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