Anthony Costello on How to Suffer Well: Spiritual Surroundings (Part 1)
Recently I have been thinking and writing a lot about suffering. In times of COVID against tense political landscapes, how could one not? Maybe you are going through COVID, a divorce, the loss of a loved one in a car accident, or perhaps the loss of a dream you once had.
While there are many things one could focus on when addressing the issue of how Christians suffer, in this first post I want to focus on something else. Here, I want to offer some useful applications for how to survive, and perhaps thrive, when those hard strikes do come. All these challenges can be met, and met courageously, but they cannot be met apart from a sustained engagement with Christ and His people.
On that note, I see three domains of existence in which the Christ-sufferer – the one who suffers “with Christ”– should recognize in order to survive and even thrive within the storm: Spiritual Surroundings, Spiritual Times, and Spiritual Attitudes. In this post we will look at the first of these: Spiritual Surroundings.
In times of pain and suffering, the Christian must surround oneself with the resources God has provided. There are three basic categories of being that comprise our surroundings: people, places, and objects. For the Christ-sufferer, then, our surroundings should be permeated with regular interaction with spiritual people — Christian spiritual people — occurring in spiritual places, and focused on spiritual things or objects (don’t worry, I am not promoting relic worship).
Spiritual Christians are different from others, even others who may go to church or who have been baptized or who even give a lot of money to the church. Spiritual Christians revel in the things of God: they pray fervently, they naturally avoid the mundane, banal, and silly things of the world, they think deeply about God. Spiritual Christians know the Bible well and they love to sing worship songs. Spiritual people speak spiritual truths and they speak them in love. They pray on their knees, they call on God’s help and mercy, and they do so often. They cry in church and then laugh outside afterward. They know how to comfort, even if not perfectly. They want God’s will for you, even in the suffering you experience. Spiritual people are safe people, but without being saccharine.
Spiritual Christians have themselves been spiritually and emotionally broken, and have done their own share of breaking. They know God’s love and forgiveness personally. Their eyes tear up when they think of it. Then they smile warmly. Then they celebrate. We know, in spite of their failures and flaws that these people can rightly called born again. It is to these fellow sojourners we must run, and the more of them we know, the better. They are often older men and women, but not always. They tend to be empathetic to pain, yet forever hopeful. They give off joy and emanate peace.
Step one to thriving in suffering is therefore this: When you are suffering spend time with Spiritual Christians.