Two things we are pretty much guaranteed in the Christian life are suffering and screw ups. As much as we are assured that Christ’s blood covers us, as much as we are guaranteed that God’s grace abounds, we are promised that in this life we will endure great suffering … which will only be matched by our countless screw ups.
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” ~Philippians 1:29
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” ~Romans 3:23
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” ~1 Peter 2:21
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” ~Isaiah 64:6
If these verses assure us of anything it is this: everybody hurts and everybody sins. But wait! There is still good news! Everybody hurts and everybody sins. These experiences bind us together as God’s people. They connect us to one another no matter our backgrounds, worship styles, or denomination affiliations. Every single Christian is able to relate to these basic common factors.
Still, we don’t like to showcase these things. Each of us tends to cover our suffering. It is reserved for ourselves, significant others, or close friends, if that. Our screw ups are kept hidden, repented of, and forgiven by God alone. Let’s move on already, right?
I, myself, am currently a seminary student studying for a Masters in Ministry Studies. Attending seminary, I knew I’d be learning about theological principles and writing papers on the depths of God. However, never did I foresee this present semester coming. My current class is entitled “Spiritual Formations.” Essentially, this is a fancy title for “let’s obliterate your soul and unmask every issue you have ever dealt with in life.” Sounds incredibly fun, right? Every assignment I’ve turned in, every lecture I’ve listened to, every book I have read this semester has all been in pursuit of the poking and prodding at two overarching aspects of my life: my suffering and my screw ups. And, it has been every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds. Basking in my suffering has never been a desired pastime activity for me. Analyzing my screw ups and sins were never intended to be the highlight of my day. Yet here I am, writing papers on every single time I have ever experienced grief and partaking in prayer projects designed to layout my sins and highlight their burden.
Why do these gut wrenching assignments? Why tackle our pain or analyze our mess ups? Why talk about our grief and be open about our offenses? Why is it important, even necessary, for Christians to celebrate their suffering and publicly deal with their deepest sins?
I believe Paul gives us two beautiful answers in the first 2 chapters of Second Corinthians. In the first chapter, he starts off his letter getting straight to the point regarding our suffering:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” ~2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Then later in chapter 2, Paul addresses the issue of community screw ups and how believers ought to address them:
“Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him…Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake.” ~ 2 Corinthians 2:7-8, 10
Within these two verses, Paul sets the tone for how our sufferings and our screw ups are to be addressed within the church. Paul speaks to the common issues experienced by every last one of us and responds, “comfort, love, and forgiveness.”
But here is the issue. Often times, we don’t allow for that response. The bigger churches get, the less likely we are to broadcast our sins. The more shallow our conversations, the less likely we are to address or share our pain or personal struggles. It seems the wider Christianity spreads, the less likely we are to shed light on these two issues that are experienced by every last one of us! Social media doesn’t encourage authentic communication between people either.
But based on Paul’s words, if we hide our sufferings, and if we ignore our screw ups, this comfort and love cannot be achieved. If we choose to hide our pain and look the other way at sin, two massive aspects of fellowship are hindered and are not able to be fully realized. Every last one of us has hurt that needs to be shared beyond our inner circles. We all have offenses that need to be dealt with outside the confines of our personal prayer time. Why?
- So that we can comfort the rest of the body that is dealing with the exact same thing.
- So that we can respond with love and forgiveness and highlight the Gospel message.
- So that the two common factors (suffering and sin) in every Christian’s life may be used for good and exhortation instead of evil and the devil’s schemes.
What hurts are you masking instead of bringing into the light within your community? What sins have been brushed under the rug in an attempt to not cause any issues? What opportunities to comfort your fellow believers are you missing today? What chances for love and forgiveness are you keeping from the body of Christ? There is no shame to be had, no fear to be felt. You can be assured that you are not alone. So speak out, be bold, be willing, and allow Christ and His church the opportunity to comfort, to love, and to forgive.
Questions for Application:
- Do you have an accountability partner – another woman who will speak truthfully to you, love you, and sit with you during hard times?
- How can you share more authentically with a trusted friend within the next few days?
- Are you a member of a smaller group of believers (ABF, Life Group, Bible Study small group) where you feel “known” by others and comfortable enough to talk about your suffering or struggles with sin?