If reading an article about suffering directly relates to your current situation, I am sorry. I’m not sure exactly what your problems are, nor do I pretend to understand them. I’m not going to say that I’ve been there, that you should buck up, and toughen up. Life is tough sometimes. It can be even worse when we’re made to suffer for other people’s wrong or sinful decisions. Sometimes we make our sufferings, sometimes other people do, and sometimes, such as in the case of our job downsizing, cancer, or any different number of unpreventable disasters, life deals you a dirty hand.
So what do you do? Well, I have a few thoughts that may be of some help, and rather than give you one, several-thousand-word long blog post, I think I’ll divide them up into a few different, more concise points. But let’s start with a few fundamental truths about handling our suffering.
And maybe we should rephrase that last sentence. Let’s change the word handle to “dominate,” which may confuse you. Dominate your suffering? Yes, that is correct. Rookie Guard Quenton Nelson of the Indianapolis Colts had a great line about how he plays the game of football, “ I want to dominate all my opponents. I want to take their will away to play the game.” That’s a winner’s attitude. And while suffering is NOT the same as being a solid lineman, that attitude of domination would serve anyone well in times of pain.
See, you’re likely suffering because of an adverse situation in your life. Maybe the loss of a loved one, an affair or divorce, financial struggles, health issues, or something else, but there is something there causing you problems. If you’ve lost a leg in a car accident, you’re likely going to need lots and lots of time to recover, so maybe you’re not up and about right away. I get that your suffering may have placed limitations on you, be they physical or not. But even in that, you can still dominate. You can yet own your pain and allow God to use it, no matter how bad things get.
Look, at the end of the day, none of us are suffering quite as Jesus did. Until the sin of all humanity has been placed on your shoulders, as you hang dying, you’re not beginning to approach His level either. But from that death came the most significant news in history- free salvation for all who believe! So from your suffering, great things can be born.
So if you’re going to dominate your suffering, there are a few things you are going to need to know. I’ll give you two in this post as a way of introduction. If you don’t get these two things down, and no one can get them for you, you’re going nowhere. These two truths are the most essential in living in a bad situation well.
1-You need to depend on the Word like never before!
I don’t know how your suffering has impacted and changed your life. Maybe you’re not married anymore or have lost a family member. That would be a significant change. Perhaps you just found out you only have a few months to live. Maybe you’ve been eating bread sandwiches and water soup for a few days in a row, and are struggling to pay your rent. Sometimes suffering changes a lot about our life, and sometimes seems, externally at least, to continue just as before. If it’s made a substantial difference in your life, and most things we could classify as suffering would create such a change, have hope- some things never change, and we can build on them. The most important of these is the Word of God.
I lived through a tough time in my life, where sometimes all it seemed I could do was lay on the floor, and cry. I saw no hope, no healing, and no good that could come of my situation and suffering. But a good friend told me something that kept me moving on days like that- “Romans 8:28 is either true, or it’s a lie.” And I’d like to add to that statement- “Romans 8:28 is either true, or it’s alive so live accordingly.”
And we know it’s the truth. And, as you progress through your suffering, you will likely quote that verse a hundred times to yourself, if not more. But it’s the truth. Everything happening in your life is helping you be more like Jesus.
But we can see the truth and dependability of Romans 8:28, and apply it to the entire Bible. Every verse in that book is true, and no matter what life throws at you, no matter what other people do to you, no matter your circumstances, you can depend on God’s Word. That Book will never fail you.
Once you get out of high school, and even more college, you realize that the friends you grew up with aren’t there anymore. The “we’ll never drift apart” drifted apart. Things change. Situations change — life changes. But never the Bible. And if your suffering has ripped your life out of the frame, turned your world on its head, and left you feeling like you’re drowning, there is hope- and it is found in the reliability and dependability of the Bible.
More, now than ever, you need to be in the Word. More, now than ever, you need to be memorizing it, reading it, meditating on it, writing it on sticky notes, and posting it all over your car, office, and bathroom mirror. If there has ever been a time to fill yourself with the Word, and let it control every aspect of your life, it is now.
Jesus illustrates this point in Matthew by comparing a man who builds his house on sand and a man who builds his house on the rock. One of those is a solid foundation, and one is not. Well, those who hear “these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:”- Matthew 7:24. Build your life, starting from today forward, on the Word. For as true and as real as your sufferings are, the truth in the Word of God is even more real. Peter called the written word a more sure word. We’re likely all familiar with that verse, but a lot of times we forget that in 2 Peter 1:18, just a verse before, he compares it to things he saw and experienced. Yes, that’s correct. God’s Word is more accurate than your experiences, and that’s excellent news. Because you can depend on the Word, and it’s truths, more than anything else, knowing that it is never going to change or fail you.
If you want to dominate your suffering, it all starts right here, with this decision- “I am going build my life upon the Word of God.”
2-You have to force yourself to think the right thoughts!
In another article posted here titled, Don’t Think About Elephants, we saw that you could decide what you’re going to think about. You can control and dictate where your mind goes. And all the Bible reading we just talked about won’t be worth anything to you if you don’t put it into play. And one of the most significant ways to put it into play is to meditate on it and preach it to yourself. I don’t remember the last time I stood in a pulpit and preached an actual sermon, but I’m always preaching. No one else hears these sermons, but I do. I preach them to myself all day long. When I’m driving to work when I’m tired and want to be a lazy bum when I’m tempted to do wrong or think wrong thoughts I hear these sermons. If you drag your eyes across the pages of your Bible but never process the information, you’re honestly just wasting time. You need to let those words work in your mind and heart.
You can sit and mope and cry about your situation if you want. Honestly, you probably have some right to do that, especially if someone else’s wrong decisions and actions have left you suffering. But I can tell you that it won’t help. “So and so did me wrong!” I’m honestly sure they did. But you can’t change that. We have to live in reality and the present. You can’t ever get the past back, but you can handle the present properly. What you focus on will determine what you feel and act like. By telling myself “I love the cold. I am excited for the cold. I like seeing my breath. This is nice,” over and over and over, and I managed to teach myself to enjoy the cold. Maybe a silly example but everything in your life follows your thoughts.
So if you sit and focus on your problems and suffering, do not be surprised when you turn out to be a very caustic and bitter person. You become like what you focus on, and focusing on all the wrongs you’ve suffered won’t make you a better person. Imagine being shot, right? You have a gunshot wound in your left thigh, but you’re going to live. Would constantly sticking your finger in the wound and wiggling it around make you heal any faster? No, and it would likely make your injury stay open longer (as well as risking infection and inviting a whole host of additional problems as well.)
So why would it be any different from this? You can continuously meditate on all the bad things in your life, or you can move your eyes off of those things, and onto Jesus and His Word. Do you know why it’s fundamental to learn and study the Bible? So you can think about it. You can’t meditate on what you don’t know, and if you don’t know the Bible, you can’t expect it to do a work on your life.
I find that I am naturally inclined to think thoughts that are not edifying. Sure, I think about revenge, angry things, hateful things, how to get back at my enemies, and all kinds of other thoughts about people who have wronged me. It’s effortless to let our mind drift that way. But it never leads to anything worthwhile. For me, thinking Biblical thoughts is like a wrestling match. I’m locked in with my mind, and trying to pin it, and force it to go in the proper direction. Maybe two wrestlers aren’t the best example though. Because I’m a lot stronger than my mind, it has to go where I make it. Perhaps it’s like sliding across the ice. It’s a struggle to get going, but once you do, you generally keep going in that direction, and it’s often hard to stop! It can be slippery, and you may lose your footing at times, but keep pushing, and you’ll eventually end up in the direction you want to be going.
Force yourself to think Bible thoughts. Say them out loud, shout them if you have to, I don’t care. Do whatever you have to do to get the Bible in your mind.
If you can build your life on the Word, and think the right thoughts, you are well on the way to dominating your suffering. Everything I say about suffering after this is just an offshoot of one of those two truths. So get in the Word, and let it get into your mind.