I'll admit it: I never like suffering. Especially suffering I believe to be unjust.

As a Christian, my greatest desire should be to be like Christ; however, there's a large part of me that would prefer to skip the suffering part.

Still, it happens. Not to the world-saving extent, but it happens, and I have to concede that good things often come from the pain. But in the midst of it all, it's awful, and that's when I like to return to one of my favorite passages from George MacDonald's The Princess and Curdie. (You can read the story free via Project Gutenberg. Or borrow it from your local public library, an important and underrated resource.)

The excerpt loses something out of context, since it misses both the reason for the pain and the good that came from it, but I find the image of the rose fire helpful when the pain feels overwhelming.

The room was so large that, looking back, he could scarcely see the end at which he entered; but the other was only a few yards from him—and there he saw another wonder: on a huge hearth a great fire was burning, and the fire was a huge heap of roses, and yet it was fire. The smell of the roses filled the air, and the heat of the flames of them glowed upon his face. He turned an inquiring look upon the lady, and saw that she was now seated in an ancient chair, the legs of which were crusted with gems, but the upper part like a nest of daisies and moss and green grass.

"Curdie," she said in answer to his eyes, "you have stood more than one trial already, and have stood them well: now I am going to put you to a harder. Do you think you are prepared for it?"

"How can I tell, ma'am," he returned, "seeing I do not know what it is, or what preparation it needs? Judge me yourself, ma'am."

"It needs only trust and obedience," answered the lady.

"I dare not say anything, ma'am. If you think me fit, command me."

"It will hurt you terribly, Curdie, but that will be all; no real hurt but much good will come to you from it."

Curdie made no answer but stood gazing with parted lips in the lady's face.

"Go and thrust both your hands into that fire," she said quickly, almost hurriedly.

Curdie dared not stop to think. It was much too terrible to think about. He rushed to the fire, and thrust both of his hands right into the middle of the heap of flaming roses, and his arms halfway up to the elbows. And it did hurt! But he did not draw them back. He held the pain as if it were a thing that would kill him if he let it go—as indeed it would have done. He was in terrible fear lest it should conquer him.

But when it had risen to the pitch that he thought he could bear it no longer, it began to fall again, and went on growing less and less until by contrast with its former severity it had become rather pleasant. At last it ceased altogether, and Curdie thought his hands must be burned to cinders if not ashes, for he did not feel them at all. The princess told him to take them out and look at them. He did so, and found that all that was gone of them was the rough, hard skin; they were white and smooth like the princess's.

 "Come to me," she said. He obeyed and saw, to his surprise, that her face looked as if she had been weeping.

"Oh, Princess! What is the matter?" he cried. "Did I make a noise and vex you?"

"No, Curdie, she answered; "but it was very bad."

"Did you feel it too then?"

"Of course I did. But now it is over, and all is well."

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 23, 2021 at 11:10 am | Edit
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