The Place of Suffering to the Soul


“… If you ask people who don’t believe in God why they don’t, the number one reason will be suffering,” says John Ortberg

“… If you ask people who believe in God when they grew most spiritually, the number one answer will be… suffering.”

Confirming this based on my own suffering may mean little to you; but it means something to me, enormously. But don’t I speak into a community of sufferers – to people well acquainted with the ways suffering breaks you down, or leaves you to limp the long arc of your short life?

One of the enduring writings on suffering has been the Dark Night of the Soul (by St. John of the Cross). Ortberg observes,

“Because the soul is the deepest expression of the person, the soul is the place of greatest pain. We do not speak of the dark night of the mind, or the will, or even the spirit.  Only the soul.  The dark night of the soul…

In the dark night, my prayers feel like they reach no higher than the ceiling.”

To this, Dallas Willard said,

“If we truly understand how radically present God is in our world, reaching the ceiling is more than enough.”

He knew something about suffering and prayer. His last words as he was dying from pancreatic cancer were, “Thank you. Thank you.”

It reminded me of something Annie Dillard said,

“I think that the dying pray at the last not, ‘please,’ but ‘thank you’ as a guest thanks his host at that door.”

She knew some secret about a life of gratitude at the moment of mourning; that our exits would be exposed for their wonder, and elicit appreciation – not apprehension.

Therefore may you enter into this prayer about the place of suffering to your soul:

Thank you?
Thank you…
Thank… you.

At the doorway, standing on the threshold,
I see friends and family who share my pain;
And who endure their own;
And I wonder at the place of suffering to the soul.

I need only look your way
To see yours… (Selah).
What is the place of suffering to your soul?
Waiting, sharing, living, dying?

“See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”*

Therefore “let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him
endured the cross, scorning its shame
and sat down at the right hand of God.”#

You are radically present to me, now as always;
Even if I feel my prayers cannot ascend
or if they merely ricochet against the walls
You ever attend the soul of your loved one:

Thank you
Thank you
Thank you.

* Isaac Watts
# Hebrews 12:2

For more, see  Ann Voscamp’s  post, “Dear Brittany…

Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.”

To read a real life story of learning to say thanks on the way out, read Nightbirde’s “God is on the bathroom floor; if you can’t see Him, look lower” where she writes:

I see mercy in the dusty sunlight that outlines the trees, in my mother’s crooked hands, in the blanket my friend left for me, in the harmony of the wind chimes. It’s not the mercy that I asked for, but it is mercy nonetheless. And I learn a new prayer: thank you. It’s a prayer I don’t mean yet, but will repeat until I do.

Call me cursed, call me lost, call me scorned. But that’s not all. Call me chosen, blessed, sought-after. Call me the one who God whispers his secrets to. I am the one whose belly is filled with loaves of mercy that were hidden for me…

About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
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9 Responses to The Place of Suffering to the Soul

  1. Rusty, thank you for this post. It brought tears to my eyes and gratitude to my heart. I have shared it on Facebook.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Darcy; suffering is our shared experience – the experience of being human. That we might snatch or recognize the profound gratitude of the moment is such a gift in this short life (however long we live). Here’s to living with gratitude!


  2. Dr. J says:

    Thank you
    Thank you
    Thank you.
    for sharing this most insightful excerpt. Two scriptures came to mind while reflecting on the comments:

    1 Thessalonians 5:18
    In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

    Isaiah 61:3 (New Living Translation)

    To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

    Thank you for providing this wonderfully well written discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Suffering: Beauty for ashes | Dr. J's Apothecary Shoppe

  4. With all my heart I say yes and amen to this post. The imagery in my mind lately is that of “cracks” – I’ve come to believe that nowhere is God more tender and present in the world than in the cracks, the places of greatest suffering and pain. Thank you for the beautiful gift of this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Colleen; I wonder if this prayer is fitting for the recent passing in your own family? As novices, we somehow become experts in suffering. Your insight on cracks reveal your growing expertise. I am contemplating writing about the Japanese art of “kintsukuroi” – the art of repairing cracked pottery with gold. I am wondering if you have already contemplated this sort of imagery in your blog?


  5. Pingback: The Need to be Listened To | Curriculum of the Spiritual Life

  6. Pingback: We Give Them Back to Thee | Curriculum of the Spiritual Life

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