The new year has begun. Undoubtedly, some of us have made (and already broken) some new year’s resolutions. It doesn’t matter if we made any resolutions are not, we all hope that 2011 will be a great year, maybe the year that we finally live the best life ever.
What does the idea of “the best life” look like to you? For some, it may entail finally realizing that promotion at work to our dream job. For others, it may be getting married, or having kids. For others still, it may be moving on faith and taking an exciting risk. Whatever it is, our idea of the best life often includes increased comfort, safety, and security.
But what if God has something different in mind? What if 2011 turns into a year of suffering? That doesn’t sound like the best life ever. It doesn’t even sound like a good life. But for many, suffering is life. If we’re honest, we want to avoid suffering any way we can.
But could it be that, for some, a life of suffering is the best life ever?
My mother-in-law, Ida Faye Cutler, is the prototypical southern lady. She’s full of grace. She has a slight soft draw to her voice. She’s never said a cross word about anyone. She enjoys a glass of iced tea on the porch during a warm summer evening. She enjoys every moment with her seven grandchildren.
She has also battled rheumatoid arthritis for thirty years.
We have pictures of her up on a stepladder stenciling my oldest daughter’s first room, and now she cannot walk. She hasn’t taken a step without assistance for nearly four years. She had endured multiple surgeries on her hands, knees, and feet. In 2006, she had so much infection in her body that it should have killed her. Half her days are spent in bed because of pain. In the last year, she endured multiple long hospital stays due to an infection resulting from a knee replacement gone bad. There is a real possibility that this infection will claim her leg.
And yet, she has never complained. She has only thought, “Why me?” for a few moments, and within a few hours her resolve returns as she states, “Someone is worse off than me.”
All this has me thinking about how so many churches portray the “Christian life.” In my experience, so many churches have unwittingly proclaimed that following Jesus will result in the best life ever–a life of comfort, security, tranquility, and even improved health. “If you’ll just follow Jesus, he’ll give you the best life ever and it’ll blow your mind!”
The problem with that theology is that it doesn’t include Jesus. He lived dirt poor, had terrible relationships, suffered and died. He said, “In this world, you will have trouble.”
What if the best life ever has nothing to do with security and comfort? What if the best life ever is a life filled with suffering so that others may see Jesus through you?
That was the life of Jesus. That was the life of Paul. That is the life of my mother-in-law.
My wife took my mother-in-law to Duke for a second opinion on her knee. The doctor recommended amputation, which both my wife and mother-in-law were expecting. On the way home, my mother-in-law said, “Now what lesson am I supposed to learn from this?” And my wife, with so much wisdom learned from years of nursing and following Jesus, told her this: “Mom, maybe it’s not you that needs to learn. Maybe God is teaching everyone else through you.” My mother-in-law is still weighing her options as to what to do. But one thing is certain: her faith is still strong.
Ida Faye has suffered tremendously, especially in the last five years. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of people have been moved and inspired by her unwavering faith, patience, and perseverance. She carries the sufferings of Jesus in her body so that the faith of others may be strengthened. My faith is stronger because of her.
Please pray for her as she continues her treatment that will hopefully result in the infection being erradicated, and that God in His grace will allow her some rest from this season of suffering. And as you look forward to a great 2011, take time to really examine what your best life might entail. You may be surprised. You may not like it. But by the grace of God, you can live through it.