Suffering Well

Most people naturally avoid suffering. And I dont blame them! Suffering is uncomfortable.

Certainly there are different degrees of suffering, but any experience of something difficult, painful or unpleasant qualifies as suffering (at least according to the dictionary).

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who was praising God because God had preemptively rescued her family from suffering. They had planned to sell their house and move into a larger, more expensive one. When potential buyers approached them about forming a contract and purchasing the house, my friend and her husband decided at the last minute not to sell. The timing didnt seem right.

The next day she lost her job which would have provided the funds for their new mortgage. God, she reasoned, had saved them from the financial crisis that selling their house and buying a new one would have caused them.

Perhaps thats true. Im pretty ignorant most of the time about the providence of God. It was the most logical interpretation probably because our default is to avoid suffering because it makes us miserable; and God certainly wouldnt want to make us miserableright?

The apostle Paul had a different perspective on suffering. He started a church in Philippi, and after he left, the Christians there began to experience opposition from others because of their commitment to Jesus. In Pauls letter to them, he acknowledges that suffering can sometimes be a privilege and a blessing:

For God has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.(Philippians 1:29 NRSV)

Thats difficult to hear in a culture of suffering-avoidance. How might suffering ever be a privilege and a blessing? On the surface, the Philippians were able to stand in solidarity with their leader Jesus, who suffered deeply himself. That kind of suffering was an honor. But perhaps suffering is a blessing on a deeper level as well: through suffering we are stripped of all that we hold on to for security and identity, and invited to move beyond ourselves toward God and others in genuine love.

Richard Rohr reflects on this dynamic in the book Adams Return:

In the larger-than-life people I have met, I always find one common denominator: in some sense, they have all died before they died. At some point, they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown, which surely felt like dying, led them into a larger life. Thats it! They broke through in what felt like breaking down. Instead of avoiding a personal death or raging at it, they went through a death, a death of their old self, their small life, and came out the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them.

Jesus leads the way for us and shows us how to handle suffering. When faced with it, he emptied  and humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death on a cross.

We frequently don’t have a choice about whether or not we suffer. But we do have a choice about how we respond to it. Will we try to avoid it? Will we rage at it? Or will we, like Jesus, humble ourselves and allow God to use it to shape our souls?

We’d love to hear from you. Who do you know who has suffered well? What impact did that have upon them and others?

What High School Football Taught Me About Developing Leaders

sunset-people-sun-men-large

I played football in high school for the mighty Fort Worth Christian Cardinals. (Okay, so it was a tiny private school; but it was Texas football so we took it very seriously!)

We had the same routine every week during the football season. On Monday afternoon we would suit up and crowd into the coaches’ office — this dingy, poorly lit space above the gymnasium. For the next hour we would watch film of the game from the past Friday. They’d play it on one of those huge rear projection TVs that someone had donated to the school several decades before; the kind where you could only see the picture clearly if you were directly in front of it. After each play the coaches would comment on what went well, or what didn’t go well. They’d celebrate the good plays and offer critique about the bad ones.

After that we’d watch film of the next opponent, and the coaches would begin to prepare us for the upcoming game. We’d hit the practice field in the afternoons for the rest of the week to revisit fundamentals, work on our game strategy, and run plays.

Then Friday would come. I always loved the anticipation in the air on Fridays. We got to play the game! We got to see how well we prepared, what we were made of, how good our team was.

When Monday arrived the next week we’d start the process all over again.

My high school football experience provides some solid principles about leadership development and discipleship. It reveals a cycle that occurs repeatedly when leaders in invest in emerging leaders and help them build competency for their ministry:

3Ps

  1. Prepare. As we invest in others, we prepare them for the ministry tasks ahead of them. We teach them. We give them the best information we have on the subject. We offer them exercises to help them reflect. In my football days this was watching the film of the next opponent and daily practice in preparation for the game.
  2. Participate. In this stage we do the ministry task together. We play the game! How we participate together is determined by where the emerging leader is in her/his development: we might have them help us; or they might be ready for the driver seat and we take a helping role.
  3. Process. After we play the game, we pause to debrief and process how it went. We look over the game film. We discuss three questions together: 1) What went well? (Celebration); 2) What didn’t go well? (Improvement); 3) What do we want to remember to do next time? (Action).

Jesus demonstrates these stages as he teaches the disciples (prepare), invites them to minister alongside of him and also sends them out in pairs to minister (participate), and dialogues and teaches them further after their ministry experiences (process).

How have you seen these stages at work in your own development?

Which of these stages is particularly challenging for you as you develop emerging leaders?