The different ways that we are called to suffer… On a recent water filter trip, I met Pedro, who is living in the interior, about 6 hours from any town. Pedro said that he knew Jesus as a young adult. About 15 years ago, while at work in a remote sawmill on an interior river, a large board swung and hit him in the back of the head. He must have had a brain injury, as he said that it took him many months to speak and walk normally again. About three years later, he was working in the rain and fell into the water without trauma. For a reason unknown to him, since that day he has had no use of his legs. He remembers nothing else of the event and was told then by a doctor that the probable cause was meningitis. Pedro wept as he recounted the story to me. We sat behind his home, a very small (3m x 4m) wooden shack, baking in the equatorial afternoon sun. He offered me a crude chair (the only one he had) and he sat in the dirt. I noticed fire ants all around and on him. I had been asked to come to his house and see him because he couldn’t come to the boat for our health clinic. He complained of chronic headaches and frequent urination. I checked his blood sugar, gave him some Tylenol and an antibiotic, asked questions and listened. I asked him how his suffering had affected his relationship with God. He shared how he had learned from Job and that his suffering had caused increased trust in God rather than otherwise. He wept again as he shared of his love for God and how he looks forward to heaven where he will be able again to care for himself and walk without assistance.
Pedro has faith uncommon in our prosperous western world where we often equate relationship with God with temporal blessing. His faith so transcended this messed up, unpredictable, and painful world. Remarkable to me is that his understanding of his situation is not a stumbling block for trusting God. His remarkable humility was beautiful to behold and challenged me to the core. I remember being similarly challenged in my work in the Emergency Department, perhaps ten years ago, when I met an adopted 10 y/o boy from India who had no arms. He had a large laceration in the roof of his mouth from falling while carrying a pencil. He was so radically "deformed" and yet radiated love for God and gratitude for life in such a way that it provoked a profound emotional response in me and I had to leave his presence and regroup before repairing his laceration. My encounter with this beautiful boy forced me to stop and consider God and my beliefs in light of the fact that He obviously caused or allowed this beautiful boy to suffer thusly and was profoundly glorified not in his healing but in his living in love with Jesus nevertheless.
I left Pedro with a greater appreciation for the beauty of trusting God, in the same way that I left that boy many years ago and cried at the beauty of gratitude in the midst of affliction. Trusting God and having a genuinely grateful heart in the midst of suffering glorifies God far more than success. Do I want to glorify God in my life? I am perhaps only recently finally learning what an affirmative response means. It doesn’t mean success, blessing, prosperity, or ease. It means that I make myself available for this short life to be spent as He sees fit, knowing that I may be called on to suffer for His sake and join the many who have glorified Him profoundly while walking through painful circumstances. Pedro and my small Indian friend caused me to see again both the beauty of the Kingdom of God and the profound beauty of a grateful, trusting heart in the midst of suffering.