Suffering: what a nasty word! It is one I have become familiar with over the last two years.
When our younger daughter got cancer, it would be wrong to say we were glad for it. We were not even expecting it at all! But yet, we are not sorry it happened.
There are situations and people I’m glad to have encountered in the lion’s den, as well as I know God held the lion’s mouths shut; but I was never glad to be in their den. Perhaps the sands of time will wear down my resistance to the idea or maybe The Lord will give me a better perspective. We will just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, I’ve thought a lot about this concept of suffering. It seems your perspective on faith is formed in the fire; strengthened by the challenges you face. God is the one constant; always a tangible, integral part of everyday life. Even with those boundaries of consistency, through my pain, how I related to Him changed. He became bigger, especially when my world seemed to grow smaller. Suffering made me who I am, even if I would not have chosen it. It is a calling part of the life of everyone who follows Christ. In it we find it is improbably possible to be closer to God than we ever imagined.
My lesson in suffering can be summed up in the acrostic T.R.I.A.L.:
T stands for Trouble
Our valley was purely random. Take for instance the blind beggar found in John 9. When the Pharisees asked Jesus who had sinned to make him blind, Our Lord replied with Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened (v 3). Some things just happen. Suffering exists because we live in a world that is messed up. We lost the utopia with the fall in the Garden, so there will always be some level of roller-coaster, up and down feeling. Not every one’s suffers the same, but it isn’t something you can compare to your neighbor’s. It all hurts. It all leaves scars. Suffer is meant to be endured and is something Jesus is most familiar with. We, as His people, will have our fair share of it: as seen in Christ’s Promise found in John 16:33.
R Stands for Reveals God
R.C. Sproul started a series of lectures to medical professionals at MD Anderson with this statement: “It’s one thing to experience pain. But it’s another thing to anticipate that my suffering and my pain are worthless….I have to know that there is some kind of reason for this, that it is not just an exercise in futility.”
Suffering reveals more of God. The Lord had proved Himself trustworthy in so many other situations before my daughter was diagnosed, I couldn’t talk myself into blaming God. I couldn’t say He meant her harm. In fact, I had the distinct feeling He was crying along with me. His plan, His purpose cannot be denied, no matter how much it hurts Him to have to enact it. He is the Lord of Life and the Lord of Death – and by extension, He is The Lord of pain and suffering. That pair so often accompanies our experience on this earth. Yet His Life, His Death and His Life after Death give us hope that anything we endure has meaning, even if it is a meaning we can’t see yet.
I Stands for Intimacy with God
The first time I ever publicly spoke of our journey I presented three things God taught us through cancer treatment.
The first was: He was always knitting my heart closer to His. I’d already made that statement months prior when I was talking to a mother of a newly diagnosed child during Sophia’s last chemo round. We were standing outside her son’s room and she voiced both her anger at God and the distance she felt from Him. She said didn’t know what He was doing; so I told her that God’s biggest ambition during this time of hardship was to bring her heart closer to His. We get so busy in our daily lives, sometimes it takes something major – like illness or job loss or a rocky marriage – even death – to make us sit up and take stock of our spiritual health. He works in that – He is always softly calling to us, daring us to take a risk of faith in Him – to trust Him with the outcome of any situation, but especially the hard ones. It isn’t that I don’t still doubt or fear, get angry or question what He is doing – but because I surrendered myself to His leading – I get a better picture of who He is. Closeness and security is what intimacy is all about and beyond anything else – that is what He wants from us.
A Stands for AND
In God’s economy, we are given a multitude of blessings – unlocked by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The gifts we receive from God through our salvation in Jesus are completely ours and are not dependent on our circumstances. During our season of suffering, if I prayed for strength, I got joy as well. If I prayed for peace, I got hope. Even more than that, I got faith, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, grace, love and the list goes on. I didn’t get just what I needed for the day, I got much more.
God never gives us with just one thing because we need multiple tools in our tool belt to get through a regular day. And when we are in the pit suffering, that salvation mark becomes the key to unlocking the presence of God; it makes anything and everything possible because we believe.
L Stands for Love
I am able to love Jesus because He first loved me and because of how He has saved me, so many times. Love, especially during times of suffering – heals those parts of me that have been broken. We don’t have to have whole hearts to experience God’s love. It is God’s greatest wish for us to experience His love and nothing can separate us from it, ever. That love redefines who we are and how we respond to suffering. We can never lose it.
Suffering is not only a calling – and it reveals so much of the nature of God. We will be changed for the better when we embrace His presence in times of trouble. When we focus on intimacy with God, when we seek out His love and affection, we will be healed. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane proves this: He was in agony, sweating and crying tears of blood. He was in the midst of the worst suffering anyone had experienced up to that point but at the moment He was praying for the Father to take away the cup of suffering; He was in full intimacy with God and right in the middle of His Father’s love.
If you have gone through your own trials – or are in one now – you can experience this closeness with God. If you are stuck in anger or holding back, these trials you face are your chance. Seek Him in the pain and find the joy that awaits you through intimacy with Him. You can find how much richer life becomes when you surrender to Him. Find Him – and you will never be disappointed.