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Suffering and Hope

Updated: May 15, 2023

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

Yes, that’s me, quoting from Star Wars. Fear, anger, hate, suffering – these are all thought of as absolute negatives in our culture. And who would say that they are anything but bad? Well…it may seem strange to say, but I don’t think they have to be 100% bad. I’m not saying that we need to seek these things or try to cause others to have pain. What I mean is that not all hard things lead to the worst outcome.

Every day, we’re bombarded with messages that tell us to be happy, to go with what feels right, and to follow our “bliss.” (Insert eyeroll here.) If that’s all we did, nothing would ever get done! If all people pursued was fun and happiness, how would they ever learn and grow? If someone dreams of climbing a mountain it takes a lot of work to get there. Almost anyone who has made it to the top of a mountain can attest that it was worth it!

Our culture in the US is often focused on this pursuit of happiness. While heading in that direction, somehow, we are also taught to brush past certain emotions. We learn not to acknowledge them, or maybe just briefly. The harder emotions are “bad,” or “negative.” “Why would anyone want to let themselves dwell on those? We need to think positive!” In fact, there are even theories and philosophies focused on the power of positive thinking. They promote the idea that if we have positive thoughts, they will lead us to more happiness and even to being successful. I don’t totally disagree. I mean, sometimes it is good to look on the bright side or to decide not to let a problem stop us from moving forward.

While we’re caught up in this running after what makes us feel good, it’s easy to lose sight of more important things (and feelings). If we speed past difficulties or try to avoid them altogether, how will we learn and grow?

I was once taking part in a Bible study on Grace with several friends. One week we were asked to list out “dark valleys” in our lives and then to consider if we had sensed God’s involvement in those events (or not), and then we also wrote down any good that’s come from those difficult times. We also had space to list “high points” and good that came from them. The dark valley part was easy for me – I could think of several difficult moments quickly and I could have written far more about them than fit in the small writing space in my book. Those dark times were full of pain and hurt, frustration and anger, fear and disillusionment (to name a few emotions). Thankfully, enough time had passed that I could also see how God had been working behind the scenes. I had learned so much from those dark valleys in my life. And, I could see how, because of them, I had a greater sense of hope and trust that God would help me through any further valleys I might walk through.

As I continued, however, I had a really hard time thinking of high points to write down – specifically, to think of times that were happier that I had learned from. I could think of happy moments, of course, but I found that it was hard to pinpoint things I had learned from them. And in fact, most of those happy moments came AFTER a lot of hard work or difficult choices that I needed to make. As I reflected, it was still the hard and difficult parts that had taught me and stretched me. These weren’t exactly valleys, but they weren’t easy either.

The hard and the difficult challenge us to grow. We learn from them. Sometimes it takes time to come through a dark valley. We also don’t want to stay there forever. Moving out of those darker times in our lives might take help, which can be humbling. And, in the dark we certainly need some spark of hope to move towards.

I quoted Star Wars earlier. When I first heard it, I remember thinking that the phrasing reminded me of something else. There are some verses in the book of Romans in the Bible that have a similar sound, but a much different meaning. Just before them, the writer is explaining that we can have amazing hope because of the grace we have been given by God, through our faith in him. Then comes the part I was reminded of: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…” (Romans 5:3-5) The writer is not urging his readers to go out and find suffering. But, he is talking about how, when we go through suffering, it is possible that through it we will learn and grow, and even gain hope.

Instead of fear, hate, and anger leading to suffering, this writer had a very different view from the Star Wars quote. He instead, begins with suffering and ends with hope! I love that.

I hope this is inspiring for you if you’ve been through or are going through something hard – if you are suffering. Know that you’re not alone. And, that there is hope that something good can come out of it.

Here is a picture of me after climbing to the top of the Sacre Coeur in Paris. It is a beautiful cathedral set at the highest point overlooking the city. There is a maze of 300 steps that can be climbed to the top of the church. Whew, that was a hard climb! There were a few times when I questioned why I had decided that it would be a good idea. But as you can see from my smile, the view was breathtaking, and definitely worth it! I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to have stood up there for a bit, looking out at the beauty of Paris. I rejoiced that I had made it! And it was that much more meaningful after climbing up through the dark twists and turns of an old cathedral!

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