I remember it like it was yesterday. No sooner had my husband and I taken our seats and smiled awkwardly at the other nervous-looking couples when the nurse launched into her talk. “Welcome to our first prenatal class. We’ll get to know each other better over the next eight sessions, but let’s begin by focusing on why we are here.” With that, she turned off the lights, turned on the TV, and played three videos of the birthing process. During the first, I sat in stunned horror, during the second, I squirmed in empathy, but by the third, I was getting angry. How dare she show us these films? Couldn’t she see that these women were in agony? I didn’t want to watch other people in pain. I wanted to know how I could go through this process and avoid all that pain!
Unfortunately, this is a pattern that has been all too prevalent in my life. I feel uncomfortable watching others in pain. The suffering of others reminds me that pain is inevitable, but I often prefer to look the other way or look for ways to reduce it in my own life as much as possible. How about you? I suspect that I’m not the only one who has been deeply shaped by our culture’s obsession with comfort and ease. This tendency, however, makes Lent a difficult season. The Bible spares us no details about Christ’s passion. We see and hear his anguish so clearly that I want to look away, not study it more closely.
Lately, though, I’ve been reminded that God does not see pain and suffering like I do. I have often gotten stuck on the first part of James 1, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds….” Pure joy? Really? But I’m starting to see something in this concept that I’d missed before, something that a closer look at the cross reveals.
Hebrews 12: 2 explains that Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame “for the joy set before Him.” That joy in no way diminished the torment that Jesus experienced, but it does help me to understand how I can begin to approach suffering differently. Paul reminds us that “we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” (Romans 8:17) He even goes so far as to say that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (I Corinthians 4:17) Do you see the pattern in the italicized words? They emphasize the importance of seeing beyond our current circumstances. When I focus on trying to create a safe, comfortable life here and now, the very idea of suffering can send me into a tailspin, but if I can just keep my focus on what lies ahead–joy, glory, eternity–I don’t need to fear the trials that will come. In fact, James teaches us that suffering also has benefits this side of heaven: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) I may not like the idea of suffering, but being mature and complete sounds pretty good!
This year, as I contemplate the image of Christ on the cross, I want to see it differently. I want to get a better idea of what it meant for Him to endure the agony knowing that joy was yet to come. The truth is that I should understand this concept better than I do because I have two boisterous reminders running around my house of how the most intense pain can result in the most profound blessings. That prenatal care nurse was right to show us what lay ahead because every one of those videos ended with a beautiful baby being ushered into its parents’ arms. Going through life’s trials is rather like labour: I can choose to focus on the pain or I can choose to follow my Saviour’s example and focus on the awaiting joy.
A Lenten Prayer: Jesus, You are the author and perfecter of our faith, our Saviour and our Hope. As we approach Easter, give us the courage to contemplate the depths of Your suffering. Help us to imitate Your humility and obedience but also to hold on to Your joy. Help us to fix our eyes on You. Help us to live with the conviction that our present suffering does not begin to compare to the glory that we will share in. Grant us the grace to focus on the unseen, which is eternal, so that we won’t be overwhelmed by what we see, which is only temporary. Amen.
Contributed by Kim Grant