I'm sitting in my favorite chair with a Diet Coke and a leftover piece of homemade pecan pie, not exactly the epitome of suffering. I'm clearly not suffering at this moment, at least not gastronomically. But suffering becomes part of every life at some point. The question really is not whether you will endure suffering, but how you will endure suffering.
I've been reading a compilation of essays on writing edited by Washington Post Book World editor Marie Arana. In her essay, "Looking for the Spark," Joanna Trollope writes: "...we have, on the whole, so much more suffering than joy that we have resolved, out of our great surviving instinct, to insist that something worthwhile must be made of it." Sheer grit and determination can wring sense out of suffering.
In the same collection, Joyce Carol Oates writes: "One might argue that any hurt, any insult or humiliation, any horror can have an illuminating and not merely a debilitating effect upon the sufferer."
The Bible gives us several reasons for suffering. One is refinement. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says: "...for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." Job 23:10 says: "But he knows the way I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold."
I like pretty things. Yesterday for my Thanksgiving table, I brought out a silver plated bowl and ladle. I don't use my silver that often, so it gets pretty tarnished. When I pulled the bowl out from its storage place in the cupboard, it looked pretty grimy and ordinary. After a few minutes with some Wright's silver polish, it gleamed and declared itself worthy of the best table anywhere. Polishing silver requires an abrasive (albeit a very gentle one) and some elbow grease. Patiently and gently, you apply the abrasive onto the surface of the piece, rubbing just hard enough to remove the tarnish. Rub too hard and you damage the silver; not enough and you have a dull, dirty-looking piece that no one wants to look at, much less eat out of.
Can you picture God doing this to your life? He looks down and sees beyond the grime that coats and distorts your surface. He sees beneath to the beauty, the intricacy, the graceful shape and practical use. Then He gets to work. He patiently and gently rubs away the grime until we gleam. We call the rubbing "suffering."