As I write this, I’m sitting in a large mall in a city I’m visiting with my family. While walking through the mall, I saw a man in his 70’s pushing a wheelchair. In the wheelchair sat a man in his early 50’s whose upper body and head were tightly strapped to the chair. It was obvious that the younger man was severely physically disabled, and quite possibly the older man’s son. As you might expect, my first thought was one of sadness for both these men. But as I looked closer at the man pushing the wheelchair, I didn’t see sadness. Instead I saw enjoyment. Then it struck me how much caring for someone with significant physical disability would affect the person’s perspective on life. As Paul talks about in the verses above, with the right attitude, that affect would be positive.
Paul gives us the key to the right attitude when he uses the word “rejoice”. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves or being angry in the midst of our suffering, Paul calls us to rejoice!
This is the opposite of what the world would teach us and is only possible by looking at suffering through an entirely different perspective. Suffering can only be seen as positive if we understand that suffering produces something that is positive. Here again Paul helps us by telling us that suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which in turn produces hope. Suffering has the ability to produce hope by increasing our endurance, and developing our character.
As physicians, we encounter suffering in our patients on a regular basis. We may also be called to suffer ourselves. For us who have suffered, an additional benefit will be increased empathy for our patients who are also suffering. Early on in my practice, I discovered that those with the greatest ability to help someone with great suffering were those who had suffered themselves. Suffering, endured with the right perspective, can allow someone to develop into a person who is able to reach out and meaningfully help others through suffering.
Prayer: Lord, as I encounter or perhaps experience suffering today…help remind me that with the right attitude, I can develop endurance, character and hope.