Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
I want to tell you about a woman. Growing up, she watched her father, her mother, and her brother – all of her immediate family- suffer through cancer. All of them passed away. She recently found out that her only son, who is 25 years old, has cancer. Her son is also autistic. She has temporarily moved away from home to care for her son as he undergoes chemotherapy. I can’t image. I can’t image the pain of watching someone you love battle the very villain that took everything else away from you; the pain of watching one so helpless and so dependent rendered even more vulnerable. She constantly cares for him. He does not understand what is happening. When he throws up from the treatment, he has no sense of what is happening – and every time, she cleans everything up. Not once has she complained. Not once has she moped around, feeling sorry for herself, begging the world for attention. Patience. Humility. Strength
Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, Michelle Kwan, Rafael Nadalm, Tom Brady, the list goes on and on. Strength, right? These were all results that popped up in my Google strength for some of the strongest people. Fan clubs, an abundance of praise, ads, magazine spreads, billboards, all define these cultural icons. But, do we even have to go this far – we just have to look at our own response to those around us. We admire those who lift the most weight, those who run the fastest, those who are most agile. We truly are a culture bred to fawn the six-pack. Physical strength is often the center of our praise and adoration. That is not to say that this recognition is unmerited, because the strength of athletes illuminates dedication, passion, and will power. However, it is ironic that we, as a culture so adore physical strength, yet so neglect the strength that is forged in suffering.
It is a funny thing that this woman’s suffering has gone largely unnoticed. Most of her friends have pretty much forgotten about her. No calls, no emails, no messages – nothing. It is a sad telling of our selfishness. Yet in this selfishness, there is something that glitters under the weight of her suffering. It is a strength and hope that remains, rooted not in the tenuous promises of the world, but rather in the very peace of God.
In a world of pain, weariness, trauma, suffering, trials, and loneliness, how easy would it be to give in to despair? To experience the depths of suffering and to feel like the world has abandoned you, yet choosing to persevere; indeed, this is true strength. It is a strength manifested in our weakness, it is a strength forged in our pain; it is a strength only possible in our brokenness. We should not be surprised though: Jesus drew numerous crowds when he performed miracles in the gospel; yet, when he died on the cross, he was alone- deserted even by his closest disciples. However, it is not in his miracles that we recognize his strength. Rather, it is in his suffering, in his death and resurrection that we understand that his strength was tied to the horror of the cross. Look to Jesus and realize that, in your suffering, you are in good company.
We strive for physical strength, perhaps because it garners praise and acknowledgement from others. But what is the value of the strength that is not seen? What is the value of the strength that is forgotten, unacknowledged, and born out of terrible pain? The apostle Paul, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hated, mocked, scorned, and despised did not lose hope. Why?
“So we do not lose heart… For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:16-17)
Following Christ in the depths of despair requires a strength that is foreign to the world. It is a strength that recognizes that all of the anguish in the world is preparing us for something much weightier, something more eternal, and something that the world cannot fathom. It is a strength that warrants not the fleeting praise of man, rather the promise of glory: God’s glory. Trust in what Christ has done, and trust in what Christ has promised to do. Do not focus on the weight of the affliction; focus on the glory to come. Know that the weight you bear is none other than the crushing weight of God’s infinite glory.