I would like to take this time to tell you about the most painful (physically) moment in my life. It wasn't in college when I broke my ankle in one of those stupid inflatables for kids. Nor was it any of my 8 tattoos--although the one on the inside of my bicep ranks right up there. No, the most painful moment of my life was born out of boredom and stupidity one evening in a friend's basement in high school. Before I go any further, I'd like to emphasize the stupidity of this and the fact that I was in high school (translation, I was naive). Here is where I should also preface this with the warning: Do not try this at home!
One night, in an un-sterile environment, one of my best friends pierced my nipple--yes, my nipple! I won't even go into the details, but I'm sure you can use your imagination and get an idea of how painful it might have been. It was so painful, in fact, that I was only able to pierce the one. Granted, I haven't experienced giving birth (nor will I ever experience it--just to clarify), but I might rank having your nipple pierced right up there with child birth on the pain scale.
If you are human, you likely aren't a fan of pain and suffering. If that is you, I am in the same boat. However, I read something a while ago that got me to thinking and is changing my perspective. I stumbled across a statement something along the lines of "the most powerful words in the English language are 'me too.'" Most of us don't wish one another to go through the same pain and suffering we experience, yet on the other hand it is extremely comforting to know someone else has been there. It makes the pain and suffering more bearable to know that you're not alone. That others have been there...and survived (or perhaps even thrived afterwards). The knowledge that there is hope makes whatever pain and suffering comes our way a little less, well, painful.
Even in our most painful experiences (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) none of us has even come close to the torture and agony of my savior. He was mocked, tortured and crucified. But even the physical and emotional pain combined didn't compare to the pain he experienced the moment his father turned away and withdrew for just a moment. Yet, Christ endured it all, as Scripture says "for the joy set before him...enduring its shame." I can't speak for you, but surveying the last 28 years of my life and the pain and agony (most of which I was responsible for myself), nothing comes close to what Christ endured. Granted, there were some pretty painful times; times I even thought God was absent, but in reality he was there! And I can't even begin to imagine (nor do I want to) how things would have turned out differently if God had turned away, like he did in that moment Christ was hanging on that cross for you and me.
And here comes the point to all of this. We, like Christ, are to endure the pain and suffering that comes. I have to tell you I'm not (nor is Paul) talking about suffering simply for the sake of suffering. There is no significance or joy found in suffering without a purpose. For example, starvation is not a positive thing. Our 3 for $3 challenge on the other hand, was a way we were able to "suffer" and catch a glimpse of what it's like to be hungry. The suffering had no meaning when it was separated from its purpose. The significance came when our pain and suffering gave us a bit of solidarity with those who go hungry on a daily basis. It was deep with meaning because it created (hopefully) a paradigm shift and drew us closer to the heart of God. It allowed us, to a point, to be able to say "me too!"
Not only are we to endure suffering, but we are to find joy in it as well. There is a big difference! I have endured plenty of pain. My countless hours in the tattoo chair, my relationship problems, and my rebellion from time to time will all attest to that. But I am unable to say I have found joy in all of it. However, there is a change rising within me. One that is allowing me to catch a glimpse of joy through some of my pain and suffering, because it is expanding my horizons and opening doors of ministry I never thought possible. The pain and suffering I have endured through my lifetime (which is minuscule compared to many) is developing within me a heart of compassion. I am able to see that while the pain and suffering was never God's plan, he is using it in ways unimaginable. I am still a long way off, but I find that in some ways, my pain and suffering allows me to relate a little more to Christ (which is weird to say, I know). I can tell you from experience, when it's all said and done that there really is joy found in that kind of suffering. I can't explain how it works, nor can I explain why it works. But I can promise you that this joy of knowing Christ, in his pain and suffering, is the only thing that will bring you through the messy parts of life in one piece.
Last, but certainly not least, you should know, the pain and suffering will come! It is inevitable. Of course, I don't need to tell you that because, you live on Earth and are already privy to this reality. As disciples, we can't say Jesus didn't warn us. He made it pretty clear, "if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." There really isn't much more to say, other than perhaps "Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect (mature) and complete, lacking in nothing." And it is through that pain and suffering we are united and are given a testimony and a witness which none can deny. It is this, according to Henri Nouwen, that allows us, like Christ, to be a wounded healer--meaning our "me too" moments allow us to help others through the healing process.