By: Eric Rucker
Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering…and after three days rise again. He said this all quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” – Mark 8:31-32
I’m an amateur gardener. A few years back my wife and I started a compost pile in our backyard. We intended to grow the pile of our food scraps for several months and then to use the composted soil for our new garden.
Spring arrived and we went out to begin the garden. My wife asked me to bring the composted soil to the newly dug garden bed. But when I did, she laughed out loud.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She pointed out to me that this “compost” had not composted. It still contained elements that had not begun to decompose – orange rinds, banana peels. She asked me if I had been turning the pile regularly over the last few months. I hadn’t. The pile was unusable. I guess I had been engaging in some wishful thinking – imagining that I could just throw the scraps on the pile and then they would magically transform, without me giving the pile any attention or care.
It only occurred to me later that this little gardening debacle was a metaphor for my spiritual life.
As I grow older, I see just how often life derails our ideals, our plans, and our dreams, leaving us with a pile of seemingly useless rinds.
To put it bluntly: Life is full of suffering.
And as I observe myself, I notice that I am prone to avoid the reality of suffering – of mine, of yours, of the world’s. In the same way that I ignored the compost pile, and then expected it to yield new life, I ignore the suffering in my life, and then expect that newness and healing will spring from it spontaneously.
Jesus and his disciples were exiles. Though they technically dwelt in their homeland, they lived under the tyranny of Rome. They were not economically or culturally free. Thus the disciples were eagerly anticipating the decomposition of the Roman Empire and waiting for the new life of Israel’s kingdom to spring up from the ground.
So when Jesus told them a hard truth about reality – that the path forward required looking deeply into suffering – they protested. Peter, the disciples’ spokesman, tried to explain to Jesus that things would be easy, that Jesus’ talk of struggle was unnecessary. But Jesus was clear: new life cannot spring forth unless we look unflinchingly into the present suffering.
An irony of the human experience is that the more we try to flee our pain, the more it controls and haunts us. As the old therapists’ mantra goes, “What you resist, persists.” And paradoxically, when we learn to look deeply into suffering, accepting it for what it is, this can open a door out of suffering.
The Christian mystic Evelyn Underhill said that prayer is “taking a long, loving look at the real.” Jesus was a master at this type of looking. And he called his exiled followers to join him.
How are you fleeing from yourself today?
What is the suffering you are avoiding engaging?
How might you look upon suffering with the gracious gaze of God?
Only when we move from wishful thinking to an honest looking into suffering can we experience insight, healing, and freedom. Only then can the Spirit begin to work with us.
We have to turn the compost pile to get the growth.