There is rarely any form of success or satisfaction that is not accompanied by pain or hardship. A relaxing vacation is preceded by lots of hard work. Excelling at a sport or mastering a musical instrument requires hours of instruction, learning and practice. Success in school or becoming skilled in the workplace takes patience, the ability to bounce back from failures, and the courage to keep moving forward. It is an illusion to expect success or satisfaction without some measure of discomfort or even anguish.
Sometimes people of faith get stuck in the illusion that there can be success or fulfillment without some measure of pain. We think all we have to do is believe in Jesus and pray and happiness will be ours. The Gospel of Mark tells a different story (Mark 8:27-35). Correctly identified as the Messiah by Peter, Jesus says he is going to have to suffer and die. Then the shock. His followers are going to have to take up the cross as well. The story does not end there. Jesus says that he will rise again in three days after being put to death. The way to fullness of life is suffering, the cross.
Peter was not at all happy with this cross and suffering stuff, so he tried talking Jesus out of it. Jesus was so upset with Peter that he called him Satan. Why was Jesus so upset? Because his love goes so much deeper than pleasing others and avoiding pain. Jesus loves us so much that he stayed on the cross instead of pleasing the crowds and avoiding the pain.
He expects the same kind of love from us. Love that goes through pain instead of running from it. Love honest enough to know there is no real joy without the purifying experience of hardship. Love humble enough to recognize that God trusts us to do what Jesus did. Facing hardship head-on and coming through it better than we were before. Love hopeful enough to know that God’s love conquers. There is resurrection. Life wins!
Facing pain and hardship in our lives is hard enough. It is even harder when we hang on to the illusion that success or satisfaction come pain free.
Together in faith,
Very Rev. Christopher Smith, Rector