In writing my book, I actually ended up laying the groundwork for about 4 other books as well. I didn’t set out to do that, but I found that seeing the things I wanted to say over the next few years from the perspective of the whole enabled me to make this book better.
Thus, I’ve cut a lot out of the book. A lot of that will be the framework for future books, but some of it might be interesting on the blog as well.
So here’s a short section of what I cut from the chapter on suffering and productivity (“productivity in a fallen world”), but which I thought you might enjoy. The inspiration for this point was, I think, one day when I got in the shower, and the soap was gone. Then, when I walked down the hall to get more soap, the handle on the closet broke. It had already been a crazy week, and I thought “this is ridiculous; we don’t normally think of stuff like this as suffering, but it is super frustrating to have all this little stuff always go wrong.” At some point after that Isaiah 35:10 came to mind and the mention of “sighing” in that passage made sense.
Sorrow and Sighing Will Flee Away
In fact, there is a remarkable statement in Isaiah 35:10:
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Here’s what’s remarkable. The redemption of creation will be so comprehensive that not only sorrow will be gone, but so will sighing.
Sorrow here refers, obviously, to the big things: sadness and grief which we feel over great losses, especially the loss of a loved one.
Sighing, on the other hand, refers to small frustrations. When you walk down the hall to get another bar of soap from the closet, for example, and the handle on the closet door breaks as you open it. That’s a small frustration which has just created more work for you. When these sorts of small things happen, we often sigh. It’s not sorrowful and is incomparable to the major suffering going on in the world. But it is frustrating and is one more illustration of the fact that we are living in a comprehensively fallen world. And, when enough of these things add up, it’s demoralizing.
Isaiah is saying: there won’t even be the slightest hint of sighing in the new heavens and new earth. Everything will be so completely perfect that not only will sorrow be banished, but even the slightest degree of sighing as well. Everything will always go just as it should.
Here’s one reason:
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
This is post 2 in the series: Suffering in Our Work and Everyday Lives
Selling your house and moving half way around the world to advance the cause of missions is suffering. But is selling your house to just move to another part of the U.S.?
What about having to drive to work in cold midwest winters? Or having your dishwasher go out? Or having 3 tight deadlines that you aren’t sure you can make? Or having to work an all-nighter? Or receiving 100+ emails a day when you have myriad other responsibilities to attend to as well? Or just plain not liking the carpet in your living room but not being able to afford to do anything about it?
Are those things suffering? After all, we should just be thankful to even have a dishwasher, right? And if you worked an all-nighter, well, that was your choice and you probably only had to because you weren’t managing your time well, right?
Most of these things are not typically considered suffering. In fact, many of us would be reluctant to think of them as suffering — haven’t we all heard people rebuke the guy who thought that being unable to start his car in the morning was “bearing his cross” (Luke 9:23)?
But in reality, these things are indeed real suffering, even though we often don’t recognize it. They are real suffering because they are real forms of hardship, pain, loss, and difficulty. Suffering is any form of loss, pain, and difficulty, regardless of degree. “Smaller” degrees of suffering do not cease to be suffering simply because they are small.
How do we know this? First, it’s a matter of definition. This is the very meaning of suffering. To suffer is to experience pain or hardship, which can be mental or physical. This is the way we commonly use the word and, although I hate to refer to Wikipedia or the dictionary, both reflect this meaning (Wikipedia | Dictionary.com).
Second, and more importantly, this is the only definition that accounts for the variety of things the Bible includes under the rubric of suffering. We see this in the certain general statements the Scriptures make on suffering, in the specific lists of suffering the Scriptures give us, and in the specific examples of suffering in Paul’s life. I want to look at these three things for the remainder of this post.
Post 1 in the Series: Suffering in Our Work and Everyday Lives
Today we are going to begin a series on suffering. We are going to look at the different types of suffering, how to endure suffering, what suffering looks like in our work and vocations, God’s role in our suffering, the effects of our suffering, and some thoughts on assisting those who are suffering.
Why this series? It came to mind a while ago when I was reflecting on a list of various types of suffering that Paul gives in 2 Corinthians 12:10. It struck me that most of the things in Paul’s list weren’t things that I typically even thought of as suffering. That connected with some other thoughts, which then opened up some very helpful biblical discoveries that have made a real practical difference in my day-to-day life.
As a result, one of the main points I’m going to hit in this series is that we are all suffering more than we know, because much of our suffering is not clearly recognized as suffering. This realization, in turn, gives us a broader view that makes it possible for us to see more clearly the substantial place of suffering in our everyday lives — and, therefore, how to deal with it (and help others deal with it).
Although there are many helpful things written on suffering, most of them tend to focus on persecution or the more dramatic forms of suffering which will likely happen to us all at some point, but which aren’t usually a main feature of our ongoing lives. As a result, we too easily file those truths away for “later,” failing to make the application to our lives right now — to the more routine hardships that we go through every day and which permeate the dominant fabric of our lives.
In other words, we fail to see all of the ordinary, everyday hardships of life as real suffering, and thus are left to navigate them without the amazing biblical realities that bear us up when we are experiencing more extreme suffering. My aim is to focus specifically (though not exclusively) on the everyday hardships that we experience and show how they are real suffering, what this means for us (and our work, family, and lives), and how to deal with them. (Thus, I almost called this series Suffering in Our Vocations.)
But How Does This Relate to Productivity?
Of course, someone might ask: “Isn’t this blog primarily about productivity and leadership — why are you writing a series on suffering?” The simplest answer is that productivity and leadership themselves involve suffering. Hence, if we are going to be effective in leading and working, we need to know how to navigate suffering.
But the better answer comes from understanding what productivity really is. A proper understanding of productivity requires that we broaden our understanding of productivity in at least two ways.
First, productivity does not just involve our personal productivity. Rather, there are four arenas of productivity. There is our personal productivity, of course, but there is also the productivity of our families, our organizations (that is, our workplaces, churches, and so forth), and society in general. In other words, productivity involves making our families, organizations, and communities more effective, as well as ourselves. Productivity involves life, work, business, and society–all segments of life.
Second, productivity is thus not simply about making ourselves more effective, but rather is about serving. We seek to be more productive so that we can be more effective in doing good for others. (For more on these points, you can see my post Broadening the Concept of Productivity, the About page or What this Blog is About.)
In the course, then, of our seeking to be productive (that is, serve our neighbor) in all areas of life, we will encounter many hardships. We need to know how to handle this covert suffering so that we can endure in our quest to serve and not “grow weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9).
Since productivity is really about service and doing good for others to the glory of God, suffering is just as relevant to the subject of productivity as it is to the subject of loving our neighbor, for they are one and the same.
Posts in This Series
- Suffering in Our Everyday Lives: An Introduction
- Broadening Our Understanding of Suffering: The Various Types of Suffering
- Stealth Suffering: You Are Probably Suffering More than You Know
- What Suffering Feels Like
- How to Endure Suffering
- Suffering in Our Work
- Is God in Control of Our Suffering?
- God’s Aims in our Suffering
- The Results of Our Suffering
- Fighting against Suffering and Helping Those Who Suffer