This threw me at first. Aren’t disciplines something we should seek to do? Aren’t they actions that we do to develop our spiritual lives? Well, yeah, they are. And when I have read that suffering is a spiritual discipline, it took me a while to think and ponder on it, but it made sense. Disciplines help to grow us in our faith. They bring us closer to God. When we go through suffering, we are being refined in our faith – we are growing spiritually. Although we do not actively seek out suffering (as we do with other disciplines such as learning, solitude, and fasting), the regularity of pain and suffering throughout life would make it a discipline that we all partake in.
The other part of suffering is that a discipline is something we actively participate in.
We do not passively go through suffering, we actively participate in it. Disciplines require active participation for them to have benefit. If we go through suffering passively, then we are not growing in our faith – in fact we may be regressing. Actively engaging suffering as a discipline will help refine us and propel our transformation.
Communities to play a part in suffering. It is important that those who are going through trials first have available to them a culture which encourages open sharing of trials. If a community is performance based or consumer driven, then the deep aspects of suffering will not be welcomed or even understood. When a spiritual community is open to the life struggles of its individual members, then there is a culture that encourages the communal sharing of tough times. This communal sharing encourages healing. It offers areas of restoration and even necessary escape. In short, the church must be a refuge for those who are in pain.
When the church is a refuge for those who are in pain, then there can be true healing. There also can be continuing growth. Not just for the one going through pain, but also for the care givers who minister to those in pain. It is a reciprocal relationship where the care giver and the care receiver both grow when the sufferer is ministered to.