The Transformational Power of Suffering: A Message from Executive Director Chris Purnell

Chris Purnell

Chris Purnell


I’m a big believer in always getting what I want right away. If I got to choose between waiting patiently for something and striving for it with all of my might or receiving it without effort, I’m choosing easy street seven days a week.

Regrettably, reality does not work like that.

Things that are worthwhile take time and intentional effort. Whether it’s a relationship with a friend or spouse, a virtue you want to develop, a killer bod, or your spiritual walk with Jesus, the things that matter require a great deal of work in order to progress. Sometimes, we work on those things by choice. There is pain, but it’s bearable because we chose it.

What happens when we do not choose it? What do we do when unexpected suffering comes knocking, and we’re still in our pajamas? Because that’s how suffering rolls. It doesn’t send us a text a few days beforehand, asking us about our availability. Suffering just shows up.

And this is where the joking stops, because suffering is fundamentally tragic. People grow sick and sometimes die. People from around the world face the petulant hand of tyrannical regimes and cannot defend themselves. Spouses betray each other and plunge their familial reality into unknown and murky depths.

Suffering can ruin us. When I see—truly see—the suffering of our clients, it can break me. For many of our staff, it has. At the Clinic, we cry together due to the myriad ways that humans have devised to harm each other. As we pursue justice, we grow weary at how difficult once-simple petitions have grown. Our immigrant clients come to us for assistance, but the remedies for them recede into the distance.

But our clients remain strong. Even as the political winds shift and power-brokers make decisions, our neighbors remain steadfast. Their community ties become weathered, like thick ropes that have been pulled and pressed and dashed against rocks but come out stronger than before. Their faith—already having withstood tremendous danger—comes out tested and muscular. It is a beautiful thing, but it is a beauty borne of tragedy.

That is the power of God at work. God uses unavoidable suffering to transform us. St. Paul talked about this in Romans when he said that we “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). As Christians were suffering in that day, they needed encouragement; they needed an imaginative category for what they were experiencing so that they could withstand.

Paul is saying that Christ’s suffering has changed suffering for Christians forever. No longer is it pointless and a call for existential woe; rather, it is now a transformative thing that draws us into the character of Christ, the one who gives us hope. This does not minimize suffering—it transforms it.

May you allow Jesus to use the unexpected and unavoidable suffering in your life to transform you. May you be transformed into a person who can persevere, who has character and, ultimately, who has hope in a God who is not finished with this world, but who will finish the redemptive work that he began on Resurrection Sunday.

Until Justice and Peace embrace,

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