Suffering and the Heart

From My Bookshelf — Day 67


Suffering need not destroy the heart; it has the potential to lead to life. 

Suffering changes the human heart—sometimes for good and often for ill. We are faced with the challenge of learning how to wrestle with sorrow so it can bring about the greatest good. If we want to become more like God wants us to be, we must consider what it means to live well in a fallen world rather than scramble to escape the veil of sorrow.

The path of life runs in and out of darkness, confusion, uncertainty, loss, and heartache—not a path we would choose naturally. It compels us to walk as aliens and strangers through the desert and through the valley of the shadow of death. 

The healing path is not a jaunt in the park. It is a life-rattling, heart-revealing journey that takes us through danger, harm, heartache—and ultimately to new trust, profound hope, and a love that can’t be scorched by assault or destroyed by loss. The healing path is glorious, but the only way we will stay on course and resist the temptation to flee to safer ground is by comprehending more deeply the assaults and losses we will face on our journey. In the desert and valley we will pass through the dangers of betrayal, powerlessness, and ambivalence. These three realities will pull faith, hope, and love right out from under us if we are not ready for them.

Ambivalence exposes our heart’s desire for what we are no longer free to enjoy. It causes us to question the sanity of giving and receiving pleasure in our work and relationships. What if it ends? What if I enjoy you more than you enjoy me? What if your delight in me is bogus? Or worse, what if it is mere manipulation to get from me what you want? What if I love you and then you die, divorce me, or turn against me? The risk is more than I can bear, and so I refuse to open my heart to another person who will arouse my desire and then might use me or dash me to the ground. 

Such ambivalence is the enemy of love. The core of love is the capacity to offer ourselves to others—to bless them with our presence and our gifts. The dance of love calls us then to be open to receive from others gratitude and the gift of their presence in return. Ambivalence kills this reciprocal movement of praise and forgiveness that gives, receives, and glories in the wonder of our capacity to touch each other. 

Often we live out our past pain and betrayal in the present by looking at every interaction with others from the vantage point of utility and cost. What do you want? What is it going to require of me? This stance robs us of spontaneity and fun. Life becomes dark and lonely. 

If we don’t open our arms and hearts to the past, we will remain suspicious and closed in the present.

We are to greet trials with joy and to rejoice when suffering comes. Why? Because suffering sets into motion our will to find meaning; it compels us to honestly assess the facts of our lives and begin to order truth into a framework that has personal meaning to us. We cannot have a sense of purpose or a deep understanding of what we’re created for unless we encounter the kind of pain that compels us to rise above the daily domain and recollect who we are. Pain enables us to discover ourselves.

What we can do to a person, we can also do to a moment, an idea, or a truth. I know some people who “love” the truth of the Bible so violently that their hold is a vice grip that refuses to learn from any person or tradition different from their own. Their dogmatism sucks the marrow out of the Bible and leaves it devoid of life-giving, soul-changing power.

Because betrayal begets betrayal, the betrayed must not only wrestle with the loss, heartache, doubt, and shame that comes with any division, but also with an even deeper struggle: The betrayed often becomes the betrayer. The one who is hurt often hurts, the one shamed often shames, and the cycle of harm continues. But it is possible to break this sick cycle, this incessant wheel of death, if one gets on the healing path. The healing path does not deny the agony of betrayal but instead uses it to marvel at the solid ground of God’s faithfulness in contrast to our fickleness. 

To remain numb, to give up desire, and to refuse to dream is to surrender one’s soul to the status quo. It is to live as a robot and merely survive. In turn, a loss of faith often leads to a distant, rule-bound relationship with God that does not stray but also does not desire. Life without faith becomes anemic and predictable, never sufficiently stirring to compel us to risk for the future. 

When we lose faith, we also feel powerless to change our future.

Dan Allender — The Healing Path (pp. 5-67)

There seems to be a ton of people I know who are suffering lately. For whatever reason, life seems to be throwing a bunch of body-blows that are causing people to double over in pain. Yet, as Allender said; “Suffering need not destroy the heart; it has the potential to lead to life.”

I think we naively assume that our lives should be void of suffering. Maybe it’s because our society wrongly taught us we always deserve to be happy, healthy, rich, and free. But sadly for millions of people in the world, suffering is more the norm than anything else. If we’re suffering, we think we’re the problem—something is wrong with us—because certainly people aren’t meant to suffer this much. Right?

Pain enables us to discover ourselves.”

Without pain, without suffering, we would remain unaware of large aspects of our heart. We’re an extremely complicated people. Most of us barely have any clue about the aspects of our shadowy psyches. We wrongly assume we’re all put together but who truly knows themselves? Who truly understands their own motivations enough to explain them in great detail to someone—even someone like their own therapist who is highly trained to know them inside and out.

We can either face our own pain and suffering head on or we can lose our hearts and grow numb in the process. There’s rarely anything in between.

Instead of assuming something is wrong with you, understand that life comes with a fair share of suffering. Instead of allowing your heart to go numb, use the suffering you face to transform you into something new.

Have a blessed day.

Peace and Love,



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