When you are in the middle of suffering, you cannot see its edges.
One January, I was in a hotel room, lying in a bed, looking out onto the towering evergreens in the near distance, and in the far distance, the houses and hills of other side of the bay, and in between, the murky green-blue of the sea, punctuated by the curves and whites of the waves. The weather was bad, and the sea was choppy. Suddenly, in a matter of minutes, the sea mist came over the whole scene. I looked out, and everything was a soft grey. The lights of the houses across the bay disappeared first, then the outline of the bay itself, then the sea, and finally even the trees were an indistinct outline. If you had been kidnapped, and woke up with that view, you would not even know you were by the sea. All you could see was the middle of the mist.
This is what suffering is like: it is mist, and it is middle, and you cannot see its ending. When you are in the middle of grief, or pain, or chronic hardship, all you know is that this feeling of searing pain and loneliness is never-ending. You cannot remember what it felt like not to know pain. You cannot remember what it was like to laugh. You cannot remember a world before the pain, and you cannot imagine a world without the pain. Life stretches out before you, grey and lost.
Last week, I wrote of the way I unintentionally traumatised my boy by subjecting him to Toy Story. When I was asking around for suggestions for what films would suit him better, my Dad suggested Cinderella among the alternatives. I considered Cinderella as an option: he loves the story, has read it in three different versions, and although the film undoubtedly would have scary parts, he wouldn’t be as scared as he was when watching Toy Story. In Toy Story, he was screaming, ‘turn it off, make it stop!’, which is also what everyone screams when they are going through suffering. But with Cinderella, he wouldn’t find it as scary. What is the key difference?
With Cinderella, he’s read the book: he knows the ending. When he gets to the painful middle, he knows it’s temporary. He had never seen Toy Story before, and had no idea whether this was a whole new genre of children’s horror where everyone gets tortured and died. But although Cinderella has a scary Stepmother, we know she escapes her horrible family and goes off with the Prince in a beautiful dress at the end, and looks pretty happy about the event.
There are no doubt other issues with Cinderella as a happy fairy story, but the point is this: If you know the ending is happy, you can endure suffering more easily. If you know for sure that there is a sea, and land on the other side of the bay, with twinkling lights in the houses, you know that you won’t live forever in the grey.
There is a phrase: “Everything will turn out alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end!” I don’t know how anyone who is an atheist can say that with integrity.
In this world, there is tragedy upon tragedy. I know of people who have had severe ME at a young age, had their youth robbed from them, doctors disbelieve and mistreat them, friends abandon them, and then they have died, slowly, painfully, over a decade or more, as the illness that the doctors didn’t believe in gradually defeated their body’s defences. Their end was not ‘alright’. Some people can have a hard life, and then it gets worse, and then they die. Outside of God, outside of an eternal view, there is no positive spin you can put on this.
But if we are Christians, we have a different view of suffering. We know the ending. When the mists come down, it can still feel like we are utterly lost, and we can panic that the bay really never existed. The pain is still painful, and sometimes that pain can cause us to doubt as well as scream. But we know the ending.
For anyone lost in the middle of sadness and pain: this is for you. You know, somewhere in the recesses of your mind, that one day, there will be no mist, and even the brightness of the sun will be surplus to requirements because the beautiful, rainbow-glory of God will be shining, iridescent and glorious* . You know that what you see now is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.** You know the future, because you know the past. You know there will be heaven, a happy-ever-after, because you can trust to a suffering and resurrected saviour that what is dying and broken in you now will one day be resurrected. Maybe that will happen in your lifetime, maybe that will only happen in your after-lifetime, but it will happen.
If it’s not alright, it’s not the end. One day, all things will be made right. Sometimes, when you are in the middle of the mist, you need someone to remind you of the edges. So let me be the one to tell you, with tears and truthfulness: suffering really does has an edge, an ending, and there is a Lamb waiting for you there.
*(Rev 21:23b, 25b)
** “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4)
“This is what suffering is like: it is mist, and it is middle, and you cannot see its ending.” NEW from @Tanya_marlow
“If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” NEW post from @tanya_marlow on hope in suffering:
“The pain is still painful, and sometimes that pain can cause us to doubt as well as scream. But we know the ending.”
“Trust to a suffering and resurrected saviour that what is dying and broken in you now will one day be resurrected.”
“For anyone lost in the middle of sadness and pain – this is for you”. NEW – by @Tanya_Marlow – We Know the Ending
Over to you:
- What does your view look like at the moment – are you in the middle of mist, or can you see the edges?
- What difference does it make to suffering that we know the ending?