Churches should speak and teach as though this is true. It’s utterly bewildering to so many young Christians I meet that their lives are marked by difficulty. The prolonged feeling of the absence of God in the midst of it is also bamboozling, but so utterly ordinary that almost every older Christian could tell these stories.
If you want to mature, you’re going to have to suffer.
Actually, that’s not quite right. You are going to suffer, that’s the nature of life under the sun. Some of that will be petty, some of it will be serious, and (heaven-forfend) some of it will be so psychologically scarring that you’ll be getting over it for a long time.
In of itself that won’t make you mature, but it will be the venue of your testing (1 Peter 4). It will give you the opportunity to endure and in so doing develop character (Romans 5). This is what we call maturity, a growing Christlikeness (2 Corinthians 3) and a growing wisdom (Luke 2) that happens through being broken like bread.
This is, I contend, what Jesus meant by Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted, but that’s not what I want to address directly today.
Suffering is normal
This is not how the world was originally designed to be—though maturity through testing is how the world was meant to be, but Adam failed the kingly test that Jesus passed—and it is not how the world will one day be.
However, our cultures think suffering is to be avoided rather than learned from, and often act as though it’s a terrible and unexpected imposition on us. It would be good if someone warned us.
The Church doesn’t always do much better. Some treat suffering as a lack of faith (more common than we’d like to admit), others as a deeply confusing reality because we expected God to bless us transactionally, and others speak as though Christians in the West don’t suffer (I hear this a lot, and then people wonder what’s wrong with them when they do).
It is of course true that Western suffering is different, we are unlikely to die in famines, less likely to die in plagues, and face fewer natural disasters. The suffering of the average Christian is much more likely to be psychological, but if following Jesus isn’t costing you anything that we could group under the catch all category of ‘suffering’ then are you actually following him?