Seven Things That Transform Suffering
I can’t carry my plate to the table.
Last month I could do it easily. But with post-polio, things deteriorate rapidly. Every week, I face new challenges, discover things I can no longer do, give up more things I love.
The doctors told me this would happen. But as a young mother, there were other things to worry about. I assumed the real struggle would be decades away. Back then I could easily talk about it, write about it, and even philosophize about it. But now, as it’s happening, I’m angry.
I sit at the counter, tears streaming down my face, flooded with emotion. I scream into my empty house, “God, how could you do this to me? Don’t you love me? I’ve been faithful. Doesn’t that count for something? Why don’t you fix this?” Then I finish my tantrum with God, and sink into self-pity. I decide that God answers other people’s prayers but not mine. That he is unconcerned about my pain. And that my suffering is meaningless.
Of course, these are the lies of Satan.
I wish I didn’t listen to them, or know them by heart, or repeat them almost instinctively.
I wish, in the heat of battle, when life is falling apart, my first response would be grace-filled. Patient. Christ-like. I wish that I would savor the sweetness of God’s sustaining grace, and never question him again. But unfortunately I’m not there. Not yet.
So I close my eyes and breathe deeply. I need to repent. To heed Martyn Lloyd–Jones advice: To stop listening to myself and start talking. On the back of an envelope, I jot down what I need to remind myself.
Seven things I must do.
1. Remember that God loves me. Unconditionally, relentlessly, passionately. The cross is a blazing reminder of his love. Nothing can separate me from it. Jesus is always for me. He witnesses every heartache I endure. He discerns the fears I can’t even voice. He weeps with me in my pain
2. Talk to God. I need his help, his perspective, his comfort. Intellectually knowing this affliction is for my good is not enough; I need an encounter with the living God. And when I unreservedly pour out my heart to him, he tenderly meets me. These prayers are not long or eloquent. They may be groans, simple cries of “help me Jesus” or even silence before him. My biggest challenge is not to turn away. Or stew in my anger. Or numb the pain elsewhere.
3. Open the Bible and start reading it. I often resist this straight-to-the-text approach; it can seem so academic. But as I open the Bible’s pages, God speaks to me, whispering his comfort, shouting his promises, showing his grace through his inspired writers — people who were brutally honest about their suffering. They mentor me, modeling that it’s acceptable to lament. To voice my frustration. To express my raw emotion.
4. Remind myself that I am never alone in my suffering. In addition to our triune God, I am surrounded by a glorious cloud of witnesses who see every struggle I experience. While invisible to me, they are part of the spiritual realm, like the angels that Gehazi beheld sitting on chariots of fire. The unseen world. This world is real. And ever watching. Watching to see whether God is my treasure. Whether I will still praise him as my body deteriorates. Whether I will trust him when all looks dark.
5. Recite God’s faithfulness. I have a record of my spiritual highlights, my unmistakable encounters with God, my Ebenezers. The times when God has rescued me. Surprised me with joy. Overwhelmed me with his presence. When I am suffering, I need to review this list. It assures me that this trial will one day pass but God’s faithfulness and love will never fail.
6. Set my mind on heaven. This world is not my home and it is passing away. It will be over in the blink of an eye. And then real life will begin. God has eternity to make up for any suffering in this life. In heaven there will be no more tears or death or crying or pain.
7. Remember that this life is all about God. Everything was created to make much of him whose ways are higher than my ways. I may not understand how, but God is doing something bigger with my life than I can possibly see. My suffering is never senseless; it will not be wasted. He will ultimately use every struggle for my good and his glory.
As I review these truths, I sense God’s overwhelming peace. He will walk me through this trial, as he has every other one, patiently bearing with my weakness, lovingly speaking through his word, consistently giving me strength.
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.
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