One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the idea of suffering. This has not been brought on because of personal suffering. I am in a season right now where I don’t feel a lot personal suffering. But I have had many seasons where I have. This was especially true when I was single.
What has brought on these thoughts is that I have friends who have suffered and I’ve seen a lot of confusion in the singleness arena about the idea of suffering. For example there is the idea that celibacy is too great a cross to bear. That it is unfair that we are asking those who are not called to Celibacy for the Kingdom to suffer. The idea that it is unfair to ask those who are unmarried and wish to be or those that are celibate due to the fall of man, to remain celibate is to ask them to suffer unfairly.
I want to offer a few thoughts here about suffering in general and then bring it back to singleness.
First of all, we all suffer in one form or another in one season or another. I know almost no one who has never suffered. To be sure, some people have it harder than others. Some suffer physically. Some emotionally. Some spiritually. But we all suffer. It is a part of life.
It’s important to realize this. Because of the fall we live in a broken world. Because the world is broken there is disease and death and everything that goes with it. We all suffer. Sometimes we suffer because of others. Sometimes we suffer at our own hands. Our decisions cause suffering for ourselves and we even cause suffering for others. This is a part of life.
Naturally we do all we can to avoid suffering. This is usually ok although sometimes we should choose short term suffering for long term growth. But as I heard a wise priest say, we should not generally go looking for suffering – it will find us.
But there are times to choose suffering. If God is calling me to do something, then I should do it, regardless of the suffering it costs. Obedience to God can often cause me to suffer. But God will honor that. In fact He promises that He will. Suffering is never a reason to not obey God.
Of course it is obvious that Jesus suffered. His death is the ultimate injustice. He is the one sinless person, the most innocent, suffering the greatest amount. And He chose it out of obedience.
So what are we to do with suffering.
First, we don’t go looking to suffer. However if we know that we will suffer, we can in a way choose our suffering. Being disobedient to God always creates suffering. It creates suffering for ourselves (at least in the long term) and for others. So we should choose obedience even if it causes us suffering. This is because in the long term (eternity) we will decrease both our suffering and the suffering of others by that choice.
Second we can offer our suffering and align it with His. If we endure with Him, we will also reign with Him. If we suffer with Him we will be glorified with Him. If we suffer for doing what is right, we are blessed.
In the midst of this, we don’t seek to alleviate our suffering with sin. That is never the answer. To choose to alleviate our suffering by disobeying God we are denying Him. That just leads to more suffering for us and others.
We should not listen to false teachers who promise us a faith without suffering. We should not offer others that are suffering false hopes or spiritual platitudes. Nor should we accept them as a way for us to suffer less.
We should engage Jesus and invite Him into our suffering. We should seek Him and His comfort in the midst of it. We can know that He sees it. He is not absent. We can be real with Him. We can share with Him our anguish. We can lean into Him and onto Him for strength that only He can give. Really only through Him can we suffer well.
When it comes to singleness both those of us who are single and those who aren’t should recognize some truths.
Prolonged singleness when we are not called to celibacy for the Kingdom is a form of suffering. We should recognize that and not try to sugar coat it. We don’t need to offer or accept spiritual platitudes about singleness as answers to the hurt. That only makes it worse, even if it makes us feel better.
For those who have to be celibate because of the fall, we should avoid two big mistakes we often make. We should not teach or accept that this is not suffering. That ignores the obvious real life pain. On the other hand we should not suggest that it is too big of cross to bear and accept sin as the answer. That, as we said earlier, only leads to more suffering. It should not be our goal to alleviate suffering with sin. Never should we teach that, in any form.
For those of you who are suffering now in singleness, be it because of unfulfilled longing, sinful longing or any other unfulfilled desire, may God be with you. May you stand firm. Realize that suffering is a part of life. Face it. Step into with Jesus. To embrace it and move through it is part of sanctification. Don’t dwell on it but don’t brush it off with spiritual platitudes offered by really bad guides. Offer it to Jesus. Unite it with Him. I respect your courage. God will honor it. He honors it now. For those choosing to suffer because of obedience to God I pray for strength to finish the race. God sees you.