Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Fellowship of Suffering

Just as we have a share in Christ's many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God's great help. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:5, GNT ~

For the past decade, the ministry I have had the privilege of leading has hinged upon the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." (NIV)  When our son was only 2 years old, I sought to be served, to connect with other parents who were approaching their challenges in raising a child with special needs by clinging to Christ.  That was difficult to find 10 years ago, and God revealed to me that I was blessed to be a blessing.  He called me to serve rather than be served, which was a scary notion.  Obedience would mean that I had to get my focus off of myself and on to the concerns of others.

Yet, one of the greatest blessings of the past decade has been the fellowship of suffering which I share with the thousands of parents we serve.  One of life's greatest heartaches is to watch the child you love struggle or suffer.  But if suffering is inevitable, and Jesus assures us it is (see John 16:33), then what a treasure the Lord gives us in knowing that we are not alone. Somehow it seems a bit less frightening when we have another hand to hold as we venture into dark and unknown places of any kind.  That is no less true on the journey of raising a child with special needs.  To have another there who is traveling that same bumpy road as us validates our pain, encourages us to keep going and comforts us when we need a break.

Humor can even find its way into the fellowship of suffering!  There is nothing like the shared, sometimes "dark humor" of parents raising such a unique child.  Being able to joke about otherwise repugnant things such as body fluids and medical procedures shrinks their power over us.  Otherwise crushing things like mountainous medical bills or uncooperative schools are placed in their proper place, under our feet, when we can mock them with another who understands.  Somehow the gift of that unexpected little snicker in the most unfunny of places assures us of the deep joy that can never be stolen from us.

And the truly amazing thing is that this fellowship of suffering has the most coveted of members -- King Jesus.  He knows what it is to feel pain.  We often fixate on the physical pain of His death.  While the humiliation of slapping, hitting and spitting, the mutilation of of scourging and the agony of crucifixion are no small thing, they are merely the crescendo to a life of suffering.  Prior to His death, Jesus suffered the pain of losing his earthly father to death, of being doubted and disrespected by his mother and siblings (see Mark 3:21), of living in poverty and having no home of his own (see Matthew 8:20).  People routinely rejected him, and even his own closest circle of friends abandoned him in his darkest hour.  Because He faced all of these unenviable trials, Jesus can identify with us, and we can identify with Him.

That mutuality with the King of Kings redeems our suffering and gives it immense value.  How awesome to know that, "Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; for if we share Christ's suffering, we will also share his glory." (Romans 8:17, GNT)  Let's give thanks today for this special fellowship we share with God and with each other.

PRAY:  Dear Lord, some days I feel like I am in a club to which I would rather not belong.  Still, you assure me that I will have to see suffering in this imperfect world.  So if I must suffer, thank You that I do not suffer alone.  Thank you for the fellowship of other faithful parents who also walk this journey.  But more importantly, thank You for the unique fellowship I have the privilege of sharing with You.

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