I almost don’t feel qualified to talk about suffering. I have never lost a loved one, experienced what it’s like to lose a child, had cancer, or watched my family member die because of it. What do I know about suffering?
This question kept flashing in my thoughts as I considered writing this article. But I realized that suffering is something that touches everyone. The things causing pain in my life don’t look like the situations I listed above, but they look like other things. Just because the suffering in your life may not look like mine (or the situations I mentioned above) doesn’t mean that what you are going through is insignificant.
I appreciate Elisabeth Elliot’s definition of suffering,
Suffering is having what we don’t want or wanting what we don’t have.Suffering is Never for Nothing
Imagine that. All of us have things we don’t want and don’t have things we desperately want. Heaven is the only place where we won’t have that problem. Suffering has arms that encircle every human on this planet. We don’t exactly want to be embraced by suffering, but what if there is something very deep and purposeful going on when we suffer? What if our suffering is never in vain?
Dear friends, don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that have come among you to test you. These are not strange happenings. Instead, rejoice as you share Christ’s suffering. You share his suffering now so that you may also have overwhelming joy when his glory is revealed.1 Peter 4:12-13
I longed to understand the meaning of this verse in a deep, experiential way. I wanted to know what it means to be a partaker in Christ’s suffering.
That sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it? Who longs for suffering of any kind? I know for sure my human nature retreats from any pain. So why does the Apostle Peter talk about “rejoicing” and “joy” in the same verse that he tells us about fiery trials?
I also understood that verse to mean that I will only have exceeding joy at the second coming when God’s glory shall be revealed. But what if God is planning to reveal His glory in our suffering? What if the fruit of that is joy, not only when Christ comes, but right now?
Calamities happen every day. They can happen to any of us, whether that looks like watching your parents struggle to keep their marriage together, being overwhelmed at work, supporting a loved one fighting an illness, or reading a eulogy for the love of your life. . .
Whatever it may be, something truly glorious is about to shine through. Do you think God allows these things to happen to people because He is a passive God, who leans back in His throne and watches us suffer?
Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs of your head are all counted.Matthew 10:29-30
Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Matthew 6:27, 30-33
Not just in Matthew but throughout the Bible…
We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God;Romans 8:28
If God is not a passive God, but rather, a detail-oriented, intentional, and selfless God who is intensely interested in everything that concerns us—then the calamities that come our way are not complete disasters. None of us are left to drift in despair but are in the hands of a loving God. As we go through our trials and search to understand them, let us start our search on the fact that God is love.
Lysa Terkeurst, a modern Job, said something along these lines: Your life may look like it’s being completely blown apart. If we compare your life to a house, when you look at it, all you may see is broken cabinets, peeling wallpaper, crumbling ceilings, and ruptured floors. If you don’t look beyond the present, it looks like chaos, like it’s been sabotaged. But what you don’t see is that God is in the process of a renovation. All things work together for good.
Not just your good, but the good of everyone in this world and the universe.
I remember the year 2017 was a really hard one for me. I had just given my heart to God, and having Him in my life absolutely changed everything for good, but I began to get attacked with different things in my personal life. Each one had a big impact on my mental, spiritual, and physical health. I began to lose weight and over the course of a year, my health was faltering. I didn’t understand what was happening to me or why. What I did know, without a shadow of a doubt, was that God was holding me together. It was one of the darkest times of my life, but it was also one of the brightest. It was one of the most uncomfortable and painful times of my life—yet I was never more filled with hope. I felt shattered into a million pieces, but that made me experience God as the only One holding me together. It was the most beautiful thing.
I remember most of my prayers during that year consisted of me on my knees, just crying. I wouldn’t say too many words. But that was what filled me with comfort and hope. I came to God with everything, and just allowed myself the luxury of letting it all out in His presence. Letting it all out included arguing with God and clinging to Him at the same time. I didn’t feel Him there most of the time, but something within me knew He was. It was the truth. He held me there in my room while I kneeled; and every other moment of the day He held me.
I don’t have all the answers, I just have my testimony.
Sometimes while I would go on an evening jog, I would have to repeat verses in my mind to keep anxiety from taking over. On one of those evenings, this thought wafted into my consciousness, what if God is right next to you, you just can’t see Him. Like literally, what would stop Him from being right next to you as you jog? If that is what it takes to keep you hanging on, He would do it. I did believe He was. I had to. He was my only source of hope and strength.
I believe God is very much present with you too. It’s hard to imagine it sometimes, but we have to believe the truth, not our imagination.
Psalms 91:1 became very real in my life during that season.
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. . .Psalms 91:1
Now I look back and I know, that time, those trials were one of the greatest gifts God could have ever given me.
In the words of Elisabeth Elliot, “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I know the One who knows.”
I encourage you to give yourself to God and to let Him reveal Himself to you. Just give Him a chance, and I promise you won’t be disappointed. Don’t keep your brokenness to yourself, share the hope you have in Jesus in the midst of where you are. Someone is looking to find hope today, and your story may be the very tool God intends to use to offer hope.