What I’ve Learned About Suffering

I don’t like suffering. I’m not sure anyone does. It would be foolish to want more suffering in your life. But almost everyone agrees that it’s in those seasons of suffering and trial when they have grown and learned the most.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

In many ways I’ve been amazingly blessed. I really have no reason to make my life sound like a dramatic tragedy. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been through difficult seasons. The most difficult of these, by far, came when I was entering junior high and my parents separated and eventually divorced. I won’t go into too much detail online here, except to say that it was confusing, painful, and I’m sure there are still some psychological scars I haven’t dealt with yet.

I struggled with why God would allow this to happen. My parents are both Christians. We rarely missed going to church on Sundays. My dad and I would read the Bible and pray every night before going to bed. It didn’t make any sense. Surely, this wasn’t God’s plan and he could’ve stopped it from happening… but he didn’t.

That was more than 20 years ago now, and honestly, it’s still a bit painful to think back to that season of life. We don’t always know why things happen, but we know that God walks with us through our pain. Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer. He has been bullied for being an “illegitimate” child (remember the virgin birth? People didn’t believe that explanation, but they also knew he wasn’t Joseph’s son!). He has been betrayed by a close friend. He has been mocked and beaten by his enemies. He was abandoned and denied by all of his closest friends (Peter, here’s looking at you!). He suffered a painful death on the cross. Even after he rose from the dead, his friends still didn’t believe in him! My point in all of this: Jesus understands suffering.

There’s no multiple-choice test you can take to tell you the exact reason why you’re going through what you’re going through. I don’t look back at those teen years and rejoice that my parents got divorced. But I do look back and I rejoice at God’s faithfulness and everything I learned about love, about family, and about faith during that season. And I probably wouldn’t have learned those things if I never experienced the pain of my family being split apart. I learned that God’s love is more than something we talk about and get “warm fuzzies” over after hearing an emotionally-heavy story. I still don’t know why God allowed everything he allowed, but I know more about God and more about myself because of it.

When all is said and done, here’s what I’ve learned about suffering…

  1. You don’t suffer alone. God is faithful, he will walk with you… and that’s more than some cheesy “Christianese” thing to say. God understands suffering from the sufferer’s perspective too.
  2. God can do anything. Yes, that means he could have stopped what is hurting you so much. But it also means he can make even more beauty grow out of the ashes of your pain.
  3. Your hope is always as big (or small) as your view of God. If God is small, your hope will be small. If God is only sometimes-faithful, then you will only sometimes be hopeful. But if God is strong and if God is faithful… then you have every reason for hope, no matter how difficult and painful things may be. That doesn’t mean things hurt less, but it does you you live with the hope that in the end, God will turn your pain into joy.

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