“Suffering builds character” or so the old adage goes, and it’s true. We all go through seasons of suffering whether it be self-inflicted, brought on by other humans, or by nature itself. Either way, the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, so if we are fated to occasionally experience suffering along life’s journey, what should we do with it?
Suffering is hard. No one wants to go through the desert. No one wakes up and thinks, Well, it’s been a while; time to embrace some suffering! But it will visit us, like an unwelcome guest. The good news is that from suffering we can experience growth. Personal and spiritual growth does not come from comfort; not serious growth anyhow. When I say “serious growth”, I’m talking about transformative, game-changing, paradigm-busting growth where, once through the suffering, you can look back and identify when you shed the old skin and took on the new. But even when we transform and take on a new self, there are pieces of the old to remind us where we’ve come from, and that’s good too.
Growth that results from suffering is a kind of resurrection, and resurrection cannot occur without death. When we grow we die to our old selves, but even at our newest, best self we are still human, and humans cannot fully transform into a new being; there is always something that lingers.
This week I am reminded of the Easter story. There is little question that Jesus suffered in those last days, and once dead, he was resurrected, but it is important to remember that the risen Christ still had his wounds. Once revealed to his disciples he said, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see…” (Luke Ch 24:39) and to Thomas, he says, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side…” (John 20:27).
To his most trusted friends, the risen Christ revealed his wounds and scars, which indicates a kind of vulnerable intimacy, but the crazy thing is that he had them in the first place. He resurrected from death! You’d think in the process he could, or would, get rid of his nasty, seeping wounds. I mean, he’s the Son of God. He healed blind people and cured Leprosy; what’s a little healing of his own wounds? Why keep them?
I find this detail fascinating, that even the Risen Christ through his radical transformation still carried wounds. When we go through suffering, through hard times, by which we are transformed, we still carry scars, our wounds. We might see them as an embarrassment, we might want to hide them from others, even our closest friends, but Jesus does not hide his, and by doing so teaches us a great lesson.
The wounds still hurt, (did Jesus wince when Thomas stuck his finger into his wound?) but serve to remind us of our growth and to keep us humble. Pain transforms, suffering leads to growth, death leads to new life. Through it all, we become better people because of it, not only inwardly but outwardly. As a result, we might be more able to minister to those going through their own hell, so that they might be able to stick their finger into our wound, find that it is real, and better allow us to enter their pain.
*photo credit Sad Man in the Streets of San Francisco