Monday, November 19, 2012

Keep Calm and Suffer On

If there's anything we hate, it's suffering.  If there's anything I hate, it's suffering.  Our natural desire is to avoid pain.  Most of the pursuit of the modern world is comfort.  We would have a hard time identifying our actual needs, because they are regularly met and then forgotten in the unending sea of wants.

In late 1939, after the outbreak of war, the British government appointed the design of several morale-boosting posters.  Two of the three posters designed were published, the third was reserved in case Britain was invaded by Germany.  Under the image of the crown it read "Keep Calm and Carry On."  Presumably, the message being, Stay calm, the king remains...the kingdom brace yourself and keep on keepin' on.  Since there was no invasion, the poster was not widely seen by the public until an original copy was rediscovered in 2000.  Now there are "Keep Calm and Carry On" mugs, t-shirts, and phone covers, along with myriads of parodies on the phrase.  (Ironically, the message is printed on luxury items, the demand for which says something about our culture's idea of trials...but that's a discussion for another day.)

Even in the mad pursuit to free our lives of suffering, something about the message to "Keep Calm and Carry On" apparently resonates with us.  As Americans we aren't facing a military invasion but in the face of the day's trials we still like a reminder that life goes on, because we can't avoid it, suffering finds us.  The world seeks to manage the pain, minimize its impact and carry on with the pursuit of comfort.  The problem is that a pursuit of comfort leaves us walking out of step with our Savior, whose path led Him straight into suffering and death.

This year God has been teaching me a lot about suffering, some through personal experience, and a lot through the example of men and women of faith throughout history.  One day, while pondering suffering the "Keep Calm" slogan came to mind and I decided I'd add my adaptation of the phrase to the mix: "Keep Calm and Suffer On."  My interpretation being what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:12-14--
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of  Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Often, pain hits me and I first feel shock.  This can't be happening to me!  No one else is enduring such trials!   Yet, Peter tells me that the appropriate response is a calm knowledge that suffering is normal for followers of Christ!  It isn't strange and certainly shouldn't be unexpected.  Paraphrasing of course, he first says "Keep calm, this is normal."  Then he says something totally counter-intuitive, (again, paraphrasing), "Suffer on!  Embrace your suffering, knowing it brings you to experience the glory of God."  In other words, the King remains...the Kingdom remains...suffer with purpose, so that you may know Christ more fully.

If we're all being honest, this probably makes you as uncomfortable as it does me.  However, if Christ suffered, why should we think ourselves exempt?  Why should we want to be exempt?  The way of the cross is our calling.  It's what we signed up for.  Do not be shocked.  Do not get bitter.  Do not try to minimize the impact of suffering.  Embrace it, knowing that through perseverance your character and faith will grow. 

I'm currently reading a book called He Leadeth Me, written by a Jesuit priest who felt God call him to serve in Russia in the 1930s.  While pursuing this mission, in the midst of World War II, he was captured, held in solitary confinement and relentlessly interrogated for five years, then spent the next 18 years in a labor camp in Siberia.  Most of his experience was wrestling with the will of God and learning how to bring God glory and serve others in the face of suffering.  He writes, "Pain and suffering...become a means of...fostering peace and conformity to God's will, for they are seen as the continuation of Christ's purposeful, redemptive, healing acts by which the world is reconciled to the will of the Father." It is a challenging read.  But as I broaden my understanding of the world-wide Christian experience, I am realizing that the perceived safety and comfort of our American culture can, more often than not, distract us from our call to the cross. 

What are we willing to sacrifice for the pursuit of Christ?  Are we continuing Christ's passion to reconcile the world to our Father, no matter the cost?  There is no time to waste...lives are at stake.

Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, brace yourself, keep calm and suffer on.  It is for the glory of the One who paved the way for us and who shared in our suffering, even unto death.  The King remains and through Him we shall inherit the glories of heaven!  We were not made for this world, our comfort lies ahead of us.  May our suffering gain souls for eternity and press us to count "everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord. For his sake [we] have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that [we] may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the history lesson on the "Keep Calm" stuff everywhere! I had no idea.