Suffering well in reconciliation work
My Twitter friend, Reverend Angie Mabry-Nauta, recently blogged about suffering as a route to spiritual growth. Mabry-Nauta’s words are applicable to all, but I encourage my reconciliation and justice-oriented readers to take special note. Suffering is a natural part of reconciliation and justice work. The person of color who feels called to integrate a homogenous church suffers. The person who tries to pioneer a reconciliation program and discovers that herding cats would have been a less challenging goal suffers. The woman who teaches a group of male seminary students who don’t respect her suffers. The person who forgives the voice behind the culturally-insensitive comment yet again suffers. The prophet who is persecuted and attacked for communicating a vision of unity suffers. We definitely suffer. Whether we suffer well is the question. More often than not, I've haven't suffered well. I've blindly and stubbornly dug in my heels, vowing to win the battle of oppression, to weather the storm of injustice. This has invariably led to burnout and surrender (e.g., quitting). Or I've allowed cynicism to grow in my heart. The cynicism numbs the pain so that I can “stay the course” indefinitely. (I won't wave the white flag this time, I tell myself!) To the outside observer, I'm as focused on our reconciliation and justice efforts as ever. But those close to me and even the voice inside me knows that I have been dead for a while.
Mabry-Nauta warns against this death and encourages all of us to stay in touch with and push through the pain to find true life. Borrowing from Richard Rohr, she suggests that suffering helps us to shed our false selves and put on our true selves. “In order to grow into the True Self that God created us to be, our False Self…must die. And nothing in nature dies easily, without decay, decline, and yes painful loss of previous vivacity… Furthermore, inwardly seeking, finding, and living into our True Self is the only way to true shalom with God, ourselves, and the world around us.”
I’m starting to believe that the more I suffer – and embrace the pain while taking it to God – the more hopeful I become and the better equipped I am for reconciliation and justice work. Indeed, mature faith seems to require suffering. Justice advocate Patricia O'Connell Killen says, "The mark of mature faith is the ability to endure frustration, negotiate conflict, and get to the other side of disillusionment with the capacity to hope." If handled wisely, vulnerably, and hopefully, suffering leads to greater strength. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Suffering well is easier said than done, so read Mabry-Nauta’s full post!