My time in China this summer has served to bring into greater clarity a lesson that I now believe God has been teaching me this year on suffering. A combination of my experiences on the trip, Scripture study, and Bonhoeffer’s biography have brought this into focus.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” – 1 Peter 4:12-13
Though I have the values and discipline to make outward servant-hearted choices, I often and easily rob myself of any participation in Christ’s sufferings by my inward complaining spirit.
This came to a head earlier this year when I found myself running an interactive outreach table alone in the freezing rain. As if that alone wasn’t enough to send me over the edge, a random middle-aged woman off the street cornered me and started talking to me about Bush, Obama, and aliens. Meanwhile, scores of Hopkins students (my target audience) passed me by. I was stuck. There wasn’t anyone to rescue me from that conversation. I couldn’t just pack up the entire table and leave. So there I stood for an hour enduring an unending wave of idiocy and contemplating the apparent meaninglessness of my life. With every passing minute I grew more and more bitter towards God. By the end, I was fuming and ready to quit. “What is the point of all of this?” “I’m working so hard. Why should I have to suffer through these ridiculous things?” Fortunately, against my desires of the moment, God forced Himself into my inner thoughts when my boss quite randomly called me, asked how I was doing, and prayed for me. I stepped back from the ledge and didn’t quit.
Obviously, this was a ridiculous situation. But looking back, it is a caricature of my heart. Yes, I chose through discipline to run the table and suffer for the sake of Christ. But I did so with a rotten heart from the beginning, and so exempted myself from participation in His sufferings.
Similarly in China this summer, I often found myself doing the “sacrificial thing” with complaining in my heart. But in light of 1 Peter and the life of Bonheoffer, in which I found myself steeped this summer, I’ve felt God’s gentle call to resist the temptation to grow bitter or entitled and to humbly rejoice in suffering.