Seasons of suffering in life are as sure as March snow flurries in Minnesota. And such climate shifts test trust, materialize maturity, and make us long for spring.
In the not so distant past, God let a blizzard of pain hit my home that drained our fuel and tried our faith. While the season of deep sorrow covered months, not years, the grief was real and the scars permanent. The suffering was part of our journey of adoption –– with one child lost, declared unadoptable, and another secured, but only after an arduous battle among the visible and invisible realms. Beautiful creations can be shaped from ice. Below are four lessons learned in the cold.
1. I am excessively sinful and weak, and the gospel is amazingly beautiful.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:8–9)
John Bunyan wrote: “We are apt to overshoot, in the days that are calm, and to think ourselves far higher, and more strong than we find we be when the trying day is upon us . . . We could not live without such turnings of the hand of God upon us. We should be overgrown with flesh, if we had not our seasonable winter” (Seasonable Counsel, 694). In the days of pain, the Lord showed me how much flesh I still retain –– how prone I am to fear, sadness, worry, agitation, frustration, and doubt. Yet through it all, how wondrously beautiful are the reign of God over sin through the cross and all the gospel fruits that flow from it toward me: forgiveness, reconciliation, life, righteousness, help, true hope, peace, resolute joy, persevering strength, ears to hear the word and a heart to believe it, transformed desires that compel me and my family to follow God.
2. God’s worth compels faith and is more in control of our hearts than the pain we have experienced.
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8)
As the pressure in our family crisis rose, I found myself pleading with God. My prayers grew out of a passion for his reputation and, ironic but true, a small grasp of his passion for his own worth.
Having lost the first child, I wondered what losing the second would do to my wife and children’s faith in God. And because so many had been tracking our adoption journey, I also feared that a loss of our son would actually cause some to hesitate in moving toward adoption. “God,” I prayed, “for the sake of your name, bring us this boy. You have created a context where physical orphans exist in order to provide a parable for more ultimate, spiritual adoption. So many are watching us through this experience, and I want them to see your love for the broken, your care for the hurting. I also long for you to be praised through my family, but I know their hearts are fragile. Hold them God. You are most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in you. Keep them satisfied, Father.”
That was my prayer. Wonderfully, in the days that followed, God showed himself undeniably beautiful and his worth compelling rather than diminishing. Praise grew in great measure in my family as God walked with us through what would be two more months of grief and unknown. Out of my fleshliness, my prayer assumed that God’s worth was not enough to bring my wife and kids through another loss or that God’s gift of Christ was not enough to move people to adopt, even though our own journey had been difficult. But God’s worth is incomparable, and once we taste and see that he is good and that his love is real, nothing can remove us from his hand (John 10:27–30). There is no mountain too high or valley too low that God’s value does not penetrate. And because of his value, pain and loss are not grounds for turning from him. Rather they provide ever-fresh contexts to show his great worth.
3. God’s word provides an unshakable rock amid the birth pains of this cursed world.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
God’s words of command and promise gave us a solid foundation through this season of trial. The one guided us, whereas the other was our hope.
Echoing Moses, the author of Ecclesiastes urged those living in a world that doesn’t make sense: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13; cf. Deuteronomy 8:6). This world is broken, and we are part of the problem. But for those truly in Christ –– for those who persevere, a future awaits that is glorious. In Paul’s words: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs –– heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16–17). Suffering for the Christian is birth pain, not death pain. The screams of our suffering souls parallel the cries not from the oncology unit but from the labor and delivery unit. And every earthly contraction moves us one day closer to glory: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22–23). Earlier Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Using the word, we must fight to live with such truths in mind.
4. Seasons of trial are gifts of mercy to families because they enable growth in ways otherwise impossible and provide opportunities for parents to teach children how to suffer well.
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:5–7)
Even in the midst of the journey, my wife and I were realizing what a treasure our season of trial was for us as parents. Many youth reach college having never really experienced the cursed-nature of this world. Not so with our oldest three kids. The Lord has bestowed upon our home a great mercy in allowing us to travel together through this valley of deep sadness and loss. To hear my children pray for their brothers in a foreign land; to see my kids battle doubt and worry and fear through reciting Bible verses; to see them cling to God as their Hope and Rock, Foundation and Treasure –– this is mercy.
What kind of God we have to open the eyes of three kids to see that his promises are desirable and that he is believable! My children’s faith in God through this crisis was a testimony, displaying God’s greatness, worth, and faithfulness. Because of God’s worth, Christians do not need to fear suffering.
God’s own passion for his glory will move him to display his believability and desirability in such a compelling way that perseverance is not optional. His nature creates in us faith that overcomes obstacles, even within young believers.
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