I know! It is strange to consider suffering as a spiritual discipline. But, just like the well-known spiritual disciplines, suffering has the potential to bring us to God. As John Ortberg observes, “Suffering always changes us, but it does not necessarily change us for the better.” So, over the next few days I want to make some brief and simple suggestions to help us turn our suffering into a spiritual discipline exercise.
First, begin with the mini-trials. You don’t go lifting weights like the Olympians cold-turkey. You start small and you build up to it. Just so, don’t wait for a nuclear war, or to be fired from your job, or for your family to disappear before you start turning the trials of life into spiritual disciplines. Life is full of mini-trials; the little things that make life tough. The traffic jams down Deakin avenue; the long lines in Woolworths; the neighbour that plays music too loud; the class clowns and bullies; the colleague that just doesn’t seem interested in getting along; a bout of the common cold. These can all become spiritual discipline opportunities.
In 2 Corinthians 11-12, the Apostle Paul talked about weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. These sufferings included beatings and shipwrecks, yes, but also his simple concern for his friends. Elsewhere he seems to talk about his stage-fright and poor communication skills [1 Cor 2:3-4].
There are everyday situations, mini-trials, that we can turn into spiritual discipline exercises. Start there! Start with the mini-trials. Practice responding to these with an intention to draw nearer to God. All the while remembering that, through Jesus, God heals.