I began writing this on my phone, sitting in a recliner at the Cancer Center of Frederick. I’ve been coming here twice a week to get infusions of iron, as this pregnancy has rendered me extremely anemic. The doctor explained that I was too deep in an iron deficiency hole for pills to work. I wondered how I was still upright.
On the surface, it would be easy to complain about the inconveniences of coming here twice a week for about two hours at a time… the childcare arrangements, the “wasted” time, the fact that I am so anemic.
I have to say, though, that sitting in a room with men and women who are getting chemo treatments keeps me from complaining or feeling sorry for myself. And my first reaction was to be thankful for my circumstances because “it could be worse, I could be here for chemotherapy.” What a shortsighted view I have.
Of course it’s easy to take the “it could be worse” attitude, but what if the “it could be worse” is where you are living right now? I’ve been thinking on that a lot this week… I have a friend I have known since middle school, and she is in the process of dying. And she is doing it with grace, faith, dignity and even with her sense of humor in tact. For Jeannie, her husband and her parents, they are in a place where it really couldn’t be worse, at least by our human standards. But Jeannie is holding fast to the one thing that makes even the worse bearable; she knows that when she takes her last breath here, she will be face-to-face with the One who breathed life into her in the first place.
That’s the place I want to live in. Not the “it could be worse” comparison as a path to joy and gratitude, but in the place of being joyful and grateful because He Is. I want to be grateful because I have this very moment, regardless of the circumstances. Grateful because he sees me, he knows me and he loves me, even if it feels like no one else in the world does.
And I’m not saying this to say that we should never have a moment of complaint, or of being angry about a bad day or unexpected circumstances that cause suffering. We are all going to have bad days, bad moments, and I think it’s okay to not be okay with it. But our path from that moment back to a grateful heart doesn’t need to be by way of “it could be worse.” It can be by way of “…blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!”
Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross, the very epitome of physical, emotional and spiritual suffering. And he did it “for the joy set before him.” Jesus had no “it could be worse.” And yet he had joy, and that joy allowed him to endure the greatest suffering known to man. His joy didn’t come from the suffering; no, his endurance came from the joy, a joy based not on his present, but on the promise of what was to come. Jesus knew that the day of his suffering and death would have an end, and that beyond that day was a greater day, a day where he would be reunited with his Father, a day that would know no end.
We can have that same joy*. Jesus freely offers each one of us the peace that comes with knowing him and following him; the peace in knowing we have eternity with Christ, regardless of what suffering we endure on earth. Some of you reading this right now may be experiencing an extended period of suffering; if you are, I pray that God would give you a fresh vision of what is to come so that you can endure with joy. Not a forced, faked joy, but a true, deep-in-the-marrow-of-your-bones joy that comes from knowing Christ is yours, and you. are. his. No more need to measure your bad days against someone else’s. No more need to compare your suffering with the suffering of others. Just a sweet assurance that all of this earthly suffering is temporary.
Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains
*If all of this sounds completely strange and impossible to you, I would love to talk with you about how you can know such a joy, even in the face of great suffering. You can comment here or email me at jtousey(at)gmail(dot)com.