We are all running from something, and it’s name is suffering.
Well, in my case, I’m only figuratively running, because I have a foot problem that makes it really painful to actually run. This pain in my feet drives me to avoid a lot of things—shopping, for one. I cannot stand to ambulate slowly around a store and look at things that I can’t afford, because it literally hurts me.
There was one time in college that I had a friend push me around Target in a wheel chair because we needed to do some shopping, and at the end I had to admit it—I kinda liked this whole shopping thing. For a long time, I had held a holier-than-thou attitude in my disdain for shopping, like it was some sort of spiritual badge that kept me from further pollution by the world.
But it turns out, I was avoiding shopping because I was avoiding pain.
The question has swirled in my mind since yesterday… What am I avoiding now?
What pain am I taking steps to avoid in my life?
What suffering am I navigating away from, purposefully?
Don’t get me wrong—I am in no way advocating that someone seek out suffering for her life in order to become a better person. But in the course of human events, in the path of choosing to love the person in front of me (even when that person is me), suffering will come. And when it does come, I have two choices: I can choose to endure it or I can choose to avoid it.
Avoidance of suffering looks like wisdom a lot of times. Running hurts my feet? Then I won’t run! Putting a bird feeder on the back porch leads to a pile of bird droppings for my kids to step in? Then I won’t fill that stupid feeder with any food. (I have literally hung my bird feeder and left it empty in the past two places I’ve lived for this reason.) Spending time with an old friend opens wounds that I’ve dealt with, for the most part? Then I won’t accept her phone calls.
But I realized that if I focus my world around the avoidance of suffering, then I will miss out on so much life.
To save my feet from pain, I will never experience that feeling that runners talk about or the burst of endorphins that keep them coming back for more and more.
To save myself the task of cleaning off my kids when they have trotted through a mound of bird poop, I will miss out on the mockingbird’s song and the sight of the cardinal and his wife coming to visit our house.
To save myself from the uncomfortable and unwieldy awkwardness that is a friendship that has grown cold, I will lose a mirror of my past and a friend who has challenged me and forced me to dig deeper into my identity as a child of the Most High.
At some point, I have to acknowledge that the way of suffering is the way of the Cross. If I spend my whole life avoiding uncomfortable or painful situations, I am robbing myself of walking with Jesus through the pains and the deeper resulting joys of life.
Suffering will come, whether at my own hands or the hands of another. But it is not something to avoid when I discover it. Suffering is an invitation to walk with God and to learn that He leads me beside still waters. Jesus is not afraid of suffering with me. He does not shy away from it. He knows that in the fire of suffering, I am opened up to receive from Him in a way that is not possible if I avoid it at every turn.
If you read my last post, To All the Fat Girls, you heard me say that our wounds are our treasures. We need to let go of the fear of the pain and suffering in our lives. When we are confronted with our own weaknesses, the confrontation is an invitation. In our pain and suffering, Jesus teaches us who He really is for us.
Don’t run away from it.
P.S. This song below is called “How to Deal.” In it, I wrestle with suffering that I have caused for myself and the pain the others have inflicted on me. The thesis of the song (if a song can have a thesis) is that Jesus is not an escape—He walks with me through suffering and teaches me who He is in a greater capacity than I could ever have imagined.