Suffering and grief make our brains feel fuzzy and forgetful. They make us fatigued and sleepy, body, mind, and soul. But they sharpen our sight, if not in the moment, in the longterm.
I remember reading a book written by a Vietnam veteran who wrote honestly not only about the horrors he saw in Vietnam, but also about his experiences of color and beauty in Vietnam. It wasn’t that the colors changed or were brighter there; it was more that living on the thin edge between life and death made him see more clearly both the beauty and brokenness of earth.
Corrie ten Boom, while living in the nightmare that was a concentration camp, talks about moments of being utterly stunned by the beauty of a bird or a small flower or blade of grass.
Suffering trains our eyes not only to see sharply but also to see through. Suffering cuts through the gauze of this earth and removes its shiny veneer. It exposes much of the laughter of earth as hollow and many of its pleasures as transitory.
In her poem “Thy Friend and thy Father’s Friend forget not.” Christina Rossetti poetically captures the sight that suffering offers.
“Friends, I commend to you the narrow way;
Not because I, please God, will walk therein,
But rather for the Love Feast of that day,
The exceeding prize which whoso will may win.
Earth is half spent and rotting at the core,
Here hollow death’s heads mock us with a grin,
Here heartiest laughter leaves us tired and sore.
Men heap up pleasures and enlarge desire,
Outlive desire, and famished evermore
Consume themselves within the undying fire.
Yet not for this God made us: not for this
Christ sought us far and near to draw us nigher,
Sought and found and paid our penalties.
If one could answer, ‘Nay’ to God’s command,
Who shall say ‘Nay’ when Christ pleads all He is
For us, and holds us with a wounded Hand?”
Suffering can help us to see earth as “half spent and rotten to the core.” Suffering can aid in focusing our longing and hope on the lasting land of the New Heavens and the New Earth. Pain unsettles us and points our hearts back to lasting promises, so that we can say with Peter, “But according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
In our suffering, we have the opportunity to see the Suffering Savior as he is. In our suffering, we have the invitation to be held by the Wounded Healer.
For the believer in Christ, suffering is punctuated and purposeful. It will come to an end in the presence of Christ. There, we will see him as he is and all things as they should be (1 John 3:2).
May our suffering, be it minute or monumental, commend to us the narrow way which leads us to the broadest places of His presence.