Maturity Through Suffering?

Now I know it may seem strange, but the second way the cross of Christ relates to human suffering is human suffering matures us; it can make us more holy.

It may even be more strange, but John Stott posits that Jesus needed further experiences to make him more teleios  [the Greek word for mature].  Jesus needed to suffer on the cross to prove His obedience to God.  Stott cites Hebrews 2:10: “In bringing many sons to glory it was fitting that God…should make the Author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”  Hebrews 5: 8-9 says “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.”

If suffering made Christ more mature, we (in our sinful state) need it much more.  One of the most popular Bible verses comes from James when he calls trials “pure joy;” those same trials test our faith and develop perseverance.  Perseverance leads to mature Christian faith [James 1: 2-4].

Six years ago this month, I experienced the worst trauma of my life [to date].  I fell from a ten-foot ladder and hit the rock hard ground on my posterior.  There was a drought in Kentucky at that time and the ground was extraordinarily hard.  When I fell, I knew something was wrong because I had a hard time getting up.  My neighbors came to check on me as well as my wife and when they assisted me, something inside my body shifted in a strange way.  I was not in pain [maybe it was shock] but the strange internal movement made me stop and lay on the ground.  Emergency services was called and I was rolled onto a board and transported to our local hospital.  There I got an x ray and found I had a complex pelvic break, so complex that local doctors determined that I would have to go to a major trauma hospital for treatment.  I was transported via ambulance to Nashville, Tennessee [Vanderbilt Medical Center] where I was admitted to the trauma ward.  The first hours I was there I was told I would have to undergo surgery soon after my body was adjusted to the proper position.  By this they meant I would have to have a hole drilled in my right leg and a rod inserted.  My leg was elevated throughout the night and the next day I was put back together by an orthopedic surgeon.  Today I have several pieces of extra metal in my body from this surgery. 

Six years hence, I found God in my trauma journey in so many places: on the ground in my front yard, in the thank yous I sprinkled on all the medical people who helped me [I was referred to as the crazy guy who thanked everyone], the peace I felt in the trauma ward awaiting my surgery.  I know it may sound “corny” but I felt like God was all over this event.  When I awakened from surgery, a man came to my room and asked if I believed in Jesus.  He then told me I was going to fully recover, for he had fallen from a second floor building and he broke his pelvis and many other bones.  He bounced back and I would too.  He grabbed my hand and prayed a heartfelt prayer of healing for me. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want to have another traumatic episode but the whole event taught me so much.  Stott writes “God intends suffering to be a means of grace” [The Cross of Christ, 309].  Suffering fosters perseverance and purifies faith.  When I was recovering I was humbled.  I could not get out of bed.  I could not cook my meals.  I could not drive a car.  I could not take a shower standing up.  I had a special device to help me pick up things and put socks on my feet.  I had to use a walker for three months, not able to put any weight on my right foot.   Paul was given a thorn in his side to keep him humble [to keep him “from becoming conceited”].  It says in Psalms 119: 67 “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey the word.”

To this very day, when I stand in the shower I remember what it was like to sit on a stool and have to grab shampoo, towel and washcloth with a grabber tool. 

As one of my therapy aids, my therapist found out that I liked to read and he recommended a book by Jim Rendon called  Upside: The New Science of Post Traumatic Growth.  Rendon states that all of us want to avoid the worst life has to offer, accidents, illness, loss of loved ones and violence.  However, seventy-five percent of people will experience trauma in their lives.  Many people suffer, but a significant number report that the event can lead to positive change.  It is in the midst of trauma recovery that we begin to discover the things which really matter; in sorrow, we discover ourselves.

My recovery was not one joy ride back to full use of my body.  I had many days in the middle of winter to ponder my condition.  I did not have it as bad as many.*  I had days of depression, problems with urinary performance due to the pelvic break, additional surgery for urinary function, many, many days of pain in my right leg and constant neuropathy.   There were moments when I feared I would never have nerve reconnection to my feet since my pelvic surgery severed nerves in the middle of my body [I have a six inch scar]. 

Now when I walk, I pay attention to my feet and even though there is not 100% feeling, there is so much more than there used to be.  My body does not work exactly as it did before the fall, but it works well enough.  I recall the electric shock of nerve reattachment in my feet with joy.  If there is such a thing as good pain, that was it. 

Stott says suffering stimulates creativity; Rendon agrees.  Suffering matures people because of how they react to what they have gone through. 

Please don’t misunderstand; I don’t look forward to trauma.  No one does but when Stott writes “There is always something indefinable about people who have suffered.  They have a fragrance that others lack.” 

I don’t know about my fragrance but every day I take a shower, I stand up and I thank God for being able to: just one of so many little things I appreciate about life today.   I lost a lot and my merciful Lord has given so much back.

Maturity through suffering?

You decide…**

*So many medical personnel told me to quit comparing my injuries to others.  “You have it bad enough” so I quit trying to make myself feel better by comparison.  However, there is no comparison to the suffering of Jesus when he took the sins of mankind on His shoulders.

**Sorry about this late post.  My 92 year old Mother is in the hospital and I have been heavily involved in getting her into assisted living.  Pray for me, but most of all pray for her to make this momentous change.

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