Perseverance in Suffering
This post has been swirling around in my mind for quite some time, but I’ve been reluctant to write it. Earlier in the year, I did an 8 month in-depth study on the book of Revelation. The Bible study concluded in May, just in time for summer break, but 2 months later I still find myself thinking of the lessons taught during the course. One lesson in particular stood out to me and it was on the topic of perseverance in suffering.
I think this specific topic on suffering has stayed fresh in my mind because this year our family has watched a lot of people we love suffer. In the last year, we’ve had a friend bury a spouse, a friend bury her father, other friends who have buried children and friends who have had their world flipped upside down due to divorce. I tend to gravitate to the positive things in life and I’m an optimist by nature, but there are times when I can’t help but feel like I’m surrounded by so much suffering and my heart breaks for those I love and I think it is a natural response to ask God, “Where are you in that situation?”
Part of the reason I feel hesitant to write about this topic is because I haven’t actually suffered to the level I’ve watched some of my dearest friends and family suffer. I watched my husband say goodbye to his sweet Gram almost a year ago, and I felt like his heart broke in an almost tangible way. Then, this week I watched his heart break all over again when his uncle passed away suddenly. We were on vacation in Florida when we found out Dave’s uncle was in the hospital. I prayed that God would just allow Dave to make it home to Pennsylvania to say a proper goodbye to the man who helped raise him. We pulled the plug on all our plans for the remainder of our vacation, booked Dave the earliest flight we could find and I prayed that time would be on his side. Unfortunately, Dave got the phone call that his uncle had already died while he was on the airplane. It is agonizing to watch the man I love so much hurt so bad as he prepares to do life without the 2 people who have been his rock and sounding board since he was a young boy. In his time of suffering, I find myself feeling so helpless because I don’t know how to ease his pain and I’m left with a lot of questions, that will most likely never be answered.
We all know the story of how God parted the Red Sea so Moses could lead the Israelites safely across on dry land…but what happens when God doesn’t part the waters? What happens when you don’t make it home in time to say goodbye? What happens when the unthinkable happens? What happens when the miracle you were hoping for just doesn’t happen?
Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
This verse is comforting to me, but it is also very telling. God is basically promising that we will, in fact, walk through the waters and the fire. As in, He won’t be parting them for us every time. Hard times and suffering are unavoidable for us all. It isn’t ‘if’ troubles find us, it is ‘when’ troubles find us and your troubles will most likely look different than mine. But He also promises to be with us and I’ve personally struggled with wondering, “Is that enough?” If God took away the people I love the most and never offered me so much as a cold drink of water for the rest of my life on this earth, would His presence still be enough for me? I want to quickly and emphatically answer “Yes!” from where I’m standing right now…but then I put myself in the shoes of the mother who took her family to Disney World, only to have her son attacked and killed by an alligator during their vacation. I can’t actually fathom the severe suffering that poor mother is walking through and even from a distance, my heart breaks for her and I can’t help but wonder…”Is Jesus enough to get somebody through something like that?”
My Bible study challenged me to trust that God is always at work – to trust His bigger purposes in the present pain. The notes I received from that Bible study stated, “Just as storms and drought force the roots of a tree to grow deep into the earth, times of suffering and calamity in our lives draw our roots deep into God Himself…In times of severe suffering, God calls His people to know and believe He is enough. Sometimes all God is calling us to do is trust Him in the pain and with the pain. Even if we never understand what God is doing, He is worthy of our trust.”
I just love that. He is worthy of my trust…because of all the good He has already done; Because of the suffering He endured on the cross. He’s earned my trust, even when current situations leave me with a hurting heart and unanswered questions. I certainly don’t think we can simplify the cause of suffering down to the notion that God allows it solely so we would draw closer to Him – I personally can’t imagine God allowing certain tragedies to happen for that reason alone. But perhaps I shouldn’t get so wrapped up in questions like, “Why would you allow that, God?” or “Where are you that situation?” and instead I should train my heart to simply trust that He is there and He is good.
David said in Psalms 119:50, “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.”
And Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
If you’re reading this in the middle of your own suffering, I’m praying that God faithfully guides you through the pain, one step at a time. I don’t know why you’re hurting and I do know I probably lack the words needed to ease your pain, but I truly believe that God sees and He cares.
Before I sign off, I just want to share this song with you by Lauren Daigle. It is called You Alone and we sing it in church sometimes and it always moves me to tears. The lyrics are just so so good. Download it on I-tunes!