It took about three whole seconds of living in Baltimore for Lisa to generously invite us to her church and link group. And we quickly fell in love with the community at Horizon. The “link group” is a community group of college/post-grads, and over the past few weeks we’ve been studying 1 Peter. Which is cool. Until we get to suffering. Because then I have words to share.
It’s fair to say as middle class Americans that we’re not being actively persecuted. What it looks like to suffer through direct persecution from our faith is a foreign idea to us (literally – because foreign Christian persecution exists, and figuratively – because we live in a well-protected bubble). I believe that God uses suffering in our lives to 1) refine us and 2) to bring others to his glory. But by and large, simply by being born in suburban America, my suffering is on a small scale. Practically tiny, compared to the suffering I’ve seen in other parts of the world (I’m looking at you, Gaborone). When it comes down to it, I have a fundamental problem with community groups like this classifying suffering as (and these were discussed at link group last night) – abstaining from alcohol or sex, tithing leading to lack of cash to spend at Starbucks, etc etc. That’s not suffering.
This is suffering – that these children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS, that they live without electricity or running water, that they will grow up in a broken home, that they will knowingly fall through the cracks of the educational system, that they will learn to adopt the unhealthy sexual attitude of their nation. These children are suffering. I’m not.
That’s how I feel about suffering. ((And this is a product of a late night of feeling unsettled, and it turns out that words come pretty easily the morning after.))
But don’t start your day too sad about these kids – the Shipes spent a few good long years training community leaders to take care of these children and so that they can be led to the Lord.
Also worth noting – this is my personal take on suffering, and how I keep it all in perspective. In no way do I want to belittle or undermine the suffering of another human. The point is that we all know our own hearts (which the Lord knows even better), and it’s certainly not up to me to judge the relative suffering of my neighbors. This is just something that I needed to put words on after an evening of wrestling with it all. Thank you for your understanding and grace.