Why did this happen to ME, Lord?  This is not fair!  I try to be a good person, I try to follow your will…so why is this happening, what have I done to deserve this?

Have you ever asked this of God?  Has something so painful happened to you that you feel you can’t live with the circumstances or the pain of it?

Suffering

There have been times in my life when I’ve dealt with some very difficult circumstances which weren’t of my own doing (and yes, there have been many times in my life when I’ve dealt with some very difficult circumstances which were of my own doing, but that is for a different devotion…).

Sometimes, painful things happen directly to me, and sometimes painful things happen to someone close to me, someone I love very much.  Usually my first reaction, humanly, is to ask, “why me?” and try to reason with God:  “God, now why’d you have to go and make this happen?  You know me!  You know I love you and worship Christ, and I’m a pretty good person…so why me?  Can’t you just take this away, make it like it never happened?”

The crazy thing is, sometimes He does just that.  Sometimes I might suffer a little while, but then all of the sudden whatever “thorn is in my flesh” suddenly just disappears and things get better.  Maybe I learned something from whatever it was, and maybe I’m just like, “Oh cool!  Thanks, God!”  Or, maybe I just breathe a sigh of relief and go along my merry way, thinking, “Shew, I knew I didn’t deserve that!  Dodged that bullet!”

But, sometimes bad things happen, and they stick around for a while, sometimes permanently scarring.  And yes, I question God during those times.  It is human nature to want to understand why something is happening to us.

And sometimes God makes it very clear why suffering is occurring in my life.  Often it is to show me something in my life that I need to “fix.”  But most times, I believe the God allows things to happen to bring me closer to Him, and to change me, mold me into the person He has created me to become.

When my children get hurt, they come to me.  What are they expecting from me?  They want me to “fix it,” right?  Whatever is wrong, they know that they can run into my arms, seeking comfort and assurance that things will be okay, and that we can “fix” the problem or boo-boo or whatever it is.

And I love that.  I love that these boys have that comfort and peace and assurance of my unconditional love and support – knowing that they can rest in my arms, safely, and I will make everything alright for them, if it is in my power to do so.  I can’t always make it okay immediately.  There may be tears and pain for a while, but there will always be comfort and peace, and an assurance that they are safe in my arms, loved unconditionally, and they can go on with life because this isn’t going to destroy them.

It’s the same with God.  He didn’t just create us to be His “minions,” here to “do His will.”  He created us because He is, by nature, a loving Father, who longs to have a relationship with His sons and daughters.  And He longs to hold us in His arms, He wants to be close to us, just as we want to be close to our own children.  And sometimes, if things are going entirely too smoothly, we don’t go to Him at all, do we?  We become very independent and self-reliant, and we take this relationship we have with our Father for granted.  Just like our own children…who sometimes branch out a little further than they are actually ready…like a child trying to cross the street before knowing to look both ways…they don’t always see the danger just around the bend, they aren’t focused on their parents warning them, they just want to do what they want to do…and they run out too far…

Sufferings-1-642x250

God created us and gave us free will, the ability to think and do as we please.  He desires for us to love Him, desire Him, and seek Him first, but He allows us to choose – and so often we choose to seek our own desires first.  And sometimes, most of the time, our own desires lead us to places that are dark and dangerous, and we are there before we even know it, because we have been so focused on ourselves instead of God.  I think, sometimes, God allows us to walk a little too far in our own self-reliance…and because we are human, because we aren’t keeping our focus on Him – the One who warns us of danger, we usually walk on far enough to get ourselves into a bit of trouble.  And then we suffer for it.

But He is always there, waiting, watching, and yes, even pursuing us, with His arms wide open, waiting for us to run back to Him… for love, for comfort, for the assurance that there will be healing, and for His unconditional love and support.

Today I was reading the story of Christ’s birth in the Gospel of Matthew.  For some reason, I began to focus on Mary and Joseph, and how Mary came to be “with child” before they were married.

They were “betrothed” at the time, which in the ancient Jewish culture means that they were actually legally bound to be married.  Betrothal was a permanent relationship which could only be broken by a legal process.  Since they were not married, they did not share a marriage bed, so when Mary became pregnant with the Messiah, it created a great scandal for them, and brought a “stigma” upon their relationship in the eyes of those around them.

Joseph had the right, in the eyes of the law, to break his betrothal to Mary because she was now seen as a suspected adulteress.  He could actually have her brought to trial and put to death, exonerating himself.  Or, he could pay a fine and “divorce” her, breaking the engagement.  His original decision was the latter.

Now, we know that Mary did not bring this situation upon herself.  God had chosen her for this, and when she first learned of this, she praised His name (read the “Magnificat” in Luke 1: 46-55 – the beautiful song of praise she sang to God).

And yet there was a “stigma” attached to this great blessing.  Society would think ill of her.  Unbelievers, and that was most of the people in her village throughout her life time, would always label her an adulteress, a cheat, a liar.  She would have to live with this pain and suffering for the rest of her life.

Can you imagine the pain this must have caused Joseph, who loved her very much?  He was willing to pay a fine to divorce her, which, in the eyes of their community, would not actually exonerate him.  And so, he too, would have to live with the stigma.  There would be those wagging tongues that would still accuse him of being “the one” who caused this, who did this to Mary.

Those were the decisions that this very young couple were left with.   Pretty painful.  Not such great choices, it seems, with our human view of the world.

But, the Lord sent assurance, in the form of an angel, to Joseph, assuring Him that Mary was telling him the truth, she was faithful to Joseph.  This pregnancy was through the Holy Spirit, the “immaculate conception.”  And Joseph believed and trusted God, and elected to stay with Mary.  In fact, he married her right away.

And yes, the community tongues still wagged.  “Look at them!  They are such sinners!  Can you believe that?”  I often wondered, why didn’t God send His angels to explain the situation to the village, to everyone, so that Mary and Joseph would not have to live with this stigma?

But the fact is, he didn’t.  They did have to live with it.  Just like so many of us have to live with the pain in our lives, whether self-inflicted or not.

I imagine that life was very lonely and difficult at times for Mary and Joseph.  I imagine they were shunned by many, refused service at the market, lost business opportunities, endured shame and hurt at the hateful vitriol spewed by judgmental people, who truly were no better, who most assuredly were sinners or suffering in their own way – though not in ways always visible to others.  I imagine they endured humiliation, pain, suffering, and feelings of “why me, Lord?” from time to time.

But here is what I also imagine happened as a result:  They turned to the only One who could offer them comfort, encouragement, strength, and peace to endure the harsh realities of life – God, their Father.  I imagine they clung to Him throughout their lives, growing stronger in their relationship with Him daily, as they struggled to raise their family, including Jesus Christ, their child, the Messiah, among people who probably made fun of them, and relegated them to “second class citizen” status because of their perceived sin – even though they had not sinned to bring this stigma upon themselves.

And I imagine that God blessed them, tremendously.  I imagine that the relationships they shared together as a family, who relied upon God and one another, and the relationships they shared with others who loved and accepted, and maybe even believed their story, were intensely rich and fulfilling, full of love and laughter and encouragement and hope.  And I believe that as they persevered through these difficult times, they grew in character, and in hope, and in faith.

Aren’t those relationships, though they be few, much more fulfilling than the acceptance and adoration of the masses?

I believe the Lord provides comfort and hope and healing to us in many ways.  It may not always be total redemption in the sight of everyone…but more importantly, it is provided to us in the comfort and safety of His arms, in relationship with HIM, our Father.

So, this is why we can persevere and rejoice in our sufferings.  This is why we can praise Him in each storm of our life.  This is what is meant by, “there may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  It comes in the form of a deepened and stronger relationship with God, which is what true followers of Christ seek more than anything else this world has to offer.

Joy in suffering

“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.  Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.   We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” – Romans 5:1-5

Blessings!

Tron

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