What Disneyland Taught Me About Suffering

For the last four months, one of my children has been crying themselves to sleep every night for hours at a time. Almost a year ago, our family left everything we know and love to move to Mexico City in order to learn and do ministry. Despite the joy and blessings we are experiencing here, my suffering child desperately misses their home city of Portland, Oregon and, every night, asks "When can we go home?" As we share prayer requests each night, the request they share time and again is that God will send us back to Portland. My child is suffering and simply wants to know "When will it end?" As a father, I long to be able to give them a date when everything will get better. I ache to be able to provide them with the specific time when they will no longer suffer nightly in their tears as they drift to sleep. 

But of course I can't.

And I'm beginning to learn that as much as I want to do that for them, it is better for them if I do not. While my suffering child is still learning this, ironically, I'm learning the same lesson from them. 

When we go to Disneyland we spend around fourteen hours in the park. Less than thirty minutes is spent on the pleasure of riding rides. The other 13.5 hours consist of intense suffering: eating worse food than your kid eats at elementary school; waiting in seemingly infinite lines with aching feet, a sweaty body, and a thinning wallet; and over-stimulating your senses with the sight of neon fanny packs and the smell of giant unnamed fowl legs cooking on a dirty grill. 

Yet, you voluntarily pay for this experience.
You take pictures of this experience.
When you leave, you laugh about this experience.
When you reminisce, you think fondly of this experience. 

And as soon as you get home, you start saving money and planning to intentionally have this experience again.

Why?

My child would say that it's because Disneyland tells you how long you will have to suffer in each line. Like my child, many of us think that this is the necessary ingredient to enduring suffering. If we can simply know when it will end, we can find the strength to endure to that point. 

I do not agree. I do not think this is what empowers us to endure the suffering of Disneyland, nor the suffering of the rest of life. In fact, I think knowing exactly when our suffering will end can actually harm us in real life. It can do so in three ways.


@@Knowing exactly when our suffering will end can actually harm us.@@


First... 

If we knew the exact expiration date of our suffering, we would hold off on living our lives until our suffering ended. Instead of intentionally experiencing life while we suffer, we would simply bunker down and mope, convincing ourselves that once the suffering ends, we can finally get to living. 

Second... 

No matter what the expiration date of our suffering was, we would complain. We would always prefer an earlier date and would be tempted to bitterness over the date God has assigned to our suffering. Have you ever looked at a Disneyland wait time and said, "Awesome! That's the perfect amount of suffering!"?

Third...

And most importantly, if we knew the expiration date of our suffering, we would not need faith to endure it; we would not have to wrestle with God in the midst of it. While these things may not feel pleasant to us, they are without question good for us. These are, in fact, some of the the things that give purpose to our suffering and produce increased joy on the other side.


@@If we knew the expiration date of our suffering we would not need faith & we would not have to wrestle with God in the midst of it.@@


Returning to the Disneyland illustration, it is not the 90-minute-wait signs that allow us to endure the suffering. You endure it because you know the suffering will eventually end, you know the people you love will be with you in the midst of the suffering, and you know that joy is on the other side of your suffering. It's these things that make Disneyland not only endurable, but a haven of fond memories. 

While the Bible does not provide us with a mathematical formula that allows us to determine at what moment our suffering will cease, it does promise that it will, and that joy is on the other side. It does so poetically, when the psalmist tells us "weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5, NIV). It also does so literally, such as the psalmist's observation that "many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Psalm 34:19, ESV) and Peter's promise that "after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace...will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10, ESV). Even more importantly, the Bible promises us that the God who loves us is with us in the midst of our suffering (Isaiah 41:10, 43:2, Hebrews 13:5).   

The same things that empower my child to endure suffering at Disneyland will empower her to endure the suffering of real life. They do the same for you and I. We don't need to know when it will end. That may actually hurt us more than help us. We need to know that God promises that it will end, that Jesus promises to be with us as we suffer, and that whether it ends tomorrow or in eternity, joy awaits us. Thus, as much as I have the fatherly urge to answer their question of "How long?", I am grateful that I have an even better answer. 

Pray that this answer will be enough for my child and I will pray the same for you. 


Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook