2 CORINTHIANS 1:3-6 (New Jerusalem Bible) | “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father and the God who gives every possible encouragement; he supports us in every hardship, so that we are able to come to the support of others, in every hardship of theirs because of the encouragement that we ourselves receive from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives; so too does the encouragement we receive through Christ. So if we have hardships to undergo, this will contribute to your encouragement and your salvation; if we receive encouragement, this is to gain for you the encouragement which enables you to bear with perseverance the same sufferings as we do.”
It was November 10, 2008. I had been receiving treatment for lymphoma, preparing for a stem cell transplant from my own body in the New Year. This journey was my family’s sole focus. The proximity of death was very real, and yet there was at work in us an awareness of a hope that reaches beyond the grave.
While I was praying that morning, an encouraging image came to mind: When sailors measured the depth of the ocean, they would throw a “sounding line” over the side of the boat that was notched at fathom intervals. When the weighted end of the line rested on the ocean floor, it was pulled back up, the notches counted, and the depth fathomed. But the sounding line had its limits. Deep water required a “deep-sea lead,” but it was a time-consuming process. There were regions of the ocean that could not be measured. They were fathomless.
Suffering takes a person to the depths. Some suffering is measured with a "sounding line,” but great suffering is measured with a “deep-sea lead.” This kind is more time and life consuming, yet all suffering has a bottom and can be fathomed. But the entirety of the ocean of God’s powerful love cannot be fathomed. It is just too deep. In it, our suffering dissolves and we find we are not crushed—as one would be in the depths of the ocean—but carried.
Later that day, as I left our laundromat, I noticed a man standing at the corner. As I turned to pass him, our eyes met. “How are you doing?” I asked. “I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m homeless, man.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, life can be hard. But what about your inside, your soul, how are you doing?” “Oh! I guess I’m alright.”
Pointing to my bald head, I told him of my affliction and the treatment I was undergoing, sharing with him the image of the sounding line from that morning.“You see, there is a bottom to our suffering, but there is no limit to the depth of God’s love for us. He will carry you.” Tears ran down his cheeks and we embraced for a long time. “Thank you, man…and God bless you.” When we share from hardship—from our suffering—and point to the fathomless love that enables us to bear it all, brothers are born, community is formed, and hope is kindled.
REFLECT AND RESPOND
- In this season of Lent, how might God be asking you to let him transform your suffering, either current or past? Open your heart to him; he is able to carry you.
- Remember a time when you received encouragement from God in the midst of hardship. What were the circumstances? With whom might God be asking you to share the encouragement you have received?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alastair Rundle and his wife Catherine live in Redding, California, with their two children. They are working to bridge strategic discipleship with the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to see a movement of God sustained and cities transformed.
This piece was originally published in CRM's 2010 Lent Devotional.