Suffering in the Suburbs (Part 2)–Emotional Suffering
Christians will suffer (Phil 1:29) [see my previous post]. But what does this look like in suburbia—a place sought out after for its comfort, peace, and lack of suffering? While it may not look like the type of suffering experienced by believers in other parts of the world, Christians in the West will experience pain as they live out their faith in Christ. I believe that as we embrace this and are less surprised by this reality, we can more faithfully and fruitfully testify to the gospel of Jesus to those around us.
One type of suffering we will experience as Christians living in the suburbs is emotional suffering. If we truly love God above all and love our neighbor as ourselves, we will experience emotional pain. We experience it both in our pursuit of loving God wholeheartedly and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
We experience pain as seek to treasure God above all
Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength means that we must put to death what belongs to our former lost state (Col 3:5). God has made us a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17-21), and our task is to put away (through ongoing repentance and belief) what belongs to our old self–the one which rejects the lordship of Christ and loves selfish sinful pleasures. While there is an incredible joy in knowing God—more wonderful than anything of this life—there is pain in forsaking that which competes for our allegiance to God. It is a simultaneously liberating and painful experience to let go of sinful patterns we’ve harbored in the past. The security we felt in self-righteously judging others has to be let go for humbly loving our neighbor. The fleeting pleasures of sexual sin are thrown off to pursue godliness and a holy life—the ache of loneliness felt in pursuing sexual purity is real, even for the Christian. The self-aggrandizing pursuits of getting ahead at the cost of Christian community are rejected for a life that honors God and values fellowship—there is a real pain felt when others surpass you. An easy life, where everything feels like it is mapped out and simple is abandoned if God calls you to the unknown. The pleasure of laziness and sleep is forsaken to commune with God in prayer. The cross brings pain, but also pleasure as we come to know in experience and through our emotions that God is better than any fleeting pleasure offered to us in sin.
We experience pain as we love our neighbor as our self
Loving our neighbor often leads us to experience brutal emotional pain. When we open our hearts and consider others’ needs more important than our own, we will get hurt and will likely hurt others. Phone calls, texts, emails, and messages may not get returned to those we are reaching out to. Our motives might be questioned. We may end up betrayed. We will be misunderstood. We might get slandered or gossiped about. We may be overlooked. All of these and much more happen in the context of community and relationships. This emotional pain is real, and we are called to endure it as we seek to love others.
Another type of emotional pain we experience comes through sharing the burdens of those around us. We suffer alongside our brothers and sisters—we shed our tears over miscarriages, deaths, rejections, and pains experienced by those close to us. This means that taking up our cross in community will hurt us–but it also brings pleasure as are encouraged and comforted by others.
If we want to faithfully live out our Christian life in the suburbs, we will suffer emotionally. The temptation for us is to withdrawal into busy routines, busy work schedules, and a busy life isolated from true relationships and community. But this is selfish and foolish. The body of Christ needs us and we need it. A better choice for us is to be in community with others and embrace the fact that we will experience emotional suffering. Do not be surprised by it! We must be courageous in loving others, even though we know it will hurt us. We have to forgive others, knowing that Jesus forgave us for much worse. Let us embrace this and be willing to suffer and partake in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24) for the glory of God.
Next time we’ll consider suffering socially.