The Mystical Properties of Suffering

“Remember who the real enemy is.” Haymitch Abernathy, “Hunger Games”

definitely had a girl crush on Linda Hamilton when she starred in the “Terminator” movies. I admired her bad ass transformation, both physically and mentally, from helpless victim in the original movie to actively engaging with her protagonist in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

I’m also an avid fan of Katniss Everdeen of the “Hunger Games.” I’m a sucker for the underdog and nothing is more satisfying than seeing the oppressed overcome, which brings me to the topic of this article.

Is there a purpose in hard places and does being long-suffering benefit us in some mystical way we may not understand? Is their some hard work we must do to have our own transformation?

Long-suffering is, without a doubt, a place of hardship, where reward or an end to the suffering seems unlikely, unjust or out of our control, such as caring for a disabled child or someone with a mental illness. And as the term implies, it’s a long-term circumstance. You’re standing in the waiting line of unanswered prayer for years when one day, you wake up and conclude that, “God has forgotten me.”

In fact, if you are anything like me, long-suffering will most certainly bring you to a place of doubt. Did I hear from God or was that just my own imagination? Do those personal scriptures even apply to me? Can a God who remains silent or doesn’t end my suffering really love me?

I have personally put dates next to scriptures in the margins of my Bible because I found myself weeping over the words and believed that God was speaking directly to my heart. Yet, years have gone by and I find that I am still in the desert. I’ve seen other people’s prayers answered, just not my own. I’ve watched others achieve their dreams, just not mine. Still, I celebrated with them and for them. I didn’t allow self-pity or jealousy to darken my joy for others.

The transformation of Sarah Conner. Linda Hamilton in her starring role was hunted by the terminator until she became the terminator and took control of her destiny.

If you are experiencing something similar, there is yet good news for you. God is not through with you. If you are still seeking God, still hoping, and still believing for a breakthrough even when you have set up shop in the valleys and salt lands of doubt, you are becoming Teflon Linda Hamilton or Katness Everdeen. Hard, resolved and determined to stay the course. You are living out the definition of long-suffering.

Contrary to pop Christianity, we can’t just think positive thoughts and repeat affirmative prayers and all becomes well. Jesus speaks of a cross to bear and a cost for seeking to follow after Him: “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it.” (Luke: 27-29)

The transformation of Sarah Conner from victim to warrior.

It is hard enough to be in this place of waiting for a breakthrough or for your suffering to end, but what can be even more hurtful are the well meaning pop Christian messages I hear about how I must have some hidden, unconfessed sin in my life that is hindering my prayers. Or God can’t bless me because I am living in disobedience. Sorry, but it just does not ring true. God tells us His mercy is new every morning and that He is just and able to forgive us for our sins.

And what of those people I mentioned I personally witnessed having their prayers answered? Some of them were pretty awful sinners. I also can’t really believe the lies the devil whispers in my ear about how I must be the worst sinner on earth because God doesn’t grant or hear my petitions. Nope. I’ve been at this game way too long for that. God tells us that the righteous cry out and the Lord hears them. (Psalms 34:17)

I’m not immune to that pied piper who sings to me, “You’re the biggest sinner of all.” I just know it isn’t true. Break one law and you are guilty of the whole law. I also know that my righteousness is not anything I can do, but rather what Christ has already done for me. Yep, I know all to well what a wretch I am.

Still, I find that I can easily sink into despair and be pulled around by my emotional collar rather than standing on God’s promises to never leave me or forsake me. God doesn’t make exceptions, even for me. I have to trust Him that there is something very important that He is doing with my character and my heart and that there is a purpose and plan for my life.  I have to train and do the hard work, just like Sarah, or Katniss. 

This long-suffering is the driving force of why I must be in His word every day. I have literally been reduced to hanging on His every promise, sometimes just to get through the day. And I am in good company. All of the great men and women of the Bible certainly did.

I am ashamed to admit it, but I find hope in the fact that David didn’t actually become king for 12 long years after God chose him and anointed him as king. No, his testimony wasn’t, “I gave Christ my life, and He waved a magic wand over my mess and blessed me.” Rather, David hid in caves, fought, killed, conquered, sinned, and still blessed God and refused to let go or get ahead of Him. He ran from Saul and even resisted doing the wrong thing, even when given two opportunities to kill him. No, David is the man. A flawed, adulterous sinner who loved God with all of his heart.

“Aim higher in case you fall short.”–President Snow.

It is interesting that while David hid in caves, went hungry, and was hunted by his enemies, God told David that he was a man after His own heart. You don’t get this kind of heart living on easy street. People who possess this type of heart aren’t pampered, petted or spoiled. Rather, they are heartbroken, weary and battle worn. They are long-suffering. And like Job, they can say that, “though He slay me, I will trust Him.” (Job 13:15) And just as Haymitch Abernathy said in the “Hunger Games,” “Remember who the real enemy is.” Those who were hunting David were his human enemies but the real enemy is Satan himself.

Unlike the brilliant yet confused contestant in the “Hunger Games,” I am not chanting, “Tick tock, tick tock.” I don’t have it figured out as she did. I must confess that I am more like Naomi when she returned to her home town of Bethlehem with Ruth. She told her extended family, “Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life bitter.” (Ruth 1:20)

I am sure that at one point Naomi, like many of us, thought she was walking on the right path. She had a good family, did the right things and honored God. She found her man, got married and had two sons. Despite the famine forcing her family to flee to Moab, a heathen and strange land, she must have felt blessed nonetheless.

She had her whole future ahead of her and she was a child of God, she was a young wife and a mother. Yet, life was not kind to her. When Naomi returns to Bethlehem after the famine, she is broken and a little bit bitter. She is now a widow and her two sons are dead in a time when women could own nothing. Yet, it was through Naomi that God chose to bring us the savior of the world through her relationship with daughter-in-law Ruth and Boaz.

“A mockingjay is a creature the Capitol never intended to exist.”—Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games

If I fail to pull these scriptures out of David, Moses and Naomi and read, read and reread them, reminding myself of how God worked in each of their lives, they have no benefit to me. No matter that God is renewing my mind and training me for battle, which I do believe He is, I am still like the man (or woman) who looks at herself in a mirror. I walk away and I forget what I look like. And predictably, the devil yanks my emotional leash and off I go.

Long-suffering is hiding out in the wilderness, in the caves, and going hungry, just as David and Naomi did. It is filing off the rough edges of your pain while you mediate on God’s word and His promises to those who love Him. Pop Christianity carries a false message that you won’t face suffering as a child of God. Problem is, it just isn’t true. David hid God’s word in his heart. He mediated on it all of the time. You don’t mediate on God’s word when everything is falling into place. You mediate on God’s word when you have nothing to hang onto but His promises.

God promises to never leave us or forsake us, to complete the good work He began in us and to never allow those of us who hope in His word to be ashamed. Like those great people of faith listed in Hebrews Hall of Faith, I too, want to be counted faithful to the end of my life.

I want to be like Teflon Linda Hamilton and Katniss Everdeen, determined to face my battles head on with great courage and determination. After all, He must be preparing us for something really, really big, like the end of the world or something.