Suffering has the power to shape our priorities

I had a visceral reaction to the death of U.S aid worker Kayla Mueller, at the hand of ISIS terrorists. After reading the news of her kidnapping and mysterious killing, I felt as if I couldn’t stand. I wept from a deep place within me. The sorrow and subsequent feelings of empathy came for a number of reasons. I identified with her youthful zeal and commitment to relieve the pain of those she encountered. As a former missionary, I related to her willingness to leave the comfort of her home, regardless of the risk. As a woman of faith, I was inspired by the way she clung to God in her darkest hour.  Kayla Mueller said, “some people find God in nature, some people find God in love; I find God in suffering.”

Suffering is something that baffles the human mind. The shock of losing a loved one, a friend’s rejection, the agony of awaiting a promise, and the pain of sickness are common experiences. Yet as familiar as we are with suffering, it’s not something that makes its way into most dinner conversations. We don’t like to talk or even think about suffering, because it frightens us. When a tragedy strikes a town, one of the first responses is to figure out how it happened and who's to blame. If we can understand the motives behind the act, we hope to strategize ways to prevent it from ever happening again. 

The only problem is tragedies don’t often have easy solutions or quick answers. We’re confused and at loss when children unexpectedly die in school shootings or are abducted by the hundreds in foreign lands. The suffering that comes forth from these travesties leaves us angry, frightened and unsure of the world around us. 

However, in spite of the immense darkness found in suffering, a shining light can still be found. A beauty revealed in suffering is the way in which some who experience it, chose to respond. As the 21 Egyptian Christians were beheaded, some whispered the name of Jesus with their last breaths. They refused to recount their faith even in the moment of their ultimate testing. Though they died, they’ve inspired countless others to live courageously. 

Suffering does something to those willing to witness it. Suffering has the potential to shape our priorities. Kayla Mueller’s boyfriend remarked that she rarely bought clothes for herself, choosing instead to spend the money on food for the poor. I read that statement a week after I made poor shopping choices during an impulsive trip to the mall.  I’m grateful to have employment that allows me to purchase clothes that I like. However, Kayla’s life and the suffering she endured caused me to reconsider my priorities. I had to ask myself what I consider to be most important. When my life is over, what do I want my purchases to say about the kind of person I was? Did I use my resources to gratify my whims or did I give to others? Seeing Kayla’s sacrifice on behalf of strangers caused a desire for generosity to grow in my heart. 

Earlier this year, my dear friends lost two of their children in a house fire. Even the fire chief in their town couldn’t provide an explanation for the sudden flames that consumed their house. When I traveled to Wyoming to be with them, I received an unexpected gift. In the hospital room, Noelle and Feike held one of their surviving sons, Remmy and laughed with him. In the midst of unspeakable loss, they sang, hoped, prayed and kept believing. As I watched them worship, my eyes filled with tears and my heart soared with gratitude. I silently thanked God for allowing me to see such a beautiful act in the midst of unexplainable pain. 

We must not turn our eyes away from the suffering of those in our world. As we walk side by side, sharing in the sufferings of others, we’ll find a special beauty known only to those who experience sorrow, yet refuse to lose hope.