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Welcoming Suffering

Inhale; plank pose.

Exhale; downward-facing dog.

It’s the first time I’ve done yoga since recovering from my back injury, and my body just doesn’t quite move the same. I can feel twinges of pain and often have to do the modified version of what my favorite Youtube Yoga instructor, Adriene, tells me to do. Before having Eli, I’d try the most difficult poses she offered. Now, my body says, “No, slow and gentle.” So, I listen.

There are twinges of pain in my lower back, sides, and thighs as I move through my practice. There, I give myself grace and love, knowing what my body has been through and trying not to push myself too hard. But there is also the familiar yet estranged feeling of being challenged, of muscles being awakened. There, I breathe into those muscles, and I challenge the want-to-give-up-so-bad feeling by welcoming it.

This is an anomaly for me recently, as I have not been particularly welcoming towards challenges or difficulties, since it seems they have taken up much of my life the last year or so. We moved to a new house in February of 2021 and I had baby Eli in April. Around July or so, I realized that I was not healing the way I was supposed to be and was going to the doctor regularly to figure out what was wrong. At about the same time, TJ broke his hand. We were going full speed with two teenagers and a baby in the summertime. When things seemed to settle down a bit in October, we welcomed two of our kids' precious friends to live with us indefinitely. In November, two of us got lice (me being one of the two). And in January, we all got COVID (except for Kendrick). I am not listing my series of unfortunate events in order to seek sympathy, but rather to explain why I don’t currently have a mindset of welcoming pain and difficulty. When I see suffering making its way toward me, I book it in the opposite direction. Avoidance is my close companion these days.

In January, immediately after finishing our COVID quarantine requirements, I cut my finger pretty badly while cutting lettuce for taco night for our church small group. I had an anxiety attack in front of the kids and lamented to TJ on the way to the ER: "I don't wanttttttt to go to the ER!!!!" This was the last straw, and I raised my white flag. I needed to get into counseling as soon as possible. When I finally met with her, I explained my current life situation and she responded: "No wonder you're anxious!" No wonder.

I avoid suffering with the intention of pursuing comfort and ease, a life that will give me exactly what I want: peace. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing peace; in fact, that is a God-given desire. But the way to peace isn’t always peaceful, as we see at the Cross of Jesus. Peace didn’t arrive on our doorstep with a pretty bow and a note saying Enjoy!; it came to us through the willing, bloody sacrifice of a Father’s only son.

Jesus tried to avoid his fate by asking God if there was any other way: If it is your will, please take this cup from me.

But he knew his destiny was to die so that we may live, and so, with grief, he welcomed his suffering, knowing that the end result of it would not be the suffering itself but something much greater, much more beautiful. He didn’t pretend like the suffering was enjoyable or wonderful; he was grievous, sorrowful, lamenting. He even questioned God: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? But he did not run away from his pain, praying that it wouldn’t catch up to him. He didn’t pursue his own comfort and pleasure. In fact, he allowed himself to lament the very pain he welcomed for the sake of His people - for the sake of us.

Jesus welcomed his suffering, knowing that the end result of it would not be the suffering itself but something much greater, much more beautiful.

Yoga (or any exercise) isn’t always enjoyable. There are moments when I want to fall to the ground and just lay there, hoping that her next words are "Namaste," signaling that the practice is over. But as I’m moving through my day, I can feel life and energy running through my body that is not from a caffeine boost. It feels less difficult to carry Eli and run him around the house, pretending like he’s superman. I feel more grounded, more present, more aware of the God who’s breathed life into me and re-breathed it again and again.

If I had avoided the pain and challenge of Yoga, I wouldn’t have experienced its life-giving benefits. Instead, I breathed into those difficult moments and chose to welcome them. I don't pretend to enjoy these moments. In fact, many times I know I'm grimacing or - you can ask my kids for confirmation - I'm yelling "HOW MUCH LONGER!?" at the TV. This has been true in my motherhood journey as well. Being a mother isn’t always enjoyable. I don’t like cleaning poop stains out of onesies or having a hard conversation with a kid when things go haywire. These moments feel prickly, like a porcupine climbing up my back and sticking its porcupines into my skin. I want to throw that porcupine into the backyard and yell “Go on! LEAVE! Stay away from me!”

Usually, I reluctantly complete these undesirable tasks while complaining or I ask someone else (read: my husband) to do it for me. But every once in a while, I stare into the face of suffering and remind myself of the hope that lies behind it. And it is then that I am able to get comfortable with it, let it stick around awhile. I allow myself to grieve it, but then I allow God to use it.

Nobody is looking for suffering. It's not something we'd search out on Facebook Marketplace or at a local garage sale. We wouldn't ask Suffering to join us for dinner and ask her to stick around a bit to play some games. Suffering, though, does make her way over, even though she is uninvited. And somehow, she is the unlikely tool God uses to develop in us endurance and character. And that endurance and character are what build in us unwavering hope. It's a hope that says, "I've been through the mud and the mire with Jesus, and I know He's not going anywhere. I can trust him." We don’t have to pretend like it’s beautiful; truthfully, it probably feels a flat-out mess. We can grieve, we can lament. But we can also breathe into those difficult moments, welcoming the challenge and leaning on our Father to provide us with the strength and grace to step up to the plate, welcome it, and give it our best shot.

Inhale; suffering.

Exhale; our Father’s strength.

We never, ever have to do it alone.

Some Truth for Ya:

Romans 5:3-5

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

James 1:2-4

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

1 Peter 4:12-13

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.

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