The Joy of Suffering
By Becky Ahlberg
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).
We live in a society focused on happiness that depends on circumstances. There is a mad scramble for the next “fun” thing or diversion or adventure or financial pursuit that will make us happy. And even if we find it, that feeling doesn’t last because our circumstances are always changing.
Joy, true joy, however, depends on one’s perspective. Perspective is the capacity to perceive, to see past the moment, to gather to one’s self both one’s history and hopes and therein find joy, no matter one’s circumstances. That is what this Hebrew passage is about. Jesus had to gather his history: “Who, being in very nature God, . . . made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6, 7).
Next, he had to gather his hopes, remembering “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). His unique perspective reminded him of the “joy set before him” and he moved with purpose through his suffering to the joy.
You may be in the midst of significant suffering today, but as you approach Communion, can you gather your history and bring your hopes and find a new perspective? Jesus’ body was broken for you. His blood poured out for you. His suffering brought joy—to him and to all of us. Can you look for the joy that is down the road because of his choice to suffer? Hang on to these words from Romans 5:3-5 to help you with your perspective:
But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Becky Ahlberg serves as executive director of My Safe Harbor in Anaheim, California.