you lost a child? Have you lost a child to the world? Have you faced financial ruin? Have you lost everything to a fire, a hurricane, a tornado? Are you facing disability or the caregiving of a spouse who no longer knows who you are? Everyone has faced something, and God expects you to use that experience, and the strength and wisdom you have gained from it, to help someone else. You are the Lord’s agent on this earth. Don’t let all your pain go to waste.
None of this can be accomplished if I am still whining about a loss that occurred years ago. No one can be helped if I am still expecting everyone to pat me on the back for every little thing that comes along. At some point God expects me to not get over it—that may never happen—but to get past it, to no longer be paralyzed by grief but ready to serve. Some afflictions are more difficult than others. Some trials need a longer recovery period, but mature Christians eventually grow beyond the selfish need for attention.
We don’t suffer so we can be “Queen for a Day.” On the contrary, suffering makes us both eligible and obligated to help others. God expects me to search out those who need my special experiences and serve. Just when has He ever expected anything less of His people?
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. Hebrews 13:12-13