You never come to your suffering empty-handed. You always drag a bag full of experiences, expectations, assumptions, perspectives, desires, intentions, and decisions into your suffering. What you think about yourself, life, God, and others will profoundly affect the way you interact with and respond to the difficulty that comes your way.
This is why the writer of Proverbs says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
What are you carrying around in your soul that has the potential to complicate your suffering? What are you preaching to yourself that could allow you to forget the truths of the gospel?
Never forget: No matter what painful thing you’re enduring, as God’s child, it’s impossible for you to endure it all by yourself. — Paul Tripp, What You Need To Know About Suffering
Sometimes it takes a very long time to see the redemptive work of God in our suffering.
Now, that being said, let’s see if we can find some.
In an article for Guideposts Philip Yancey made the following statement,
It’s really easy to think when something bad happens, “Well, God is punishing me.” But we have a really clear picture of how God feels about those who are going through hard times. All you have to do is follow Jesus around to see how he handles people going through suffering—a widow who lost her only son, a person with leprosy, a woman with a very shameful condition, a blind person.
He was always on the side of the one who suffers and responded with compassion and healing. That is the brightest clue we have to how God feels about us when we go through pain. God is on our side. I wish sometimes God would be more overt, more direct. But for whatever reason—and Jesus suffered this too—God lets the rules of this world play out.
God doesn’t explain all our suffering here and now.
I suppose we all wish He would. Especially when we’re going through a really painful experience. I can’t count the times I’ve longed for God to answer just a few simple questions for me!
You know, “How come now?” or, “Why couldn’t you stop this?” or, “How will ANYTHING good come from all this mess?”
Yeah. I’ve wondered every one of those questions.
How about you?
Yeah, it hurts so much sometimes…
And we can start to feel like God has abandoned us.
I like what Charles Schultz once wrote,
“There must be different kinds of loneliness, or at least different degrees of loneliness, but the most terrifying loneliness is not experienced by everyone and can be understood by only a few. I compare the panic in this kind of loneliness to the dog we see running frantically down the road pursuing the family car. He is not really being left behind, for the family knows it is to return, but for that moment in his limited understanding, he is being left alone forever, and he has to run and run to survive. It is no wonder that we make terrible choices in our lives to avoid loneliness.”
How many of us do this?
I once ran, and ran, after lesser things because I was trying to avoid those desperate feelings of loss and abandonment from my early years.
But didn’t Jesus say He would never abandon us?
Compassion and mercy flow from the low places.
I’ve learned that.
I don’t like it. I sometimes wish God would just put compassion into me by simply saying so. (He does speak things into existence after all.) But, when it comes to the human heart, it seems the best way for us to really grasp compassion, and a deep understanding of any kind of pain, is to walk through those low places for ourselves.
God seems to believe that there’s nothing quite like getting firsthand experience. (Sigh.) And, I don’t know about you, but unfortunately I find that experiencing a particular pain for myself, does “cement” the information and understanding to my soul. Feeling the “spikes” for myself really seals the deal.
Perhaps that’s why the Apostle Paul wrote,
“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.” 1 Corinthians 1: 3-5 MSG
God sees the “End” game of our suffering.
What I mean by that is, that He always has our best self in full view. He doesn’t see our brokenness as bad. On the contrary, God sees the tender heart that will emerge from the ashes of our lives. He knows that when the time is right, we will use all the broken pieces we are living with, for helping others with their broken pieces.
That’s the goal. Not our needless suffering, but God’s redemptive purpose through the things we have suffered.
It takes time.
(Sometimes lots and lots of time.)
But according to the Bible, God will come alongside us, and as He walks us through our low places, His Holy Spirit teaches us the necessary things we will need to succor and comfort others. So that when we come out the other side of whatever we’re going through (and we do) we will be a magnificent trophy of His overcoming Grace.
Hopefully—we will be gracefully broken.
We may be limping like Jacob—but we will also be so, so, lovely. (And, this too.) We will have those tender eyes of Christ that recognizes other limping pilgrims. People who desperately need what we have learned through the things we have suffered.
Down here, it may always be difficult. But someday in heaven? When we see God’s big, BIG, picture? There will be joy—great, great joy.