What does it mean? The fellowship of suffering? I thought fellowship was a coming together of like minds. Enjoying the company of common ground. A friendly association with someone of like interests. But suffering? I’ve not really bought into that.
Honestly. The suffering that I’ve experienced probably isn’t true suffering. Compared to what I see and know of others. My life is mild. Oh sure. I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs. Fears. Loss. Discouragement. Trying times. Typical life difficulties.
But I’ve never hung on a cross and died. For myself or for others. I’ve never been spat on. I’ve never been stripped naked and forced to carry a heavy cross on my raw beaten back. I’ve never worn a crown of thorns.
I’ve never received a life altering diagnosis. I’ve never been handcuffed and stood before a judge. I’ve never been served papers. I’ve never been beaten. I’ve never lost everything. Oh. I’ve lost. I’ve lost family members. I’ve lost jobs. I’ve lost friends.
So what do I know of suffering?
I’ve never been put on trial for crimes I didn’t commit. And then sentenced to death. My mother never wept for my cruel death.
Oh. I’ve been betrayed by those I thought I could trust. I’ve been handed over to others who carried out their own plans for me. I’ve had cruel words spoken to my face. I’ve been bullied.
But have I really suffered? Is it suffering when someone publicly outs me for words spoken in private? When I’ve felt safe to express my opinion but then publicly called on the carpet for it?
Where is the glory in suffering? Where is the fellowship? Is my suffering a product of my own doing? Or of my own undoing?
And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:17
Elisabeth Elliott says that suffering is never for nothing. There are hard lessons to learn during the time of suffering. She says that suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.
I have to wonder if I’ve caused some of my own suffering. Am I my own thorn in my side? Do I blame God and others when I need to remove the mote from my own eye? Is my suffering another name for the thorn in the side I’ve been given? And can I get past the bitterness in order to use that thorn as a source of ministry to others just like me?
Will I look back on these days in awe and wonder that I survived without a scratch and thank my heavenly Father that I didn’t really suffer? Or will I realize that what I thought was suffering was not even a drop in the bucket of misery? Only time will tell.
What if my suffering is still in front of me. What if my current state of suffering really isn’t suffering at all.
I have to ask myself the question. What does my suffering produce? Does it lead to anger and bitterness? Lashing out at others about the unfairness of God? Trying to punish God for treating me so poorly? How could a loving God allow this? Or do I surrender in knowing that my God is carrying me through the depths of pain and loss and uncertainty? Do I find joy in a closer relationship with a God who loves me even when unexpected twists and turns come in life? Do I allow myself to be wrapped in the sweet arms of Jesus and just be held?
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? Romans 8:35
It’s in the surrender and acceptance of my situation that leads me to fellowship. Once all the thought of getting even or standing my ground passes, the knowing of God’s love gives the sweet peace that nothing else matters. The pain. The loss. The heartache. The hurt. The healing. The new normal. The surrender of my will to a loving God brings a sweet fellowship that surpasses everything else. The trust that God will be with me every step of the way gives a calming peace to my soul.