“I wish this wasn’t so hard,” she said, sitting across the office from me. As was our custom, I sat on the couch and she sat in my desk chair as we talked every week. I waited patiently for her to share, with my cup of coffee in hand. She sat nervously, opening and closing my laptop in front of her. We met every week, for confession and discipleship, since the big secret became public. Like most groups of young people, gossip traveled fast and this secret was somehow out the day it was confessed behind closed doors. This darling young girl had not lived long, but she had lived long enough to know that the hard stuff of life becomes the soil out of which we grow. It was from this context that she made this honest statement, full of longing and grief. I smiled tenderly at her as I fought back my own tears and said, “I know. Me too.”

As Youth Pastors, this is what we do. We sit with students as they try desperately to recover the broken pieces of their lives. We listen and we counsel and we hurt alongside them, (and oftentimes their parents).

I meant what I said. I really did wish that life wasn’t so hard. I really did wish that I could take all the years ahead of her and wave a magic wand of joy and peace and innocence over them. I really did wish that I could save her from the tear-soaked rugs, puffy cheeks, and sleepless nights that I (and others older than her) have been through on a journey toward healing and wholeness. I wished that I could make it easy for her.

It is only in the last year that I have begun to think about suffering in a slightly different way.

Richard Rohr says that success can teach us nothing after the age of 35. He says that it is only in the fire of suffering and failure that we can truly be formed into the image of Christ. (Read Falling Upward). From my own experience, I have found that suffering that can teach us, form us and transform us.

Recently, in a moment of great suffering, I wrote these words in my journal:

“So do your work on me, Great Suffering and let nothing be wasted.

Hem me in behind and before that your heavy hand would mold me into the purest and most magnificent version of myself-my true essence.

Let this weight squeeze tight and press forward all the things in me that are false, that are extra.

And let me be, in this present suffering and in this world, the most honest expression of myself.”

This is what suffering does. It purifies and clarifies and molds us, if we will consent to its work.