When I was young, I wanted to suffer for God. I pictured myself being the great and glorious martyr somewhere. There's something so romantic about laying down your life for something great. I guess many young people might see themselves that way, but now I know it was mostly ego, but sort of good ego at that stage.
There is nothing glorious about any actual moment of suffering—when you're in the midst of it. You swear it's meaningless. You swear it has nothing to do with goodness or holiness or God—or you.
The very essence of any experience of trial is that you want to get out of it. A lack of purpose, of meaning—is the precise suffering of suffering! When you find a pattern in your suffering, a direction, you can accept it and go with it. The great suffering, the suffering of Jesus, is when that pattern is not immediately given. The soul can live without success, but it cannot live without meaning.
Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations
When I look back at my last years in Wool (summed up here) these words of Rohr’s are almost uncannily right. It would have been so much easier to face something heroic, some great tragedy or persecution, than the ending of a marriage. It was precisely because it was so un-heroic, so prosaic in its long and detailed pain, that it was so very close to what Rohr describes: “A lack of purpose, of meaning—is the precise suffering of suffering!”
We look at the deaths of the saints and martyrs, and we tend to think of them gazing clear-eyed into the light of the setting sun, their jaw-muscles rippling as they face down their enemies in that final, glorious sacrifice, singing praises to God as the flames rise. Perhaps for some it was like that, but I am quite certain that for many there was nothing glorious about it; they died degrading, pointless, messy deaths, clinging desperately to shreds of faith right up to the moment they were welcomed into glory.
The Cross of Jesus was a ghastly, humdrum bit of crude military carpentry. Death on a cross was, as Cicero said, “a most cruel and disgusting punishment”. Taking up our cross and following our Lord (Mark 8.34-35) is usually going to be much more messy than splendid, far more meaningless than heroic. Only by being born into, dying in, the chaos and casual brutality of our world could our Lord redeem us. Only by praying in the midst of our own pain and confusion can our prayers matter at all to the meaninglessness and tears of this broken creation of which we are a part…