A Lesson in Suffering


Suzi has always said that I was born with nine lives, given the close calls and near death experiences I have had over the years. Some of them, well, all of them are rather incredible really. I started out this fall having already exhausted at least six that I am aware of, and returning home from a hunting trip in Montana, I was pretty sure I used up the remaining three.

A group of us were hunting in a remote location where we had to travel by boat to get there. As we left in the morning for a day of hunting, the drizzle of the 38 degree rain was uncomfortable but tolerable. Warm clothes and rain gear kept the wet and cold at bay for a while but as the day wore on, the drizzle gained momentum and the temperature dropped. By noon, the group of us was soaked by the big wet snowflakes.

I always get mad when I watch the TV show Survivor, and they can’t make fire given a large pile of perfect tinder and a fire starter. It took me only minutes to make a roaring fire for lunch time, from the tools in my fanny pack. We huddled around the glow as our bodies absorbed the heat. I’m not sure how long we huddled around the fire but when two of us turned so our backsides could enjoy the heat, we both noticed the dark clouds and the heavy weather front in the distant sky bearing down on us. After a short discussion to give up the hunt for the day and head back to camp, we climbed in the boat and started the journey back to the boat ramp.

We hadn’t gone far before we found ourselves in the middle of a blizzard. The temperature plummeted and the wind increased. The journey went from a short run to a three hour tour, yes a “three hour tour” (Gilligan’s Island reference). As the boat crept along, under full power, pushing directly into the full force of the storm, the waves would crash over the boat drenching us with spray. As time went on and the temperature dropped, the spray and heavy snow mixed to encase our soaked bodies and boat in a layer of solid ice. By the time we reached the boat ramp, everyone was approaching severe hypothermia and very much at risk. It took me six times to reach into my pocket and pull out the keys to my truck. The temperature gauge on the truck read 11 degrees.

At one point on the boat ride, my cousin turned to me and yelled above the roar of the storm, “How much longer must we suffer?” I just smiled. When we were all out of our wet clothes and warming ourselves next to the woodstove in our tent, my cousin asked me why in that dire situation, I was smiling. I said, “You asked the question, how much longer must we suffer, and I smiled because that didn’t entail suffering to me. That was pain, and I knew shortly that it would be over one way or the other. Either we would make it or we wouldn’t but it was something that was easily endured over a short period of time.”

Suffering is something I have felt several times in my life as I have been forced to endure great pain for long periods of time. Perhaps, the biggest obstacle for a non-believer coming to faith in God is the question of how a loving God could allow so much pain and suffering to exist in this world. While asking this question, people ignore the fact that an estimated 95% of all suffering is mortal or caused as a direct result of the actions of people or sin and not what is equated to an “act of God” such as the recent earthquake in Japan.

Paul suffered from what was referred to as “a thorn in his flesh.” We read in 2 Corinthians where he prayed for relief.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NIV)

8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I find it interesting that right next to the word “suffering” in my dictionary is the word “suffice”, which is the root word of sufficient. God asks us to focus on Him and His grace will always trump our suffering. A lesson from a dear friend has taught me that when I find myself suffering and in unbearable pain, I should go to my praise chair, crank the praise music and sing with all I have while I focus on Him. My suffering seems so small in the shadow of His grace.

In the love of Christ,

Eric Schoenborn


Jerry Gowins July 15, 2011 at 4:28 PM  

Thank you. Perfect timing.


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