December 8, 2020
What happens in our world and within us when we experience suffering?
This pandemic may have opened some old wounds for you, or maybe it has cut some new ones. We all have felt a loss of control, and that in itself is enough to grieve. Some of us have lost family members, jobs, or financial stability. Our world is being rocked under the waves of racial trauma and violence. Collectively – we have experienced natural disasters, political unrest, and conflict of every kind. And these may have just been heaped on top of all the other life losses and disappointments: miscarriages, break ups, divorce, sickness, family conflict, depression, failure. Not to mention being immersed in a world crying out in pain on the news and social media.
Yet, I believe, when we allow Jesus to slow us down and uncover all of those losses in His presence, He can heal us and even transform us through them. He can work through all of this to make us something new.
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”John 12:23-24
Jesus said these words in anticipation of the Cross. Recently, I spent a little time researching the literal transformation of a seed and I found that his words were far richer than I could have imagined.
In order for a seed to germinate, it must go through what gardeners call “scarification.”
Scarification is the process of breaking down and cracking the shell through external conflict such as alternate freezing and thawing, singeing by forest fires, or being digested by animals. Sounds awesome, right?
All seeds are more or less water-resistant; how long it takes to germinate depends on how long it takes for water to penetrate the shell to get to the internal part of the seed. After a seed’s shell is cracked, water can then enter through the cracks. The seed coat swells and breaks under the pressure of the expanding seedling within and it explodes out of the shell into something new; something greater and larger and no longer able to be contained by its former shape.
Sound familiar? I thought so too. When our shells get banged up through fires, freezing temperatures, or the plain hardships of life, we feel like we are dying. And actually, we are. Jesus said this is how it’s supposed to happen. But the reality of how a seed works is this: it must be broken and crack open before it can grow into a plant and multiply.
Suffering Cracks the Shell
2014 was a miserable year for me personally. I was in campus ministry to artists at the time, and in a period of 9 months, we lost 6 out of 8 of our leaders for various reasons:
One student walked away from Jesus. CRACK
One was hit by a car while walking to school and suffered a massive concussion. CRACK.
One student had to step away from leadership due to depression. CRACK.
All of these circumstances were very painful losses to grieve in ministry. Then, stuff started happening in our personal lives.
My staff partner’s wife left him. CRACK.
During those same 6 months, I had two miscarriages. CRACK. CRACK.
This was also the same year of the Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice shootings. CRACK. CRACK. CRACK.
It felt like wave after wave of pain and death were crashing over us.
I felt vulnerable and exposed as He began pulling back my bitterness, sadness, anger, and resentment to reveal something fleshy and alive inside. The pain was real, but something else was waking up in the midst of it. As I moved closer to God in my vulnerability, something new was opening within me. Something deep within that began to arise within all the loss and disappointment. Something beyond myself that my bitterness could no longer contain.
God used that pain to crack the shell to reveal what was hidden underneath.
Awakening to Our Desires
Before I had the miscarriages, I didn’t know how much I wanted to have children. Not really. Not until grief allowed me to access it. It wasn’t until I had lost something that I uncovered the longing that ran deeper than even my consciousness could name.
Before then, having children was a latent dream that had been pushed aside, down, or out of my life. And grief caused me to wake up to it.
I could say this of every loss and disappointment in my life.
Before I missed out on the dream job, I didn’t know how badly I wanted it.
Before I lost my friend Lauren, I didn’t know how much I really loved her.
Before Coronavirus, I didn’t realize how much I wanted to physically be with people.
Before George Floyd’s death, I didn’t know how deeply I could grieve the loss of someone I didn’t know.
Before…I could give a whole list. You could too.
The saying is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. And it’s also true that we don’t really know what we have until it’s gone. But these statements reveal something far deeper – our desire. And our desires point us to our dreams: the people aspire to become, the things we long to do, and who we yearn to do it with.
The same could be said of Kingdom dreams that are often born out of communal loss and pain. Where did Martin Luther King’s dreams arise from? They were cracked open and took root when he looked into the pain of racism in the world and saw something beneath it, something beyond it. When he looked into the future and saw possibility and hope. A dream that he recounted so beautiful in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech:
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
Kingdom dreams go beyond our current reality into the next one. And they cause us to ache for it in such a way that we will settle for nothing less.
What Lies Beneath the Shell
We all have dreams inside of us. Dreams that take us beyond the individual and communal suffering of the world. It’s just that loss and disappointment crack the shell so we can see them more clearly. When we go through loss personally, or when our world experiences suffering as it is today, it cracks us open to reveal a world within us that we all long for. The ache of loss and disappointment reveals that something is broken. And this revelation points to our desire for wholeness. Shalom. The world as it should be – the before sin and darkness. The world after the resurrection and restoration of all things.
A world that was created to be beautiful, full of life, and abundant with joy. A life of belonging, purpose, and meaning. A world where every nation, tribe, and tongue worship in beautiful diversity and unity before the throne. A world where He will wipe every tear from our eyes and set the world right. A world where there will be restoration and peace because He alone is King. And justice and righteousness are the foundation of His throne.
In uncovering the ache, we discover desires that were imprinted on our hearts before the world began. Why? Because they are a part of a bigger dream. God’s dream. And His dream includes you and your desires. And it includes the desires and dreams of all humankind.
What if the ache, the loss, the disappointment was actually what cracks us open to reveal our desires? What if suffering is what opens the way for us to arise into the people we were created to be? The world we were created to be?
- What are the remnants of the desires still in your heart that loss or disappointment might be cracking open? What are the dreams buried underneath the hard shell of the anger, bitterness, and self-protection?
- What are the remnants of desires in the heart of the world that the current racial, political, economic, and physical unrest and suffering are revealing? What hope is rattling around restless under all the tears? What hunger is gnawing beneath the anger or what longing is singing beneath the sorrow?
- Is there a dream that has been either buried or lost – a personal one or one for our world that the pain is uncovering? Name it in His presence.
- Write down the desires that are surfacing. All of them. Keep going until you can’t come up with anything more to say.
Jesus, beneath all of my tears and disappointments are desires that are unfulfilled. Beneath all the unrest in this world is a longing for a better world. You are cracking this world open and myself with it. I feel vulnerable and exposed. Our world is vulnerable and exposed. Help me, help us to see what is hidden beneath all the pain and disappointment. Show me the dreams that are still hidden within. Could you shed light on them and redeem and restore them? Could you redeem and restore our world, and me within it?
Wow – Bette! Excellent post. Very timely and thought-provoking. Thank you!