Suffering has shown me that my strength is not in me.
The raging seas have made me cling to the rock of my salvation. I can say in full conviction, “If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought ‘My foot slips’ your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up (Psalm 94:17–18).”
God has shown me my own weakness through debilitating pain — fibromyalgia and severe pelvic separation during two pregnancies, as well as years of anemia causing brutal fatigue. I now not only know my weakness, but I feel it acutely. In the past year, though I had earnestly believed it was time for some relief, God brought me even lower when I was diagnosed with a stomach tumor, waded through follow up tests, and underwent surgery.
The Secret to Suffering
As a mom of two children under school age, walking through these trials has been unspeakably difficult. But during this recent cancer scare it was, perhaps, the first time in a decade I faced a trial without anger, and without needing to ask all the “why” questions. At last it seemed I had gained some understanding of the apostle Paul’s secret understood, how he was able to do “all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).” I have learned it is possible to face trials with a settled, determined contentment, but not without weakness.
Not without weakness.
There was a period of months that I pictured myself as a busted ship with a crooked mast, and a hole ripped through the sail. That ship was my body, mind, and emotions, all of which groaned — creaking and teetering with every gale. I couldn’t abort the journey, though I wanted to. The words of a hymn spoke to me in that time of a strong and faithful deliverer.
Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed. . .
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash thy ship? It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.
What Doesn’t Kill You
To be great and admirable through suffering, to have a stiff upper lip and never crumble, has never been Christ’s goal for us. Your life and your suffering are not about you as much as they are about God. Enduring hardship is about showing him to be great, admirable, strong, and praiseworthy — not you. Yet in your weakness, you are the vessel where his strength will be experienced and seen. This is very good news for those in a storm who feel they are about to break.
In 2 Corinthians 11:24–29 Paul lists several ways he had suffered: beatings, shipwrecks, dangers, sleeplessness, cold, thirst, hunger, and daily anxiety for the churches. He then says in verse 30, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
He says the same thing in chapter 12 when he speaks of the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:5) and says twice that it was to “keep me from being conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7).” God answered his prayers for deliverance by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The world says, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but Paul says all the things that tried to kill him exposed his weaknesses and inabilities. Paul’s trials exposed weaknesses in him that kept him from being conceited about his spiritual understanding and experiences. Paul is not alone in this. Rather, this is what God does in us through suffering. He makes us feel our inability and frailty.
My friends, Paul’s weaknesses weren’t sin because he goes on to say “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). Paul would not boast in, or be content with sin, but he is content with weaknesses if they cause him to rely on grace and experience the power of Christ.
God Wants Your Weakness
As Charles Spurgeon once said in a sermon, “God does not need your strength: he has more than enough power of his own. He asks your weakness: he has none of that himself, and he is longing, therefore, to take your weakness, and use it as the instrument in his own mighty hand. Will you not yield your weakness to him, and receive his strength?” (MTP, 37:331).
I write this in hopes to relieve an unreasonable burden from some, who think that suffering in a godly way means not to feel weak, or to cry. Many tears find company with the saints of God’s word, and with Jesus who once “offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7).
Without Christ, I know my ship would be sunk, but I am so grateful that in our weakness, we find a strong helper: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16).
Suffering as a Christian certainly does not mean ignoring or downplaying the level or emotions of our suffering. We do not minimize the things that show Christ’s power — no, instead we look them straight in the eye and bring them to the throne of grace, the throne of help and healing, the throne of Jesus Christ.