Over the past couple of years I’ve experienced a lot of change and loss. I switched departments and job responsibilities twice, several close friends have moved out-of-state, an older friend died after months of illness, and a beloved church closed. As I’ve grieved through the various losses, God led me to a little book called Let Go, a collection of letters written by a 17th century archbishop named François Fénelon.
The second letter was titled by the editors, “How to Bear Suffering Peacefully.” That caught my attention. Then as I read, a couple of sections jumped off the page at me:
“We can add to our God-given cross by an agitated resistance and an unwilingness to suffer. This is simply an evidence of the remaining life of self…when you receive your cross unwillingly, you will find it to be doubly severe. The resistance within is harder to bear than the cross itself! But if you recognize the hand of God, and make no opposition to His will, you will have peace in the midst of affliction…But usually we want to drive a bargain with God. We would at least like to suggest some limits so that we can see an end to our sufferings. We don’t realize how we are thwarting the purposes of God when we take this attitude. Because the stubborn clinging to life which makes the cross necessary in the first place, also tends us to reject that cross–at least in part…may the Lord deliver us from falling into that state of soul in which crosses are of no benefit to us. God loves a cheerful giver, according to St. Paul in Second Corinthians 9:7. Ah! What must be His love for those who, in cheerful and absolute abandonment, give themselves completely to be crucified with Christ!”
God reassured me that He was aware of my pain and in His sovereignty He had allowed it; it was, in Fenelon’s words, my “God-given cross.” I could resist the pain and prolong it, ot accept it and allow God to use it as His tool to remove more of the old self-life and make me more like Jesus. I wonder if that’s what Paul was getting at in Philippians 3 when he said this:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV)