Trials are kind of like being jerked out of a sunny day and being thrown down into a well. It seems that all there is down there is dirt, no light, close air and claustrophobia. It can seem more like a pit than a well. But I’m reminding myself that God only ever puts his children in places where water will eventually flow. It may be a desert or a dark night, but he never leaves us alone.
How do we weather these times? How does a family who’s lost a dad, or a parent who’s buried a baby, or a woman who’s been betrayed, or couple longing for a child, weather the pain, the loss, and the fear?
I’ve asked myself that quite a bit as we’ve watched others walk these roads and tasted our own grief over an abnormal baby brain and an unknown future.
The other day the kids and I were heading home in the van and Eliza was finishing up a book in the back seat. Seth was reading the last chapter along with her, not having read the rest of the book. He commented to her, “It looks like it’s going to be a happy ending.” She responded, “Oh, I don’t like happy endings. That means the book is over.” Then she gave this insight, “But when things are scary or sad at the end, you know there will be another chapter or book coming.”
I can’t tell you the relief I felt as I remembered that a tragic ending means one thing: there’s another chapter coming. No matter how pit-like the well we’ve been tossed into, we’ll be at the King’s right hand someday, just like Joseph went from thrown in a hole, sold down the road, and ended up as Pharaoh’s right hand man, we too, have a future that’s beyond any we could dream up from the bottom of a well.
I’m also realizing that the wells of suffering are a place where we get to drink more deeply of his grace than we ever have before, a place where our thirst for him is drowned in knowing him more deeply. This doesn’t mean that we want the suffering, but rather that what gets us through is his presence. When suffering comes our way, we can recognize that there’s more going on here than just the universe dealing us a bad hand. God has a story He’s writing and we’re meant to be transformed in the telling.
This passage has always been a favorite, more so now.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ” (Romans 5:1-8 ESV)
Jesus’ sorrows were deeper than any other human being. He bore our sin. He is the picture of perfect suffering, which is such a comfort because he wasn’t giddy about it and we’re not meant to be either. Rejoicing in our suffering isn’t gleeful, trite, happy-go-lucky suffering. It’s a kind of suffering that has hope and the way it gets to that hope is first by enduring, or getting through it. Jesus endured the cross. He got through it. From endurance comes character, then hope. And hope is able to rejoice. Why? Because it’s had love poured right into its heart because of Christ’s grace toward us on the grounds of His death for us.
Also, this rejoicing can’t and doesn’t undo the pain. Jesus didn’t suffer any less, because of the hope He had. He still suffered every bit of the suffering God ordained for him and it still was the full dose of God’s wrath. His pain wasn’t mitigated by His foreknowledge. This is such an important thing to keep in mind when either you or someone you know is walking a hard path. Knowing Jesus gives us hope, but it doesn’t take away the pain. It isn’t meant to. The pain is actually God-ordained to produce things in us that would not be able to be produced any other way. Knowing Jesus is meant to give us reasons to rejoice alongside the pain. They walk hand-in-hand, one doesn’t cancel the other out.
We’ve had some good weeks at our house. It feels like an upswing. I suppose that’s why I want to write about suffering and pain, because writing about it in the worst of it is pretty difficult. But, I’m hoping that by getting my thoughts down now, they’ll be here for me when I can’t see my way through the trials as clearly. And I hope they’ll be a help to anyone reading too, by God’s grace.