In my last post I discussed some ways to handle suffering in the Christian life. There I discussed the kinds of people, places, and things we should surround ourselves with when experiencing hard instances of pain and serious suffering. Here, I want to consider more carefully the idea of time as it applies to our experience of both. What I am interested in is not so much how long a particular instance of suffering lasts (which can often be impossible to predict), but actual times of day and how they are experienced in the life of the faithful co-sufferer with Christ (Phil 1:29, 3:7-11).
It strike me as more than curious that in several of the Psalms the suffering Psalmist is explicit about his feelings at a certain time of day, especially the morning time:
“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my request before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3)
The NIV translates the Hebrew here as “morning,” but other translations, like my well-worn HCSB Soldiers Bible, translate it as “daybreak.” Daybreak–that in between time when night is subsiding and the sun is just about to penetrate the now morning sky–a spiritually and emotionally sensitive time to be sure. Monastic traditions call this time matins, or “belonging to the dawn.” It is a time for prayer, normally a time to rejoice over the end of the long night vigil, a moment to praise the newborn day.
Surely this twilight period would be a time to greet a new day in cheerful rejoicing; to gather our thoughts, thank God for the breath in our lungs, and prepare for a day of fruitful labor, or grateful play. A short prayer, a quick run, a good coffee, and then off to do what God has called us to rightly do.
However, for the faithful sufferer, the prospect of a new day can be daunting, if not outright despairing. Purpose and meaning can seem faint, if not wholly absent. The world can seem uninteresting and without content for the one who feels lost. Indeed, for the mournful one grappling with thick emotional pain, as the dawn breaks questions can flood into a mind still half asleep, questions that overwhelm the soul: “What’s the point?,” “To what end?,” and most dreadfully, “And why does any of it matter anyway, why does it matter at all?”
In the early morning, when the right brain still engulfs the left, when dream and abstraction are not clearly distinguishable from concrete realities and practical reasons, the sense of wrongness, the brokenness of creation, the knowledge of things being the way they should not be, these can flood into the heart; a sort of existential waterboarding. It can be hard to breath, and the chest can feel heavy. Crushingly heavy.
How really can we worship at a time like this!? Indeed how might we pray, when the morning does not bring us joy, but sorrow, and fear? But, the Psalmist is not unaware of this reality, and the pain that has gripped him through the night is still fresh before him. He relates to us, and we to him:
“I am worn out from my groaning. With my tears I dampen my pillow and drench my bed every night. My eyes are swollen from grief; they grow old because of all my enemies.” (Psalm 6:6-7)
But, all is not lost. For, as our Psalmist also knows, this is a time that our God Himself has ordained to come to us, to all of us who love Him. This is the time when, in the pain of a daybreak, we meet our God in faith:
“But I will sing of Your strength and will joyfully proclaim Your faithful love in the morning. For you have been a stronghold for me, a refuge in my day of trouble.” (Psalm 59:16)
For, to rise from a bed of sorrow, from your bed of sorrow, to stand up and begin another day, your day, is itself to act in the faith of the Risen Christ, and to stand in His strength. To face exactly that hopelessness, your hopelessness, and to do so with but the most modest degree of hope; this is the simple act of faith that we see in the life of our Lord Jesus and in the lives of His people. It is the faith of Paul and Perpetua, of Slessor and Stein, for morning is truly the time of the saints, the time to rise up and squarely look at the day, to look at the day the Lord has made.
So, to move our body up and out of our slumber, out of a bed that feels like tomb, is to move into the life of the resurrection; to walk forward, one step…then another, is to press deeply into the love of God; to acknowledge that time passes and that He is sovereign and that all will be well, is to become like Him who suffered first, to be with Him who suffered most. To greet the morning in prayer in the midst of tragedy– this is not only to know the Man of Sorrows, but to be like Him.
And, in this act of rising, we know we are not alone. We are not alone because something new has happened, something amazing has happened:
“But Mary stood outside facing the tomb [early, while it was still dark], crying.” (John 20:11)
“Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve removed Him, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.”
Jesus said, “Mary.” (John 20:15-16)
Thus, the act of faith of the sufferer in Christ, this simple act of waking in the morning, of getting out of bed, of facing the dawn; it is not an act of despair, nor is it one without hope. For in that hour of matins, in that twilight of the rising sun, in that moment of prayerful worship, it is then that the Son will meet you, shine upon you, and say your name.
“Everything exposed by the light is made clear, for what makes everything clear is light. Therefore it is said:
Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead,
and the Messiah [the Christ] will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)
So, fellow Christ-sufferer, rise up and let Him shine upon you! Rise up and let Him call you by name! Rise up and let Him shine on you! Despite your sorrows, despite your pains. Rise up!