Poured Into Our Hearts
Pain, struggle, hurt, grief, challenges, adversity, anguish, difficulty, suffering are all part of the journey along the road of life. Sometimes we seem to be on a stretch of road defined by these words more often than not. At other times, the road is clear, straight and easy-going. But even in such times, you can be sure that there will be more difficult terrain ahead at some point.
One helpful perspective that people of faith have relied upon during times of struggle for centuries comes from Paul in the book of Romans:
suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-5)
It’s a beautiful reminder that we do not suffer in vain. Suffering can give birth to things we need in life: endurance, character and hope. And because it is often difficult to see the fruit of suffering, Paul offers this reminder which must have come from personal experience. Paul sounds like a sage who knows because of his own journey through struggle.
Sometimes pastors, spiritual guides, and churches have take Paul’s encouragement a bit too linear and prescriptive. As though we can tangibly work within the midst of our suffering to first gain endurance and then character and finally hope. But life is does not always follow such a path. And I don’t think Paul intended to be so narrow when he wrote Romans 5.
Sometimes suffering produces anger, frustration and resentment. Sometimes it produces melancholy, despair, and depression. Sometimes it pushes the most spiritually devout persons away from faith and hope. You just can’t always prescribe where the difficulties of life’s journey will lead you.
Paul’s words are certainly one possibility along the journey of suffering. And his perspective may, in fact, be more of a hindsight view. When we look back upon the journey of suffering we may discover that the path was suffering, endurance, character and hope even when we could not authentically name the road that way while traveling it.
Whether Paul’s progression of suffering accurately describes your or my present journey of suffering or not is not really his point. His point hinges on his next statement:
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us
This statement embodies the truth of what God does for us. The Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts along the journey of suffering. The exact road that suffering takes us is much less important than the love poured into us along the journey.
We travel the road of suffering best when we are attentive to the love poured into us along the way:
- Can you discern God’s love in the midst of painful experiences?
- Do you find moments where God’s love is present through the kindness of a friend, family member or even a stranger?
- Can you see a hint of how God’s love is shaping your thoughts and actions along life’s challenging roads?
- Are you making space along the road to stop, rest, and receive God’s love before you take the next step down the path?
Whether suffering takes us directly to endurance, character and hope or whether it leads us into periods of anger, depression, and doubt, it learning to receive the God’s love as it is poured into us which defines the Christian walk through suffering.
As Laird Stuart has written in a reflection on Paul’s words,
God’s love is “poured into our hearts.” We need to have it poured. We need to drink it in, freely, eagerly, over and over again in order for our lives to move, with God’s help, toward the hope that does not disappoint. It is God’s power at work in us that makes the progression possible.