I’m sorry. I really should have blogged more recently than this, and I wanted to. It’s just that I am a solo pastor of a busy church, and a busy father of four children, and a whole bunch of other excuses, each more potent than the last. No, in the end I have very few excuses for not blogging, which is something that I find both enjoyable and important.
Well, there is one thing that kept me from writing, and that is rejection. After a long and drawn out process with a wonderful editor at a wonderful publishing house, my memoir was once again turned away. This is hardly the first time, but I’m beginning to think that it might be the last time. I truly don’t know if I have the stomach to keep pursuing the dream of being published.
But even more than that, I have started questioning my motives for wanting to be published in the first place. I have quite a few positive motivations, the fact that my family’s story is one that illustrates God’s unique ability to save in the most unexpected of ways, and that there are so many others who deal with a cancer diagnosis and can find so little reason for hope in that dark season. I tried holding onto those motivations for as long as I could during this arduous process, and am trying still.
But in the end, I could not shake the feeling that part of me was doing this for cred. Not credit, but credibility. You know, street cred. Christian street cred. Because being published is a big deal in the evangelical world, a major step in the process of “making it”. It seems like all major pastors and thinkers and leaders in the western Christian world publish a book, which in turn makes it into a goal for others who want to follow in their steps. When a Christian leader gets published (and not self-published mind you, for that apparently is vanity of vanities), he or she can finally breathe a sigh of relief. They have finally made it, having earned what has become some serious Christian cred. On their resume and Twitter page, they now have the honor of writing,
Author of “The Once and Future Bling”, now on Amazon for $9.99.
This might seem like sour grapes on my behalf…and it totally is. I might not be thinking this way had I secured a book deal by now. But to be honest, I think I would. There is some part of me, and not small, that dreamed of being published because of the Christian credibility that such a thing imparts upon a writer. And I know I’m not alone in thinking this way.
But as I ponder this, I’m reminded of what the writer of Hebrews says:
In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.
He’s talking about how Jesus himself was perfected by suffering. But how could this be? Was he a sinner? That’s not what the writer of Hebrews is implying. The word for “perfect” in the Greek is not the same as our conception in English, of having no errors. Perfect in the Greek sense is closer to “being whole, or needing nothing”, and in the context of what is being written in Hebrews, the author is saying that the incarnation and the suffering the Jesus endured allowed him to draw closer to us, to understand us, to be able to truly call us brothers and sisters.
This may seem small in light of the tremendous victory that Jesus achieved in the cross, but it is not. Through suffering, Jesus is not just our Savior, but one who identifies with us personally. He is our co-sufferer, our commiserator, who understands the worst of what we go through, and the darkest temptations. He is on our side through difficult times, our advocate. But even more than this, He is our counselor, one who faced all of the things that we do, is experienced, and more than this, came out victorious. In other words, He is the best counselor and model for persevering through suffering that we could ask for!
So we can take encouragement from the fact that Jesus doesn’t just minister to our broken spiritual state, our separation from God due to sin, but also our broken emotional state, our isolation, and our confusion. Suffering allowed Jesus not just to save us, but to comfort, to embrace, and to encourage us as well. That is why Joseph Scriven penned these words in his famous hymn:
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
On a side note, Joseph Scriven was man who was well acquainted with suffering and grief himself. An Irish Christian in the mid 1800’s who gave tremendously to the poor, he was supposed to get married when his fiancée drowned the night before the wedding. In his grief, he emigrated to Canada and fell in love there again, was engaged, and his second fiancée died of pneumonia.
And I realize now that the greatest cred that a Christian can have is not a book deal, or a gig on the conference speaking circuit, or to be a pastor of a kilochurch…I mean, megachurch. It is suffering. Suffering is, and should be, the truest sign of credibility that we look for in our leaders because you cannot truly understand the gospel and the depth of God’s love unless you understand suffering. Suffering lies at the root of the history of Israel. It permeates the life of Christ and the disciples and the early church. Suffering is the very reason Jesus comes to us in the first place. You cannot divorce suffering from the gospel.
But you also can’t really teach someone to understand suffering. There is nothing you can ever read or study or hear that can ever fully communicate the depth and breadth of what it feels like to suffer. You can watch a great movie about someone losing someone close to them or depression, but that movie will pale in comparison to the feeling of actual loss, to the personal helplessness of depression. You can study economics and the markets and all that, but that doesn’t mean you know what it feels like to be unemployed or foreclosed on or homeless, not in the least. There are no academic degrees in suffering, only battle scars. Suffering can only be truly understood by those who have endured it themselves.
So you see how suffering is the truest form of Christian credibility. It bestows upon a person unparalleled insight into the heart of the gospel – why Jesus came, and what He went through to make all things new. The sacrifice of Christ, and His victory, became so real, so powerful, and so very necessary. And what’s more, it allows us to be truly “compassionate”. That word, when dissected, means “with-suffering” – to suffer alongside someone. Too often we think of compassion as giving a loaf of bread to someone, when it really means is to be hungry alongside of them, to truly know hunger and brokenness. This is what made Jesus’ ministry so perfect, that He not only saved us, but suffered alongside us. He is Lord, and Friend, both.
So if publishing comes, so be it. I would welcome it, and make the most of it. But if it does, I will not allow it to be the badge on my sleeve, my claim to Christian credibility. Because a minister’s true credibility is found in the scars that he or she bears.