Grief Taught Me to Rest

Three Ways to Find Joy in Suffering

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Pastor, Chattanooga, Tennessee

I felt a stark difference between our first and second miscarriage. When my wife and I lost our first baby, we were not ready. No one is, really. We rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night after only three days in Chattanooga. Grief rushed violently over us as quickly as love had the day we found out we were pregnant.

The days that followed were filled with the normal chaos of planting a church. I was busy for Jesus, but struggled to rest with Jesus. I started questioning God’s goodness. I even felt bitter toward him, a new and horrible feeling.

Our second miscarriage came years later, after our family had learned new rhythms of rest and refreshment with Jesus. Of course, we mourned losing another child. The grief was every bit as real over this child. I did not, however, question God’s goodness or become bitter like I had before.

On the Seas of Heartache

We have not suffered like many have, but we are no strangers to suffering. My wife and I have weathered storms: miscarriages, infertility, unrealized dreams, the death of loved ones, and crumbled friendships. As waves of suffering tossed us around, we staggered like green sailors gaining our sea legs.

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. You will suffer. We all tumble into heartache at some point. Everyone suffers. We all have to ask, How do I fight for joy in God in the midst of suffering?

I have not suffered every loss well. I’ve had to ask Jesus to forgive me for bitterness. But over time, I began to see suffering as a strange and mysterious opportunity. Like all of life, our pain is something to be stewarded for God’s glory. Our family has learned three valuable lessons fighting together for joy on the seas of heartache.

1. Learn How to Receive Rest

Moses handed down the sweetest of laws to the people of God: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. . . . You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:12, 15).

For seven days a week in Egypt, Israel had strained every muscle under fear of the whip. But now, having been delivered, the people were brought into a new rhythm of work and rest — and their rest declared, as loudly as anything, that they were free.

Keeping the Jewish Sabbath is not a requirement for Christians (Matthew 5:17–18; Colossians 2:13–17), but Jesus offers an even deeper rest in him (Matthew 11:28–30). And rest is an indispensable habit in a broken world filled with heartache. For some who are suffering, rest can feel impossible. But if we ask God for help, he can give us impossible rest from sorrow, empowering us to take every painful thought captive to Christ (Matthew 7:7; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8–9).

Healthy rhythms of rest are an opportunity to seek refuge in our good God, as we choose joy in Jesus. When we had our second miscarriage, I believe regularly receiving rest made the difference for us. It may be the same for you.

2. Make the Psalms a Second Home

When the storms of life devastate us, adequate words seem to vanish from our vocabulary. Although we feel there are no words, God’s word puts words to even the worst experiences we suffer. The Psalms are an especially sweet gift from God for our valleys.

After the unexpected death of my wife’s younger brother, Psalm 34 became the North Star for my troubled soul. Month after month, it urged me to “bless the Lord at all times” — to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:1, 8). King David reminded me, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

While the maelstrom of grief from infertility swirled, Psalm 23 shifted the eyes of my heart. Suffering bullies us to run for cover, yet David reminded me that my God prepares “a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5). The psalm invited me to slow down and enjoy God’s company, especially in the midst of spiritual attacks.

God’s words became prayers, and the prayers built inner strength. As God coaches us to pray through our pain in ways we wouldn’t normally, his word in our mouths produces joy in our hearts.

3. Press into Close Friendships

The author of Hebrews says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12–13).

Suffering is not sin, but afflictions can jab a sword into our back as we near the end of temptation’s plank. Pain often elicits hesitancy toward God and others. We feel too wrung out. So, we withdraw from the Sunday gathering. We fear our small group asking too many questions, so we convince ourselves that we’re too busy to attend. We struggle and fumble to express our situation to our friends, and we’re quick to feel like they only mishandle our pain.

Pain drags us into isolation and away from the community we need. Then the sinister serpent entices us to feel hurt, rejected, and cynical toward the very people God intends to use to help us.

In suffering seasons, we need people to help us fight for joy. Practically, this means we fight for joy by participating in the life of our church — especially when we don’t feel like it.

The experience will be messy — like the deck of a storm-tossed ship covered with sea vomit. Sometimes the church will hurt instead of help. You’ll wonder if it’s worth it. But the alternative — a hard, unbelieving heart that withdraws from God — would be far worse! God’s perfect grace will come through imperfect people. So, press into community.

Finding Joy in Suffering

Suffering well does not look like someone floating above the storms of life while meditating in the lotus position. The Bible is far more gritty. Joy-filled Christianity requires sea legs — learning to weather the storms as we imitate Jesus, who himself endured the cross for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2).

Suffering well is not indifference toward pain, but holding fast to Christ — the one who weathered the storm of God’s wrath in our place. Jesus, the man of sorrows, prayed the Psalms, took his rest from God, and pressed further into his friendships (Matthew 27:46; Mark 2:23–28; Matthew 26:36–38). Knowing and enjoying Jesus — even in the midst of suffering — becomes the energizing force to keep us going. This is what Charles Spurgeon means when he says, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

Run to Jesus. Hide your life in him. And find your joy in him. He will be what you need. Learn firsthand that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).