I Have Never Suffered

It’s Lent. The second Sunday’s looming.

Let’s talk suffering.

And yet, how can I?

I am an American white guy, mid-sixties, with a swell pension plan, health insurance covered by my wife’s job, with access to Medicare on the horizon. I was raised by ridiculously loving parents, played in quiet, safe neighborhoods as a kid (and later as a teen), and have two remarkable sisters who still voluntarily talk with me and openly express love for me. I labored in my unremarkable career as a pastor in places where people handed over the keys to the buildings on the first day of work—they trusted me from the get-go! Those churches paid a way-below-average salary (compared to others of similar education, experience, and responsibility), but always gave me tons of freedom to hike the mountains, write in the early mornings, and to fiercely preach the “good news.”

I have never suffered.

I don’t know what suffering is.

Mark 8:31-32 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him…

Jesus chose to suffer. Jesus claimed suffering as a path. Jesus, stunningly trusting in the Holy, would eventually confront both the esteemed religious authorities of his day and the cruel, corrupt empire that ruled his world. Fueled by institutional fear, those forces unleashed lies, the first century flavor of fake news, and violence against Jesus. He suffered from their spiteful wrath. He suffered by fully embracing God’s costly calling as he treated everyone—the worst and the best, the least and the lost—with nonjudgmental compassion.

I have never suffered.

I don’t know what suffering is.

Lent beckons me to suffer.


Well, I once slogged through a divorce, suffering from personal failure and self-loathing. Does my divorce count for anything? (Let’s give it a .05 on the suffering scale of 1-100.) Eventually, insignificantly, there was a resurrection. (Boy, there’s a pathetic stretch for a comparison . . .)

How about suffering after injuries? After surgeries? (Nope, doesn’t register on the scale.)

I suffered on backpacks. Mosquitoes! Sloppy rain! Cranky church kids! Sunburn and blisters! Oh, that’s right, those sojourns were also fun. I first asked my wife to marry me in the mountains. Suffering? Really? (Sorry to even mention this as an example.)

A couple of days ago, I suffered through a poorly-planned, butt-gone-numb, nearly four-hour patient care meeting at the hospice where I work. Wasn’t that at least a hint of suffering? Yeah, right. If you call sitting on a cushy chair, in a temperature-controlled room, with flush toilets nearby, and able to cleverly sneak glances at my Facebook app as something resembling . . . suffering. (Okay, fine, another wasted example.)

I have never suffered.

I don’t know what suffering is.

My beloved parents have died.

My beloved father-in-law and mother-in-law have died.

Am I not suffering by being an orphan now? Wrong again. I can still hear Dad’s voice (with his offbeat ways to encourage me) and Mom’s voice (with her gentle ways of cheerleading me) in my mind. I’m no orphan. The best of me is still guided—and will be until the day I die—by the ongoing gifts of my parents, and my extended family (alive and dead).

How can I claim to “suffer” with Jesus? How can I claim to understand what Jesus meant—and means—about the Lenten value of suffering? (Please, Larry, don’t even think about suggesting that forgoing chocolate is suffering . . .)

I can’t understand. Suffering? Me?

Children are starving in the world. In my town.

Another mass shooting has taken place. (Before this first draft becomes the published new post on my webpage, it’s likely one or more “new” mass shootings will happen.)

The #MeToo movement will—sadly and rightly—continue to be relevant and bring more revelations of abuse and harassment.

Every digital tick of the clock will witness more bullying on social media.

On the world spins, a whirligig of dictators, billionaires, oligarchs, and the 1% that, well, control everything.

I am cynical, weary, fat, too content, and can’t claim any real suffering. Right?

And yet.

This I hope in what I’ll attempt at my hospice job (sitting in a cushy chair): I will call someone who has just experienced a beloved’s death. If they don’t lie and say they’re fine and politely hang-up, maybe I’ll be able to talk with them and—in the tiniest and most inconsequential ways—I’ll support them and help them take another step toward healing and away from despair. And oh, how I hope I will do the same outside of the office. Please, help me remember that everyone is as frail as ash and disguises their hurts with cheery smiles.

I will not nurse grudges.

I will not plot petty revenges.

I will listen more and give advice less.

And I will fail. I will turn away rather than turn toward another. I’ll forget that others are hiding their pain and do something stupid to increase their anguish. I will unknowingly (or knowingly) harm another . . .

But then I promise, for Christ’s sake, along this foolish Lenten path (that is really about how we should engage in daily life), that I will remember again. Lent, day after day after 40 days, is about remembering. Reclaiming. Rebuilding. Renewing.

Suffering means serving the other. Suffering means choosing risky love over safe complacency. Suffering, thank you Jesus, inevitably means rejection.

And yet that worst news of rejection, in God’s realm of love, is never Lent’s last news . . .

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