I don’t know what you’re seeing in your lives right now but in my world there are a lot of hurting people! Some are hurting emotionally over personal losses. Some are struggling due to severe financial burdens. Others are angry with God and have stopped trusting Him. And others are having a variety of troubles ranging from the annoying to the overwhelming! It hurts me to watch these folks hurt so deeply.

Suffering is not new – many have written on the subject – but that doesn’t make it any easier. God has put in my head the beginnings of a book on suffering that I thought I’d share to see if this quick outline can help some in the throws turmoil.

There are four types of suffering that I have personally experienced and that I see in scripture:

  • Physical Suffering
  • Emotional Suffering
  • Mental Suffering
  • Spiritual Suffering

Physical Suffering

Everyone experiences physical suffering at some point in life. But for the majority, it is short-term. You break your arm or ankle, tear a ligament, or fall down and bruise yourself up pretty good. Everyone has had that twisted ankle or whatever that shoots pain from the point of injury to your brain! But that pain soon subsides as you recover.

Then there is the intermediate physical suffering like my friend who was t-boned and had her pelvis crushed and is going through the recovery process. That pain lasts longer and changes from excruciating initial pain to that very annoying dull throb that screams with a shock of stabbing pain when you move wrong!

But here’s the thing about both short-term and medium-term suffering: there is a light at the end of the tunnel! You heal from these types of pain and regain your abilities!! There will be a point where you no longer are having physical pain!

But there are those of us (me included) that have chronic physical pain that is not going away. It just gnaws at you constantly! Think of those born with a disability, those who contract life-long conditions, or those who’s injuries do not heal, and they are left disabled. This is a different type of suffering all together in that there is no light at the end of the tunnel except death to put it bluntly!

One of the guys I meet with has severe Crohn’s Disease which severely limits his activities. Someone else I mentor was born with cerebral palsy had cannot use his legs and must walk with crutches or in a wheelchair. These guys and many others I know suffer constantly!

I’ve experienced a bit of physical pain in my life. Here just a short list of the injuries I have incurred mostly from my passion for the martial arts:

  • Five concussions
  • Fractured elbow
  • Fractured kneecap
  • Fractured L4 vertebrae
  • Torn meniscus (both knees)
  • Dislocated knee cap
  • Torn LCL in knee
  • Torn TLF ligament in wrist
  • Fractured rib
  • Dislocated rib
  • Separated ribs
  • Dislocated kneecap
  • Torn cartilage (both knees)
  • Dislocated shoulder
  • Fractured in shoulder joint
  • Broken big toe
  • In a fire as a kid burning my entire face

All these injuries were PAINFUL! But they all healed for the most part.

However, arthritis set in after these injuries and now I have chronic pain in my:

  • Bilateral knee
  • Bilateral shoulder
  • Bilateral wrists
  • Bilateral thumbs
  • Most my fingers
  • C6 neck vertebrae
  • Low back from L3-S1
  • SI Joints in Hips
  • Sternum
  • Several toes

Pain encompasses my daily world. Back spasms; sharp pain when I move wrong; loss of mobility without medication; and basically pain every move I make.

Oh, then there are the migraines and the post-gastric issues I have due to having half my stomach removed due to a medication error. I joke that I’m getting to heaven one piece at a time!! In reality, I am a physical wreck! If I were a horse, they would have shot me by now!

But for all the physical pain I’ve endured I have found that emotional pain is worse.

Emotional Pain

I’d classify emotional pain as the kind of pain you get from loss – it’s grief on steroids!

Emotional pain comes when you are abused, betrayed, abandoned, neglected, disregarded, humiliated, devalued, manipulated, bullied, marginalized, and more. Emotional pain hurts so much not so much because of what is said or done but because of the person who does it.

We suffer emotional pain – for the most part – when it is a person close to us or a group in which we have belonging causing the pain. Emotional pain happens at an intimate level. Someone random person could tell you that you’re ugly and you’d just blow it off. But if your mother told you were ugly that probably would cause an emotional scar.

Like physical pain I’ve had my share of emotional pain. I won’t bore you with the details because I don’t want to spend the rest of my day thinking about all these episode. But trust me, I’ve experienced, loss, betrayal, humiliation, abandonment, abuse, neglect, bullying and more.

Emotional pain is MUCH more difficult to overcome than physical pain. If you break a bone that bone will heal with a little help from a doctor. The worse you’ll get out of it is maybe some limited motion and you’ll be able to tell when the weather changes. While the body naturally heals physical pain it doesn’t naturally heal emotional pain. Instead, the brain works to protect that emotional pain that ends up being quite dysfunctional (isolating, defense mechanism, avoidance, anger, self-medicating, self-harm). But like going to the doctor because you broke a bone some emotional injuries are so severe you need a “doctor” help you heal – you’ll need counseling.

Mental Pain

You would figure that emotional pain is the same as mental pain but it’s really not. Emotional pain is in the heart and soul. Mental pain is how your brain works – neurobiology.

As fallen people there is a lot of things fallen with our bodies. Statistics say nearly 20 percent of people have a mental health disorder – that’s 50 million Americans. What that really means is the brain chemical that regulate how our brains work are messed up!

As a survivor of child abuse, it turns out that my serotonin levels are messed up in my brain. It causes me to not have any joy in the world. I rejected taking meds for decades until my irritation and agitation become nearly constant. So, I gave in and got something to make the serotonin work the way it’s supposed to. My brain chems were messed up and the pills help get them back in order.

Folks struggling with depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, bi-polar, personality disorders, and schizoid-affected disorders have mental conditions where their brains aren’t firing the way they are supposed to. And this causes suffering.

A story that sticks in my head is the time a schizophrenic veteran came to my officer for help getting his benefits. During one of his episode he called the VA in an angry burst and told them to cancel all his benefits. Realizing his mistake when his head cleared, he now wanted help getting them back on. Of course, I helped but the tragedy was him telling me through tears how hopeless he felt trying to fight his condition. He clearly knew he was schizophrenic but had no control over it whatsoever. It was soul crushing to him and me was well.

Like emotional pain, mental pain lasts and lasts and lasts. You may get some relief through management techniques, counseling, and medication. But you pretty much will live with it for your entire life. That’s suffering.

Spiritual Pain

I know a lot of people who suffer spiritually. There are a whole host of reasons that include:

  • Spiritual abuse in or by the church
  • Not hearing from God
  • Not understanding what God is doing in their lives
  • Not getting what they’ve prayed for
  • God “taking” someone from them too soon
  • Not feeling God in their lives
  • Feeling as if God hates them or is against them
  • False teaching
  • Too much truth and not enough grace
  • Too much grace and not enough truth
  • See the church as hypocrites
  • Believe they can’t be forgiven
  • Don’t feel God’s love
  • A sovereign God did not intervene to save them or others

There is more but you can see how this list would create spiritual conflict and a loss of hope in their spiritual journey.

I had an uncle who was a gunner on a B-17 during WWII. His plane was shot down on its nineth mission and he spent a couple years in Stalag-17B as a German prisoner of war. He was Jewish and it did not go well for him. Because of the inhumanity and evil he saw in war and as a POW he lost his faith. He became hopeless because fallen people do evil things and God did not intervene. The story has a happy ending in that decades later he was convinced to go to church by his wife and accepted an alter call to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. But the intervening years were rough!

Spiritual suffering is perhaps the least understood of the group because we cannot possibly understand the God of the universe because He is not like us – He is other than us. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. How then can you explain your spiritual suffering in a way that logically makes any sense?

Instead, most just suffer. Many leave and even reject the faith while others shake their fist at God for being so distant, uncaring, uninvolved, crass, and hard. I know because I did that myself for years.

My mom had Multiple Sclerosis and pretty much didn’t walk after I was born. I used to angrily demand that God tell me what she did to deserve that.

I was abused physically and emotionally in my own family and in foster care. Again, I angrily demanded God tell me why He didn’t stop all that if He were truly in charge of everything!

When my PTSD first started raging, I prayed to God that He would make it stop so that I could be at least functional. No answer.

I was at a Catholic church once with a family and when it was time for communion (Eucharist) I was sternly told I did not qualify for it as if I was some second-class Christian.

I get that spiritual pain stuff. Been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.

So, yes, I’ve had my fair share of pain. I live with physical, emotional, and mental pain every single day. I joke that my life is, “Better living through chemicals” because of all the medication I have to take just to be upright.

Life is crazy, man.

But all this is just background. The real issue is how we deal with suffering. We are told in scripture that we are to suffer differently than those who don’t have Jesus. In fact, the Bible tells us that we are to actually rejoice in our suffering! When Paul wrote that he must have had better meds than I have!

But he’s right. We can be content in all things and even lean into our suffering and use it for the kingdom which then lets us rejoice in it.

I have a friend who has cancer. She’s a believer but her condition is severe. Yet she drives on! In fact, she shares Jesus with everyone in all the hospitals she goes to and all the providers that treat her. I never really hear her complain about the cancer as she’s updating me on her treatment progress. She just takes it as it is and trusts in God.

I have learned a lot from watching people like her.  It’s not really about suffering in silence or being a stoic. I don’t really think that is what scripture is talking about. But suffering well is the concept of how you are going to deal with your suffering in a way that still glorifies God.

Everyday we’re being watched and judged by everyone around us. It’s just human nature. When I was in the Army my First Sergeant used to call those who didn’t make duty that day the “Sick, Lame and Lazy.” I actually loved that term. You know the sick, lame, and lazy in your workplaces! The ones who don’t show up because they have the sniffles or the one that gives about 30 percent effort to everything. We see it and they see it in us!

And that’s GREAT!

I actually want people looking at me because the more they look the more I can try to show them Jesus and what He does for me on a daily basis!

You see, I get my daily bread from the Lord. There are days where it is just enough to keep me going but it is sufficient. I may be throwing up, have pain wrecking my body, be struggling with flashbacks, and all the rest but God gives me what I need to do whatever is on my plate that day. It is very rare when I can’t do what God calls me to do!

And when I show up at my various responsibilities I praise God that He’s given me the strength physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually to drive on and do what I have to do! And then I share that with those around me through my attitude, my love for them, and even verbally – yeah, I’m that annoying guy who will talk to you about Jesus at any moment! God is GOOD!

I’ll be honest with you – I always feel like crap. I don’t have good days; I have bad days and worse days. But I’ll never let that stop me from praising God, thanking Him that I can still do what I do, and sharing what He’s done for me even in my distress.

I want to suffer well. I don’t want to be defined by my suffering – I’ve lived that life and it’s miserable. I want to be that guy who by example shows others that you can suffer in a way that is hopeful not because you’re going to be healed in this life but because we are going to be perfected in the next one!

Are you like me and rehearse answers to questions you’ll never be asked? If so, here’s one I practice: How are you feeling: Not great but it’s always well with my soul!!!

And that’s the key to suffering well! It is always well with our soul no matter what our bodies and minds are going through because we already are seated in the heavenlies with the Lord; we are holy and righteous in His sight through Jesus; we are heirs to the throne; we will be perfected in glory when we reach our homes in heaven; and we can survive this mostly horrible world because we have Jesus by our sides.

Yeah, hurting sucks. And it is easy to get trapped in the vortex of pain and lose sight of the bigger picture. But that’s why Jesus tells us to keep our eyes on heavenly things!

Want to suffer well? Look up instead of down. Rejoice in all circumstances because no matter what you’re going through God can and will use it for the good of the kingdom even if you cannot see how it benefits you or others.

Praying for you all!