Throughout my career, I have been struck by paradoxes. Mathematics and science certainly have their fair share. How is it possible to have an infinite number of points between any two points on a line? Is light a particle or a wave?
In life, paradoxes also exist, and I have always been struck that the life of a follower of Christ bumps up against paradoxes at every turn. In the Lenten season, we reflect on the paradox of Christ’s life and consider how our lives are, by extension, lived in a realized tension. In order to fully celebrate Easter, we need to follow the path of the cross; we need to embrace the Lenten season of suffering.
The paradox of living with this understanding is that our lives become fuller when we embrace suffering. Suffering and strength are two sides of a full life. In order to be strong, we need to acknowledge our weaknesses and surrender them to Christ. In order to be strong, we need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and suffering. Suffering just is. And it can’t be rationalized away. It can’t be ignored (though we might try), nor can it be simply attributed to fate.
The struggle with suffering makes us human. We see we are finite, and yet we are called to live lives of love. We need to know who we are and whose we are. Facing our lives with courage and refusing to back away from suffering builds character.
Sometimes we are in such a rush to gloss over suffering—to name it once and then move on—that we don’t give ourselves the time to truly grieve, be angry, or lament the losses or suffering. Asking ourselves to reflect on our own journeys in and through suffering will give us pause to allow others (particularly our students) to move through their griefs, hurts, and pains in their own way. Becoming a person who isn’t afraid of difficulty or suffering was one of the gems that I learned through my students many years ago. I once had a student remark that he wished adults wouldn’t “freak out” when students were being honest about the issues that they faced, the choices they needed to make, or the experiences that they had had. How can we be strong for our students and at the same time recognize that their sufferings (and ours) are hard?
Sometimes we get stuck and then need others, whether pastors, close friends, or professionals, to help us on our journey to health and acceptance. Sometimes we just need time. Being teachers and leaders requires us to be both strong and weak and to live lives that reflect our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who stepped into suffering and helped others work through theirs.
In this most holy of times in the church calendar, let us celebrate the paradox of a Saviour who comes to power through his suffering. May we, by His example, exert our power in ways that creates power for others, and may we embrace suffering in order to create flourishing for our communities.