Plugging holes in my theology of suffering {guest post}


I’m delighted to have Amy Young over at my place this week. Amy is American and has lived and worked in China for more than 15 years. Every time I read Amy’s blog I feel energised and excited – her enthusiasm for God and life spills over onto the page. This is her God and Suffering story:
 

Gag Law
Before we get started with our chat, here are three basic things to know about me:

 

  1. I’m the kind of person who is fairly aware of what I’m feeling and thinking. I’m intuitive and quick at processing. I’m a leaper and not a list maker when it comes to decisions.  I cry easily, cheer easily, laugh easily, and yes, even fuss easily.
  2. Blessing upon blessing have been poured on me. I’m loved, educated, privileged, financially fine (always could be better, but truth be told, I’m fine.), healthy, well-travelled, employed, relationally rich. You get the picture.
  3. I believe God is sovereign, God is good, and life is hard. Reading through the posts on Tanya’s blog, I feel a bit like a suffering poser. Sure, I’ve suffered. I’ve nearly died, I’ve missed things living in China away from family and friends, family members have had some rather serious medical situations. I do not believe that I (or others) are immune from tragedy.

If you were to ask me several years ago if I had a theology of suffering, I would have answered you, “Yes.” And meant it.

 

But then I found a hole or two.

 

It turns out that I have a fairly solid theology for what I call“personal public suffering.” If something is appropriate for me to share, and thus I do not bear it alone, I know how to suffer. If I could name an illness, share a technology woe (such as when computers crash, blogs are hacked, or cell phones stolen), or turn it into a great teaching illustration, I could, so-call, suffer well.

 

But then something happened and I was thrown into the deep end of suffering, complicated all the more because it wasn’t appropriate to share (and most likely will not be).

 

I’m not talking about times when The Accuser whispers, “Shame, shame, you cannot share this. Others will not love you and will think poorly of you. Hide this.” This wasn’t a secret that needed light to shine in on darkness, exposing it to truth. This was a private path to walk alone.

 

I felt like a fish being gutted. The sharp knife of suffering slicing into my belly and pulling out that which sustained me, leaving the outside intact. I wanted it to be public, so that others could at least acknowledge what I was experiencing was real, was painful, was changing parts of me in ways I knew simply could not “return to normal” afterwards. But I was not invited into public suffering. The Inviter said, “You are decent with loud, public things, but you need to grow when you can’t invite the whole world to the party, when it’s just you, me, and a few others.”

 

It was a path that wandered into weeks, months, and then a few years passed.

 

Even now it’s challenging to write about because I can’t be specific and that is achingly unsatisfactory for me. I am rooted and at home in stories. As I’ve followed these posts, I’ve been drawn in by the richness of the details that bring your children, your mothers, your bodies to life. You’ve let me walk in your shoes, and I am the richer for it.

 

But here I break the cardinal rule of writing. I tell and don’t show. I’ve suffered, yet you have no idea the nature of my suffering.

 

I wrestled with the question: How then do you suffer, pilgrim,when it’s a private path you’re on?

 

By leaning into a small safe circle. By leaning into the Psalms and Job as they light the path on crying out to God. By leaning into God’s character and trusting that He’s even more into justice than I am. By putting one foot in front of the other and living a story that it bigger than this chapter.

 

I am no expert on silent suffering. I still prefer things where I can openly speak about what’s going on and not feel that I’m being duplicitous (which can also be a fancy way of saying, I like for others to know I’ve been wronged!). And yet.

 

And yet, like you, I have been shaped by my suffering. Pain is real. It is. But so is redemption.
 

 
Amy young After more than 15 years in China, Amy is in her last semester of “the known” and getting ready to jump out into the unknown with cour_ge. The distance has not impeded her passion for the Denver Broncos or the Kansas Jayhawks and she’s a bit obsessed by signs. You can get a free copy of her book Signs of Eden Regained by subscribing to the newsletter at her blog The Messy Middle (www.messymiddle.com). She tweets @amyinbj.
 

News on God and Suffering series: this is the LAST God and Suffering post in a while. I know, I know – I’m sad too. It’ll be back in September, but for now I’m feeling the need to take a break, stretch out my legs a bit, and slow down the pace of blogging. I’ll still be blogging weekly. Do check back and read the whole archives though – there are some great stories there to encourage you.
 

Over to you:

  • Have you ever been in a situation of ‘silent’ suffering, where you weren’t able to share with others what was happening? How did you get through it?

 

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10 Responses to Plugging holes in my theology of suffering {guest post}

  1. Stephanie 31st March, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    I do not like to suffer in silence, but that is the situation I’m in right now. I’m devastated and desperate to talk, but the circumstances are such that I cannot share what I’m going through without exposing someone else. Right now, what’s best for the other person takes priority and that means remaining silent. As hard as it is, I have absolutely sensed that through this I am to learn how to depend on God in a new and deeper way. There is comfort in that. Thank you for this post. It has been an encouragement to me this morning.

  2. Megan Willome 26th March, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    I’m in one of those situations now and have been for a while. Part of why I can’t share is this very venue–social media–that does not allow for privacy. Even enemies deserve privacy. Like you, I wade in the Psalms and in the comfort of those who know. But mostly Psalms. Those who do know do not understand.
    Megan Willome recently posted…Some Found PoetryMy Profile

    • Amy Young 27th March, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

      Megan, I love how you tied social media and privacy into this! Another venue to mention would be a smallish community (either a town, work environment, or church) where people know each other or at least know who you are talking about. I love your line “enemies deserve privacy.” So true!
      Amy Young recently posted…The miracle of birthing {anything}My Profile

  3. Mark Allman 26th March, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Amy,

    It is nice to see you over here. All way from China to England. :) I would think we all suffer from the hands of others; from circumstances; from health, and also from our own hand. I do think it is good to ask what we should be sharing? My guess is that most people do not mind sharing about suffering from health issues and circumstances not their own making. I think when we suffer because of choices we made or choices others made that harm us we may be more reluctant to share. It is never easy to expose ourselves to embarrassment due to choices we made. It can be very noble to not share when someone else hurt you. In First Peter it talks about love covering a multitude of sins I think when we decide to suffer in silence due to something someone has done to us then in effect we are extending love, mercy, and grace to the person. I know that can be difficult to do; there is something satisfying about telling on someone but sometimes the telling ends up staining us as well.

    I admire your dedication to suffering in silence for it must be a noble suffering since you inclination would be to be open about it.

    • Amy Young 27th March, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

      Thanks Mark, that had been a rather trying season, because as you point out, my nature is to be open about things :). I really appreciate the way you tied 1 Peter in! I’m going to remember that!
      Amy Young recently posted…In which my voice quivers talking about my booksMy Profile

  4. Alice 26th March, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    Gosh. Thank you. This is astonishingly timely.
    Alice recently posted…21 great things about Mikey (for World Down’s Syndrome Day)My Profile

    • Amy Young 27th March, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

      So glad to hear! Thanks Alice.
      Amy Young recently posted…In which my voice quivers talking about my booksMy Profile

    • Elisa 29th March, 2013 at 12:30 am #

      Wow, Amy! Thanks so much for sharing your new and sounds like not so long ago gutted theology on suffering. I recently was talking to an amazing girl that shared a similar idea on there being holes in our theology and we both came to the conclusion that life is just like that…it’s a process of HIM constantly walking alongside us through it all and slowly but surely making our theology more of the gift of knowledge and better understanding of him as he fills in the holes that we humans can’t.

      To answer the “over to you”… I feel as though ‘silent suffering’ is one way you could describe this season or chapter of my life right now. BUT it’s not all bad. I, like you am growing and being stretched, disciplined, and shaped into more of what He wants me to be…He’s making me shine more, slow more, and when ‘you’re suffering in silence’ what I’ve found is true for me, is I’m suffering with Him and that is the outlet for my silence. I’m also finding that silence is golden at the same time. I’ve also taken a position that requires my soft heart to suffer in silence sometimes. But suffering is so beautiful ONLY BECAUSE the the Almighty pot thrower is so amazing that He can turn anything (ugly and completely messed up to what seems to be no end…ASHES) into beauty and something that is life-giving not only to me but to others. One of my new catch phrases in my on-going suffering story…”Hard isn’t bad, it’s just Hard.” How He’s helped me: Job, the Psalms, 1 Peter 1:6-7 and most recently Heb. 12:11-15 and the NLT version of Psalm 23. THANK YOU ABBA for being a Healer and a Shepherd and so much more all at the same time in the most perfect way! :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Suffering silently {not my strong point} // The Messy Middle - 28th March, 2013

    […] I felt like a fish being gutted. The sharp knife of suffering slicing into my belly and pulling out that which sustained me, leaving the outside intact. I wanted it to be public, so that others could at least acknowledge what I was experiencing was real, was painful, was changing parts of me in ways I knew simply could not “return to normal” afterwards. But continue reading here … […]

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