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In 1 Peter 3:17, we hear these profound words: For it is better to suffer for doing good if suffering should be God’s will than to suffer for doing evil.

The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh, Bishop Provisional, The Episcopal Dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan

Could suffering ever be God’s will? Why did Jesus face so much anger from some of his peers? We read of people trying to throw him off a cliff, calling him the devil, accusing him of hanging out with the wrong crowd, trapping him in arguments, etc. What was so provocative about Jesus? Why was it so provocative to call us into an order of grace and mercy over competition and “earned points?” Jesus asked that selfless and sacrificial love be the primary value by which all people live their lives. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another, he taught in John 13:35. Perhaps this would not be a provocation if he had left the powerful alone. He did not. 

When you mess with the power grid, the system may turn on you.

Growing up in Madras (Chennai — formerly known as Madras — capital city of Tamil Nadu, the southernmost Indian state), I saw my mother shed many tears because of the struggles in our family. My dad left us when I was eleven years old. Mom faced unsurmountable obstacles in a culture that did not value a single woman trying to make a positive difference. I remember hearing her talk about getting accosted by drunk men when she first entered the slums in her early thirties. Her ability to do so much good despite experiencing harm inspired me. She kept her faith and a cheerful attitude always, even when things were not going well. 

My mom’s altar was in the slums of Madras, where she engaged with illiterate women in functional literacy, a methodology she introduced about 50 years ago. Mom used the normal ebbs and flows of life to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic (the “three Rs”). 

To her, liberation from poverty meant teaching these women in the slums self-respect, some savvy, and curiosity. She was also one of the founders of a day-care center in St. Andrew’s Kirk in the city where we grew in our faith. This center has made a considerable difference in the lives of hundreds of children and their families by providing a safe and nourishing place to grow up! When mom died three years ago, over a thousand people — primarily women from the slums of Madras ­— showed up to pay their final respects. They spoke of her with such care and affection. 

Mom taught me to stay faithful, regardless of praise or opposition.

Jesus teaches me that suffering is a part of the path of any change. I have made mistakes and try to learn from them. I also know that unfair suffering helps develop empathy and directs our focus on making things right. 

The prophet Micah reminds us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. I find this to be a fascinating way of staying within the continuum of grace at all times. 

There are times when our suffering is so intense that we aren’t able to fully show up in compassion and advocacy for others. It takes intention to keep our own inner peace, enabling us to walk humbly and kindly. When we have care for ourselves — meditation and prayer, perhaps spiritual direction and therapy — we are reminded of our belovedness, that we all truly matter, and that we can all thrive. When we do our own inner work, we are better able to respond to a world with generosity, without slipping back into “us” and “them,” and are better able to forgive as Jesus taught us. To forgive is inner work, and only I can do that for myself. 

I am conscious of the growing air of suspicion in our domestic and macro engagements, where it’s easy to see the worst in each other and dismiss one another. Sometimes because of a few bad experiences and a few bad apples, we tend to lose our capacity to see the good. In our age of sound bites and scapegoating, it is the norm in our culture to ignore curiosity or complexity, simply writing someone off with righteous indignation instead, reducing the humanity we see in the other. 

The Good News of Jesus is a call to honesty, responsibility, blame aversion, and a willingness to take on systemic conflicts. Such cross-bearing is a heavy lift that can be consuming. It calls for deep devotion. And we, like Jesus, may experience backlash from the status quo. Lent is a season that calls us to this deep dive — going deeper and deeper into wells of devotion and ardor, into gratitude, and into hope in God. 

These attitudes and values spring from within, and we know that when we step up to lead like Christ, we must prepare to suffer, sometimes unjustly.

The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh, Bishop Provisional, The Episcopal Dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan

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