How Could I Forget?

The only good thing to come out of having no live hockey to watch is that the Bruins have been showing reruns of the games from their epic Stanley Cup championship in 2011. Trust me, these games were spectacular. Boston beat Vancouver in a final winner-take-all game seven and became one of the most loved teams in Bruins history. How loved? One woman tweeted that her husband had stated that the night the B’s won was the happiest day of his life. She immediately prodded him with, “Not our wedding?”  Now, the B’s winning it all wasn’t the happiest day of my life, but it was way up there! And you would think, as a result, that I would have almost perfect recollection of those games. But while I was watching the games again, it dawned on me, there are things I had definitely forgotten. For instance, I had completely forgotten that a Vancouver player bit Patrice Bergeron’s finger (he still has the scar). And I forgot that our goalie Timmy Thomas body-checked Vancouver forward Henrik Sedin into next Tuesday (it was a thing of beauty). And I forgot that Nathan Horton brought two bottles of water from Boston and dumped them on Vancouver’s ice (thus, making it our ice – and it worked, it was the only game we won in Vancouver that whole series). Here it was, one of the greatest moments of my life, and I forgot all sorts of things. But the truth is, we forget all sorts of important things. And when we are hurting, when we are in pain, it seems we forget twice as fast. So today, I want to take this opportunity to remind us about three things that we often forget when we are suffering.

First, we often forget how much we learn through times of suffering. Now, this isn’t always true. Some people come out of difficult times more bitter, more angry and more selfish than ever. But if you do the hard work, those tears of sorrow can blossom into something beautiful; but that hard work is not for cowards. As a young adult, I struggled with my faith. I had always been a part of the church, but connecting with God and making God real in my day-to-day life seemed impossible. That painful struggle to make real what I always believed (to steal the title from a John Fischer book) resulted in God giving me a real soft spot in my heart for people who were just about ready to give up on God. But even as I was trying to figure that out, it seemed a poor substitute for what real pastors did, going out and reaching people who had never had any relationship with God. Reaching the unchurched was sexy. Reaching struggling and despairing Christians seemed dull. But through the pain of my struggle, God gave me a gift. He gave me a heart for people who were struggling like me to make God real. Another example: I love working with our teens at the Edge. 20 years ago, if you had asked me if this would be something I would want to do, I would have emphatically told you, “Absolutely not.” But I have seen too many teens struggle and endure hardships and brokenness. And I’ve seen it up close and personal, too. That pain changed me. And while I still carry some wounds from all of that, that heartbreaking experience gave birth to at least one positive thing. I developed a real compassion for kids. I love working with our youth because I don’t want to see any teen feel like they are all alone in their pain. It is a gift from God born out of deep anguish. I could go on and recount more stories, but I hope the point is clear. Suffering has the uncanny potential to teach us all sorts of amazing things if we let it, things that we in no other way could learn. We often talk about the Fruit of the Spirit, but it seems to me that the Spirit works most powerfully to create the Fruit of Suffering, qualities like compassion, tenderness, generosity, humility, patience, understanding and love. But we often forget that and instead focus on how we can get through our suffering and not how our suffering can get through to our hearts to produce in us these wonderful gifts.

Second, we often forget that God walks with us when we suffer. And with good reason. We can’t see God anywhere doing anything positive. And we can’t feel God drawing near to us. And we can’t see any rhyme or reason for why this is happening to us. And we have no sense that God is answering our prayers or is even willing to answer them. Instead, all we feel is God’s absence. We feel forsaken and alone.  But we are not. But we forget that. I was reading a Christmas letter written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his finance, Maria, while he was in prison awaiting execution (found in the book, 15 Days of Prayer with Dietrich Bonhoeffer). He wrote these amazing words:

“If you love me, my beloved Maria, be brave . . . even if during Christmastide you only have this letter as proof of my love. The message of Christmas tells us that what seems bad and dark is, in fact, good and light because it comes from God. It is just our eyes which fool us: God is there in the manger, riches in poverty, light in darkness, help in abandonment. Nothing bad happens to us: whatever men can do to us, in all that they do, they cannot help serving the God who—in ways hidden from sight—shows himself as the God of love, and who rules the universe and our lives. My lovely, Maria, don’t let yourself think of horrid images of me in my cell, but remember only that Christ treads through prisons – and that he will not pass by without stopping beside me.”

What a remarkable perspective. It would sound so cold and patronizing if it came from almost anyone else, but because Bonhoeffer was suffering, these words are deeply moving. Never forget, even though we are imprisoned in our sufferings, Christ is always there, choosing to be imprisoned with us and choosing always to be beside us.

Third, we often forget that the resurrection is yet to come. When we suffer, we get locked into our present time and our circumstances, and we forget that we are resurrection people and that God has promised that our suffering will not be fruitless. Tim Keller puts it this way in his book, The Reason for God (a book I highly recommend everyone to read): “The Biblical view of things is resurrection—not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had, but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.” See, we have a God who raises the dead. We have a God who restored Job’s fortunes (Job 42:12-14 tells us that God blessed Job with twice as much as he originally had, so while before his trials he had 7,000 sheep and 3,000 camels, afterwards he had 14,000 sheep and 6,000 camels!) and even blessed him with 7 more sons and 3 more daughters (Let me speculate here. I wonder if God could not double the number of sons and daughters with the result being he had 14 sons and 6 daughters after the trial because given the truth of the resurrection those original sons and daughters still “existed” even as they awaited being raised again).  All that to say, God’s promise has always been resurrection.  And the Bible is replete with stories of people who had not received all that God had promised them when they died, but died knowing that God was faithful and true and would move heaven and earth to fulfill his word to them. He might even raise the dead. Here’s what we often forget: right now is not the end of the story. It may feel like it, but to steal Bonhoeffer’s line, “it is just our eyes which fool us.” The resurrection awaits. And when that happens, every tear, every scar, and every loss will be transformed into something beautiful and something in which we will gladly delight.  CS Lewis said it this way: “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for this,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory.” That’s God’s promise to us, and we can be sure that it is true because we have a God who raises the dead.

I felt bad that I had forgotten all that had happened in a series of hockey games almost ten years ago, but I feel much worse knowing that I often forget how our suffering can produce in us some incredible blessings, gifts that can come to us in no other way. And how I often forget that God is always with us when we are imprisoned in suffering.  And how I often forget that whatever happens to us here is not the end of the story because the resurrection is our sure future. But here’s the good news. We don’t have to forget; and when we remember that God is at work in our suffering, we can find hope and joy and peace no matter what we are going through because we know that God is always with us in our heartache. That’s the promise of God given to us in the form of painful stories, but given to us by a God who raises the dead.