The words, though spoken softly, fell with such weight as to leave an indelible mark on me. Though I had only met her a few minutes prior, her warmth and generosity left me feeling as though I had known her for a lifetime.
The convent was quite simple, not at all what I would have pictured (my knowledge only coming from the movies). A quiet property in the countryside, beautiful in its simplicity, a small chapel and a prayer garden, laden with symbolism. It was amongst a guided walk through this garden that Sister Anastasia spoke these six words.
In the first section of the garden, we encountered a placard that read:
“My father, I do not understand you, but I trust you.”
A simple prayer that in some ways echoed the words of Christ in the garden: “not my will, but your will be done”. From here, she went on to explain the beauty inherent in suffering, the opportunity that it provides for us to identify with Christ, and she referenced several scriptures the way one references wisdom from a respected friend, with a familiar reverence.
Since that afternoon, I have been unable to shake these words from my heart, my spirit. They have echoed profoundly throughout many situations and conversations I have found myself in, and have shaped this understanding of both suffering and grace.
This whole idea of our wounds being our authority portrays a beautiful picture of this gift of grace: our suffering is redeemed.
Grace does not guarantee smooth seas, rather, it guarantees that even the darkest of storms can become a birthplace of hope.
Our areas of weakness and brokenness are often the areas that we most tangibly see God at work in our lives. We reach the end of ourselves and must allow His love to redeem us and restore us. Our suffering, whether brought on ourselves, or as the result of living in a fallen world, can be redeemed. Through this redemption, we can in turn be a blessing to others as we are able to offer them hope in the midst of their suffering, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians:
All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 MSG)
Suffering is redeemed in that it becomes a vehicle for the healing grace of God to reach a broken world.
Perhaps the beauty of grace in suffering is that it is no respecter of the cause of suffering. I often have an easier time accepting grace for things that happened where I did not have control, than for the sufferings brought on by my own mistakes and failings; however, grace redeems all suffering and has the power to transform it into a seed. If I surrender my pride and choose to accept this gift of grace, I have the opportunity to watch as God takes it, transforms it, sows it into the ground, and brings about a great harvest from the very things that seemed to be my undoing.
I love the example of Peter, the disciple who first proclaims Jesus as the Messiah, then denies Him after His arrest. Jesus graciously restores him, and in the end he saw the “birth” of the church, and had the opportunity to proclaim Jesus as Lord to multitudes. I don’t know if it is significant or not, but I do find it interesting that he denied Jesus 3 times, and yet on the day recounted in Acts 2:14-42, they saw 3000 added to their number.
It appears as though this grace not only restored him, but propelled him into his future. The wounds of denial, when redeemed, became the authority for his proclamation.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul compares himself to a jar of clay that contains a great treasure. Perhaps our wounds are like cracks or chips in these jars – testimonies that allow the glory of God to shine even more clearly:
7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NLT)
Grace transforms these dark and trying places into beacons of light, and we then have the opportunity to come alongside and help illuminate the way home for those who still find themselves lost in the dark. The question then becomes: do I fight the process of suffering, hoping to ease my discomfort, or do I also choose to pray “my Father, I do not understand, but I trust you”, and submit to this transformative process? We have the promise that no matter what we face now, it will never compare to what lay in store for us in eternity:
16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, MSG)
May we not be ashamed of where we have come from, or the battle scars we bear, but may we see the beauty of redemption and the glory of God made manifest through them.