This blog is both a personal and public endeavor –  personal in that reflective writing helps me synthesize my scattered thoughts and better understand my internal and external world, and public in that I aspire to discourse with you on your pain and my pain, those sheltered parts of our lives that we don’t like to talk about at the dinner table, the workplace, or, frankly, anywhere. I want to normalize the balm of honesty and vulnerability and dilute the anesthesia of pride and escapism.

My motivation for starting this blog came some time after I recovered from a two-year struggle with a severe panic disorder combined with major depression. My ordeal forced me to confront some very difficult questions about myself, my identity, and the particular world in which God has placed me. While I no longer struggle with anxiety or depression like I did during that dark time, I will never forget the circumstances that brought me face-to-face with some of the most terrifying aspects of the experience of being human.

Since that time I have continued to ponder what it means to live well in light of the unique life we have each been given. My own body and the chaos of the world affords me constant opportunities to practice what I believe, test my theories, and revise them when necessary.

Prior to my wilderness experience, one of my fondest intellectual endeavors was reading about and contemplating the nature of suffering and ways of properly contextualizing it within a worldview based on the cornerstones of love, hope, and faith. This interest was one of the primary reasons that I minored in religious studies in college. Needless to say, things became personal when these ruminations evolved from being simply an intellectual exercise in theology to meditations that I had to preach over myself daily in order to live somewhat fruitfully even when I was at my worst state of mind.

The idea of “redemptive suffering” permeates the virtual pages of this blog. It is a phrase I borrow from my favorite writer, Philip Yancey. The rich meaning behind the word “redeem” transformed the way that I thought about my suffering and gave me the courage to salvage my faith when I was at the cusp of apostasy.

I encourage skeptics not to balk at the notion that Yancey writes from the perspective of a Christian, and instead be open to the hope – even the possibility, if hope is too strong a word – that no amount of suffering lacks redemptive potential. I believe, first of all, that our suffering can be redeemed in this life, if we understand how to work with it and how to allow it to transform our hearts and minds. In other words, we can make good use of our pain while we are alive, using it to renew our minds daily, to grow in discipline and contentedness, and to be a source of kindness to others. But Yancey’s worldview (as well as mine) suggests that there is an even greater redemption to come for all who possess an eternal perspective. Says Yancey, from Reaching for the Invisible God: “Redemption promises not replacement – a wholly new creation imposed on the old – but a transformation that somehow makes use of all that went before. We will realize God’s design as reclaimed originals, like a priceless oil painting restored after a fire or a cathedral rebuilt after a bombing. Redemption involves a kind of alchemy, a philosopher’s stone that makes gold from clay. In the end, evil itself will serve as a tool of good.”

Redemptive suffering is the notion that our suffering means something, and can and will be used for good – both our own, and that of others. This may be challenging and even seemingly impossible for some people to believe. I’ve been there. Sometimes I still go there. But something / Someone always manages to pull me back towards the truth. I pray that He does the same for you.

Howard A. Chang