Have you ever taken a road trip with two toddlers after their bedtime?  If you have not had the pleasure, and you are a glutton for punishment, I highly suggest that you do so.  I had the opportunity recently when I took my kids to their very first concert.  The plan was to drive down early, let them expend all of their energy at the concert, and then have them sleep on the way home. 

Oh, how I wish this post was about things not going as planned.  However, today I feel led to talk about suffering.

Gavin (my 3 year old son):  An odd mix of excitedly reflecting on the concert and fighting sleep, he is constantly whining and asking for things we do not have.  Refusing to watch the DVD’s we rented for the trip, he insists that we go to another concert, the mall, or even a gas station instead of going home.  The more tired and whiney he gets, the more he talks to avoid going to sleep.  He is a pro at this.

Avery (my 18 month old daughter):  Possibly a bit more slap-happy than her brother, she decides to turn her fussiness into a game.  She asks for a toy, and then throws it in the floor just out of my reach.  I find another toy to give her only to see it join its friend behind her seat.  I offer her a snack consisting of Teddy Grahams.  She literally bites their heads off and gives them back to me as she continues to cry.

Unavoidable…uncompromising…suffering.

When Jesus told the disciples to take up their cross, what do you think He meant?  We are often taught that Jesus was referring to the fact that we must be ready to die for our faith.  Just as He was killed as a sacrifice for us, we must be willing to dedicate ourselves to His work, even if it means losing our own lives.

I believe Jesus meant more than that.  If you read the story of the Christ’s crucifixion, you will see that it was not a quick execution.  He was beaten.  He was tortured.  He suffered greatly for a very long time before He proclaimed, “It is finished.”  The pain He endured cannot be comprehended by someone that has not experienced it.

So if we start to look at our call to die as also a call to suffer, does that change anything?  Isn’t dying worse than suffering?  People would be much more willing to suffer than die if given the choice, right?  Well, I sure wouldn’t.

Folks are often pretty quick to say they are willing to give their lives for something.  Many people are ready and willing to die for their country, their family, their friends, their faith, and in some cases even their possessions.  And I think most of them believe their claim to be true. 

When we think of sacrificial death, we think of a gunshot that leads to an instant death or jumping in front of an 18-wheeler that would be quick and painless.  We usually picture an unexpected situation where we make the snap decision to sacrifice our own life and then it is all over.  We make it sound as though we will have complete control over the situation.  We make it sound easy.  We make it sound convenient.  It's like Woody Allen once said, “Dying is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down.”

Suffering, however, cannot be made easy.  Suffering means that you have to endure overwhelming pain and discomfort.  Suffering means that you may not know what the future holds.  When you suffer, you have no power to stop it and no way to control its impact on your life.  When some people suffer, in fact, they see losing their lives as a graceful option to end their suffering.

Jesus did not use His power to avoid suffering, but chose to endure it so that our suffering may be temporary.  So are you ready to follow His lead?  Are you still willing to take up your cross, even if it means that you have to suffer?



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