All of us have dreamt (or might even still be dreaming!) about being among the honored few that are enrolled into a certain prestigious school. Why do we want to enter these? The reasons vary, from their high rankings, to their distinguished achievements and benefits. But, what if we were enrolled into a school no one wanted to go to – a school of pain; a school of suffering?
A popular author, named Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, wrote the book “What Katy Did.” Any avid classic fan will recognise this title. It is enjoyed by many due to its engaging characters and plot line.
“What Katy Did” is about a schoolgirl named Katy, the eldest of five siblings whose mother had passed away a few years back. To their aunt’s exasperation, Katy is both mischievous and reckless, influencing her sisters and brothers in following suit, resulting in all sorts of scrapes and torn stockings.
Yet a terrible accident befalls Katy, without her suspecting anything wrong even moments before the tragedy. She is left crippled, her carefree life taken for granted halting to a sudden stop, being replaced with a pit of despair that had no way out.
Perhaps none of us have ever experienced suffering to this extent. Maybe some of us have, but we keep it hidden in the deepest depths of our heart. Whichever is your situation, all of us can relate to having also fallen into the same slough of despond that Katy was stuck in. And all of us will agree on this thing: suffering is something very, very bad, and something we strive to avoid at all costs.
Days drag past for Katy laying helpless in bed, and in her anguish she doesn’t care for anything outside of her pit of hopelessness – the time, the weather, her appearance, even the love that her family painstakingly lavishes on her. So many of us do the exact same thing,ignoring both the love of our family, friends, and the love and mercy of God in the midst of the pain we bear. This fault definitely applies to me as well.
Meanwhile, Katy’s dreary routine continues, until she receives a visit from her invalid Cousin Helen, who introduces Katy into looking at her current distress in a new light. She tells Katy that she has just been enrolled into the School of Pain. The lessons are difficult, she warns, but the more you delve into them, the easier and more enjoyable they become.
You will have probably joined into Katy’s slight skepticism and confusion. What are these lessons? And how could there possibly be any joy in pain?
- The Lesson of HUMILITY
Humility is something that we have all failed in, pride being present even before the existence of man on earth. Pride was the reason that Lucifer – a former angel of God, craving more, rebelled against the truth, and was banished. Pride has since been something God hates and was what caused Samson and Saul to sin. Pride is seen in our lives whenever we exalt ourselves over others and God, through continually putting down others or putting ourselves first.
Humility, the opposite of pride and the duty of each Christian, is therefore something very hard to accept, let alone practise in our lives.
God lets his children suffer. Thomas Watson, an influential Puritan, explains that a reason He does so is to let His children realise their duty to humble themselves under Him. We do this by submitting to God, and the authority figures He places in our lives, like our parents and teachers. Whenever we exalt ourselves however, the Lord weightens his mighty hand on us, directing us back to the right path. Shockingly, despite God’s fatherly discipline, often we start to complain and defend ourselves.
An example of a figure in the Bible who humbled himself under the suffering God puts us under is David. God punished him severely, through the betrayal of his child Absalom, and the temporary loss of his kingdom. Notice David’s response – unlike Saul, his predecessor, David submitted under God’s punishment despite the mocking of a descendant of Saul named Shimei, as recorded in 2 Samuel 16. One of David’s generals is provoked and urges David to kill him. Yet David says to his general, “If he (Shimei) is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”
Whenever we are tempted to remain in our prideful sin, remember this important principle: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12).
- The Lesson of EMPATHY
Have you ever noticed that when you attempt to comfort a friend in grief, you can never fully understand or relate to their pain?
This lesson was learnt by a certain Christian counsellor, who often prayed for those she counselled. The people who came to her for advice were facing various struggles in their lives, such as marriage problems, child-parent tensions and general struggles in their life and faith.
Yet, the time came and the counselor herself faced a great sorrow – her own children straying away from the Lord. Despite her sadness, she noticed that ever since she experienced the sorrow shared by those she counselled, she was able to pray more fervently and personally for them, having understood and experienced it herself. Gradually her children returned to God and she rejoiced in it. However, she realised that it was through the suffering that God put her through that she was able to connect and comfort others in more depth.
It’s written in Hebrews 13:3, that we must “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
Through suffering, we can pray for each other, our brothers and sisters in Christ, in a more intimate way.
Now, how does Katy respond to all this? Katy is willing to undertake these lessons to the best of her ability, though the lessons will be difficult and unpleasant. Cousin Helen reminds Katy that she doesn’t have to manage these lessons alone. The Great Teacher will guide her through, even when the lessons seem impossible to understand. And this promise applies to us as well.