When We Suffer for Doing Good

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Tune into the Beulah Girl Podcast. Co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley explore finding identity in Christ. Episodes cover topics such as spiritual growth, relationships, emotional health, physical healing, ministry, and more. Subscribe to get each episode on Soundcloud or simply listen to the individual episode here.

Have you ever wanted to fight God on an issue even though you knew that He would blow you out of the water with an argument or action that would show you how wrong you were? Have you ever wanted to wrestle against God even though you knew He would win?

I know the fallacy of using my own human logic to try to guide my life or figure out God. I’ve been walking with him long enough to know that His ways are not my own. He has shown that to me over and over.

But recently, even though I knew that it was pointless, I wanted so badly to accuse Him and turn away. I’d been in this place many a time, and I know the danger of going my own way, but I wanted to flee anyway.

When Doing God’s Will Leads to Suffering

Here’s what I was all tied up in knots about: If He was going to ask me to do an action for Him, I felt that it should end in good. The situation should end with a happy ending, with a ribbon tied in a bow on top. But yet again, I had stepped out to do an uncomfortable action because He had told me to, and it had ended in circumstances that were not what I wanted or expected.

Quite honestly, I felt that there had been too many of those situations lately. It makes sense to do the hard thing that will end in the award, the raise at work, the leading of someone to Christ, the healing, the miracle. But what about the hard action that leads to persecution, the argument, or the confusing events that don’t add up. What then?

In those scenarios, we can feel like God is being cruel to us because of what He has asked us to do. We may be infuriated by the fact that He has led us to a place where we are encountering hardship that we wouldn’t be encountering if we hadn’t listened to Him. We wouldn’t be the first to feel this way.

In the book of Job, Job becomes fed up with the hardship that has come in his life. He essentially tells God as much, accusing God of cruelty and persecution (Job 30:21, ESV). However, we know from reading the rest of the book of Job that God was not being malicious to Job — nor is He that to us. God allowed the affliction in Job’s life not to be “cruel” or play a mean game with Job’s life, but because He had a purpose. And Satan — not God — was the responsible party for the trouble that came into Job’s life. As Jon Bloom points in “When God Feels Cruel” on desiringgod.org, God did permit Satan’s actions — but He did so to prove Satan wrong and provide encouragement to many other sufferers who would come after Job.

In fact, God responds to Job’s accusation of cruelty and asks him this important question, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8, ESV). The Message translation words it like this: “Are you calling me a sinner so you can be a saint?” In other words, God asks Job if he is able to stand against Him on his own righteousness.

In our own lives, when we feel that God is being cruel to us because He has allowed or led us into undesirable circumstances, we see that God is more than capable of running the universe — and often our accusations of Him are made because we don’t understand things from His perspective. As Bloom notes, we have to trust in God’s goodness despite what our feelings tell us.

Certainly, after listening to God’s argument, Job repents of his original position and acknowledges that God is sovereign and worthy of praise no matter the events in his life. Similarly, in my own situation, while I didn’t get the same monologue God gave Job, God stopped me in my tracks by offering a divine response to my human argument.

What God Says About the Suffering That Comes From Doing His Will

The next morning during my quiet time, as I was still fuming over the injustice of the reality that good doesn’t always come to you for doing God’s will, I came across this gem of Scripture in 1 Peter 4:19:

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Say what? I didn’t have to wait for a thunderclap from heaven to signal God’s answer. His response waited quietly right in front of me silencing every complaint I wanted to raise in His direction. I knew He wanted me to stop resisting Him and accept the situation He had ordained in my life. Like Job, I had to acknowledge God’s supreme power and knowledge even when things weren’t making sense according to my own wisdom.

When we’re in a place where we don’t like where God has brought us, we can break down this verse and look at a few ideas that may help us in our circumstance:

1. We will suffer for doing His will.

If we look at other translations of this verse, the wording is arranged to say not “those who suffer for doing the will of their Creator” but to say something more along the lines of “if God’s will is for you to suffer.” For instance, the New Life Version says “if God wants you to suffer” and the New Century Version says “then those who suffer as God wants.”

No matter which translation you look at, the passage highlights the idea that God’s will and suffering are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes God’s will leads straight into suffering, and it’s difficult to grapple with in those moments because we don’t always know all the whys.

However, if we look at other sections of 1 Peter, we see that suffering in doing God’s will is something we should rejoice over — not something that should derail us from our calling.

2. Despite what happens, we need to commit ourselves to Him.

I love this next section. The verse tells us what we should do in the situation where obedience doesn’t appear to be paying off: “Commit ourselves to our faithful Creator.” The temptation is to get angry, to tell God we will control things, that we will “take it from here.” But this is where trust comes in. Do we believe He loves us? Do we believe His way is perfect and He knows all things? Do we believe He is worthy of our trust?

The passage assures us that He is trustworthy. In fact, quite interestingly, Peter uses the word “faithful” to describe the One who holds us and all of our circumstances together. He is faithful not just when events are favorable in our life — but even in the midst of suffering.

3. Even when we suffer, we need to continue to do good.

Lastly, the verse urges us to continue to do good even when it doesn’t make sense, the way is hard, and we want to give up. Quite honestly, what we all want to do when our situation doesn’t pan out the way we thought it would is run in the opposite direction. But this verse urges us to “continue to do good.” And that sometimes is the hardest thing. To continue when you don’t have the results you want, you don’t know why, and it doesn’t make sense.

Friend, we have a God who knows what He is doing. When the way is unclear, and we can’t see what He is doing, the passage urges us to keep on doing what we know is right. My former senior pastor used to say, “When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.” In other words, when you have no earthly idea why circumstances are going the way they are or why He has allowed what He has in your life, you can still trust that God is good and His way is flawless.

When I survey my life, I know Him to be a faithful God. I can look back and see how he was constant through times where I was not. He has always been there for me and you, and He will continue to be faithful, or as one of my favorite worship songs says — “do it again.”

Let’s choose to trust Him even when His will leads to hardship rather than good.

Related Bible Verses:

Proverbs 16:9: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

*Updated October 30, 2017

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Where Is God When We Suffer?

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Tune into the Beulah Girl Podcast. Co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley explore finding identity in Christ. Episodes cover topics such as spiritual growth, relationships, emotional health, physical healing, ministry, and more. Subscribe to get each episode on Soundcloud or simply listen to the individual episode here.

It is easy when times are good to say we trust in the Lord, and He is a good God. But how about when times are bad? Can we still say those words then?

When chaos takes place in our lives, when circumstances aren’t going as we would want, proclaiming God’s goodness and faithfulness is much more difficult. Some of us have been through or are going through such tremendously hard situations.

Oftentimes, there are layers to our trials. We have multiple problems occurring on multiple fronts; it can be overwhelming. We may feel crushed down by the weight of them. Paul said on his journey in Asia: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). So deep was the agony, so great the torment and trials, Paul didn’t know if he would find his way through them. And yet, he persisted and put his full trust in Christ.

While Paul is a man in the New Testament who met with tribulation, Job is a man in the Old Testament who met with affliction. He lost his estate, wealth, and children in one day (Job 1:1-22).

Unbeknownst to him, prior to his devastating loss, a discussion happened in the heavens between God and Satan. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job’s possessions and family. Then, to add insult to injury, God granted Satan permission to afflict Job’s health. Job’s body broke out in painful boils. Job’s suffering was so great, he cursed the day he was born. His wife suggested he curse God as well, but Job replied, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). Job was unwilling to abandon his faith even in the midst of heavy trials.

To make matters worse, Job’s “friends” came to sit with and comfort him; however, they made Job feel even more terrible by heaping blame on him for the tragedy that had fallen on him. Although each friend had a slightly different view, they all arrived at the same conclusion: Job’s suffering was due to sin. In order for him to get out of his situation, he needed to confess his sin.

Talk about a miserable time for Job! His wife abandoned him emotionally when he needed her most, his friends told Job he was to blame for the trouble that had happened (even though that wasn’t the case), and Job stood accused by everyone close to him in his life.

No one understood or supported him. He was not even sure of what God thought of him initially. We can learn a few ideas from Job’s journey of suffering.

On a side note, these points are those I’ve loosely based on the information from a Suffering and Sovereignty study from the First5.org app from Proverbs 31 Ministries. I’ve been reading the study these past few weeks, and even as I’ve chosen to talk about the concepts in a slightly different way, they are those I developed while going through the study.

1. Suffering falls on the righteous and the wicked.

While clear connections can sometimes be drawn between our actions and the events happening in our life, sometimes they can’t. Certainly, the Bible talks about God bestowing blessings on the righteous and evil on the wicked. Psalm 51:12 says, “Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” Proverbs 33:3 says, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.”

However, the book of Job reveals a more complicated view of suffering. Sometimes the wicked flourish with no recompense and the righteous suffer through no fault of their own (First5.org).

In both scenarios, God is still sovereign and in control. We as Christians must accept both good and bad — knowing He allowed both in our lives. That doesn’t mean we let people abuse us or mistreat us, let ourselves be passive doormats, or resign ourselves to situations that are not God’s best for us.

However, we understand that suffering is part of the Christian experience. We also understand that eventually, a man’s evil will catch up with him. He will be judged for his wrong and suffer the consequences of his disobedience against God.

2. Friends are good, but only One will never abandon us.

Friends are good, but we can’t always rely on them to say the right things or know what to do when trouble comes into our life. As we see in Job’s story, Job’s friends meant well, but they had no knowledge of what was really going on. By Job’s response, we see that their words did not comfort him and did not ring true for him. Similarly, we will have people completely misunderstand us and offer us advice we shouldn’t take (First5.org).

The only way we can know what to do and find true comfort is to turn to the only One who will not abandon us. We may feel like God is far off and silent, but He is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). God is the only One who will have an accurate perspective of each situation we face. We can easily be lead astray by friends with good intentions who give us human wisdom and logic — maybe even a few Bible verses thrown in that might be right in another scenarios. We need to seek and listen to God’s voice above all others.

It can be scary to be the one voice in a situation that is dissenting when everyone else is assenting. We may think something is wrong with us if we are the only one offering a different point-of-view. However, sometimes our Christian faith walk requires us to think and act differently than those around us. Sometimes differently than even our Christian friends and family members.

The voices around us may tell us we’re wrong, that we’re not in God’s will, that we have brought the suffering on ourselves. But what is God telling us? At times, God will pinpoint an area of our life that He’s working on. His methods for bringing this to our attention may be extremely painful. However, other times the suffering we go through is not necessarily brought on by our own choices, but rather allowed for reasons only God knows.

3. God doesn’t expect us to be stoic in our suffering.

As repeatedly emphasized in the First5 study, Job didn’t curse God, but he was not emotionless or stoic in his suffering. He attempted to process through what was happening by pouring out to his feelings to God and his friends.

Similarly, it’s OK in our pain to express how we feel, to be honest with God. Job basically wanted to die, and He told people that. He didn’t try to play the religious role and pretend like these events weren’t devastating to him. He poured out his pain to others and told his friends what he thought of their comments.

In our own pain, we need to tell God how we truly feel. We don’t need to gloss over our feelings or pretend they are not there. We can be truthful with God. He can handle our grief and raw emotions. Certainly, Job went a little too far towards the end of the book of Job by accusing God (rather than just raising honest questions). However, we can learn from Job to take our questions to God and wrestle through our grief — rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.

Conclusion: God’s Purposes Are Supreme Through Our Suffering

Jesus told his followers before leaving the earth that they would have trouble, but to “take heart” because he had “overcome the world” (John 16:33). As Jesus’ followers, we will share in His suffering.

While our suffering can happen as a result of our sin, at times we will suffer without knowing the reasons or causing the suffering in or own lives. In those periods, as hard as it may be, we need to cling to God, ask Him our hard questions, but say as Job did, that we will accept both the good and bad seasons God allows.

At the very end of Job, after God spoke to Job, Job responded by saying in Job 42:2-6:

I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

Ultimately, as the NIV Study Notes state, Job decided that God and His purposes were supreme, and he simply surrendered to God’s plan for him, which included suffering. After this, God made his friends go to back to Job. Job prayed for them, and his fortunes were restored.

Also in the NIV Study Notes, it says: “God does not allow us to suffer for no reason, and even though the reason may be hidden in the mystery of his divine purpose — never for us to know in this life — we must trust in him as the God who only does what is right.”

In other words, when our circumstances are such that they feel out of control, we have a God we can rely on and trust because His purposes for us are always good (Romans 8:28), even if they don’t feel good. Like Job, we can wrestle with God in our pain and request that God take the difficulty away. Ultimately, though, if He doesn’t — and we know our suffering is not a result of our own folly — we can trust that God has a reason to allow it and will bring good in our life through it.

In addition, we see Job say something very interesting in response to God. He said that he had “heard” of God, but due to this experience he had “seen God” (Job 42:5). Similarly, in our pain, however great, we will have the opportunity to learn more of God as we share in His suffering.

Interestingly enough, when I wrote the lines above to conclude this article, I penned them before I had read the end of the First5 Job study I mentioned earlier. However, quite fittingly, when I watched their last teaching video, I saw that Wendy Blight read Job 42:2-6 and came up with a similar conclusion. I thought it was cool that we shared some of the same thoughts about the end of Job.

In conclusion, then, what we can say about God’s whereabouts when we suffer is that God has not abandoned us. As believers, we can be assured of this truth found in Scripture: God is with us, a constant friend (Matthew 28:20; John 15:12-15).

Related Bible Verses:

2 Corinthians 5:14: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is seen.”

Podcast Notes:

In podcast episode, please note that there are two corrections: the reference to 1 Corinthians 1:8 in intro is actually 2 Corinthians 1:8. The Psalm 51:1 reference in the first point is actually Psalm 51:12.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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The Good That Can Come From Our Pain

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A few years ago, when I went through my second miscarriage, I slipped into a deep period of grief and suffering that lasted several dark months.

In the midst of that season, I didn’t know if I could ever feel joy again. I felt confused as I looked around me at the healthy, happy people. How could others smile and enjoy life while I was too sick to stand on my feet for long periods of time?

While my physical health was on the mend and my emotions in an even more precarious state, I felt during that season that I was falling in a deep black hole. When I cried out to God for relief, He stitched across the divide and created a bottom to that bottom-less well. There would be an end to the grief, I found. I would climb out of the hole and find light and happiness once again.

A year after I had the miscarriage, I regained my health and was in a place where I could try again for another baby. However, I didn’t know if I had it in me emotionally and physically to go through another pregnancy. Before I had the chance to decide whether or not I could try again, I got the surprise of my life: I was pregnant!

I couldn’t believe it when I began to feel the tell-tale signs of a pregnancy. God, in His goodness, had allowed me to conceive again. And just because He is God, I got pregnant with my daughter Ansley exactly one year after my miscarriage date. I saw her on an ultrasound screen for the first time when she was 11 weeks — exactly the age of the one I had lost.

God Is Still Good When We Hurt

If only I had had the perspective following my pregnancy loss that I have now. It’s easy in times of intense suffering to believe that circumstances will never get better and assume God doesn’t care. While I don’t know everything entailed in your journey, I do know this: He is still good even when it hurts, and we can’t understand.

Recently, an unexpected medical situation popped up in my life. Doctors gave me a diagnosis of an internal tear, and it brought me to a place of pain for several weeks. Medical staff informed me painkillers would aggravate the problem, so I wasn’t given any. I was sent home with the same excruciating pain I felt going in and a small tube of numbing crème that didn’t numb anything at all.

And though the physical suffering was on a much smaller scale than the suffering I experienced after my miscarriage, I still suffered. And the questions still came: Why is this happening? Have you forgotten me, God? Why am I not getting better? Really? Did I have to get sick with a condition where they can’t give me any painkillers?

There was a point the morning after I spent the night in the urgent care where I was in so much pain (and so overwhelmed by the lack of pain management they were able to provide) that I burst into tears with the morning supervising nurse, saying: “I am a mom. I have three kids to take care of. How am I supposed to function?”

She surveyed me calmly, “What do you want me to do?” She wasn’t being rude, but she obviously had never suffered from this particular malady.

“I want you to fix me! I want a solution!” I felt like screaming these words, but instead I took a moment to edit them and present them in a much calmer manner. She gave a few suggestions, and I eventually stumbled out of there with a prescription for more crème and promises that a surgeon’s office would call me.

Why Suffering Can Be a Blessing

In retrospect, perhaps my grief in the urgent care was such because there was no easy fix. Suffering — physical or otherwise — takes us to that realization: Our bodies fail us. Our health isn’t forever what it was when we were teenagers. We realize again that our world is broken. We need only look around to survey the epic suffering all around us — and in us — and assess that things aren’t the way they should be.

Matthew 5:4 tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Certainly, as many theologians assert, this verse refers to those who become aware of their own sin and the sin of others and weep over that. In their repentance and remorse for sin, Jesus comforts by taking away their guilt. However, a second application exists as well. For those of us who mourn because life’s trials become too much, Jesus is there to comfort us then as well.

So, you might say, “Well, Jesus may be there for us in our sorrow, but isn’t it still a bit of a stretch to say a person is ‘blessed’ if he mourns?” That is a really great question, and I have a great answer for it. The word “blessed” means “fortunate.” It sounds completely upside down in all ways to say that a person who suffers is “fortunate.” However, suffering can at times be viewed as a very good thing. Here’s why: It points us back to our Creator.

C.S. Lewis wrote this: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” What he meant is for the person who lives a life of ease and experiences very little pain, he may feel he can get along fine leaning on his own strength, but it is suffering that awakens him to his need of a Savior.

I once read a story about a proud atheist. He had a Christian grandson who tried unsuccessfully to witness to him. The grandfather lived as he pleased with great wealth, health, and happiness. However, in his later years, his health broke down. It was only in that place that he could receive the good news of the Gospel, sick on his deathbed, when all his worldly supports had failed him.

Similarly, sometimes our suffering is that which reminds us how weak we are on our own. Blessed are we in our suffering when we can look through our pain to the One who made us and call out to Him. God didn’t create the suffering on earth. He intended that we not live with sin or sickness.

However, He can use the suffering in our lives to help us reach a deeper awareness of Him. We may never find ourselves in such a position of utter dependence unless we first experience suffering.

Conclusion: God’s Grace Is Sufficient for Us When We Suffer

What can we conclude, then? In times of great affliction, a human solution doesn’t always exist: medicine that will take away the pain or a doctor that can make our body or mind go back to perfect health with a snap of a finger.

But no matter the diagnosis or circumstance, we can rest as believers in the truth that Jesus never leaves us, and He knows what we’re going through.

Admittedly, Jesus doesn’t always give us the physical healing we want right away. Some of us have to wait for eternity for that. But what He does give us is comfort and the strength to make it through each day relying on His power and not our own. In Him, we have a hope we can anchor ourselves to when everything has gone askew, and we can’t be sure of anything any longer.

In my most recent situation, I’d love to say that Jesus immediately took away my medical ills. But that’s not what happened. I improved slowly over a several week period. Some days I called out to Him in desperation to speed up the process — but did not get the immediate resolution I wanted. Rather, in one prayer time when I asked Him how he expected me to get through another day, these words came to mind, “ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

More time passed where I experienced this same level of desperation. As more days went by, the pain lessened. And one morning, I woke up without pain. God had healed me.

I realize that not every story ends this way. And, certainly, I have had other situations that have had less desirable outcomes. However, Matthew 5:4 reminds us that we’re blessed when we mourn. Not just when the healing comes or life is going great.

We’re also blessed when we let our suffering remind us of our need for our Maker and allow His grace to be sufficient in our pain.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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4 Gifts I Gained After My Miscarriage

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One year ago, I went to the hospital and lost a baby.

It wasn’t the first baby I had lost. It was the second one that never made it past the first trimester. And because I had already carried two healthy babies to full-term, I figured that God would give me some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card — a pass on suffering during the rest of my pregnancies.

I was so confident that I would be fine in this pregnancy, I barely blinked an eye when the nurse told me I was anemic and needed to get on iron supplements. I called in the prescription and decided to pick up the pills after my vacation to Seattle. I was only going to be gone for 9 days. I would eat iron-rich foods and get on iron pills when I got back.

I was more worried about flying and getting sick on the flight than my hemoglobin levels, but I discussed it with my doctor, and I felt great on the flight and during the trip. No morning sickness. No nausea. I felt more tired than I had ever felt in my life, but I figured that pregnant women with two small children should feel tired.

And then a week after I got home, I found myself on a hospital bed looking at a stomach that I knew it was way too flat to house any life. I knew my pregnancy was over.

What I didn’t know is that I wouldn’t bounce back. I wouldn’t get up a few days later and resume my life. I would have to climb out of a hell-hole of suffering.

I remember feeling so betrayed by God when it happened. How could He let it happen to me two times? Wasn’t one baby loss enough? And to add insult to injury, this second miscarriage confined me to a bed for weeks and weeks.

But it was out of that place of sadness and solitude in my bedroom that I began to write. And though I wanted to birth my Addison Grace at 40 weeks, God birthed in me instead a greater compassion and empathy for others and a call to minister to other women. I share this journey with you here on my blog with every post I write — and it is from that place of remembering and reflection that I write a guest post for Forget-Me-Not, Oh Lord! this week. I talk about how my view of what happened is different now than it was then. I talk about how I have been finding “beauty for ashes” in a life event I would not describe with any words less than “horrific” and “shocking.” I would love for you to click the link and join me there.

I hope you will find encouragement from the post if you are in the middle of something hard. Dorothy Valcárcel, author of the devotional “Transformation Garden: Where Every Woman Blooms,” includes some lovely lines in her most recent July 23 and July 24 devotions:

“There are some lives that seem to be utterly destroyed by some great and sore trial, but beyond the sorrow they move on again in calmer, fuller strength, not destroyed, not a particle of their real life wasted… Their character shines out in richer luster and rarer splendor than ever in the days when their hearts were fullest of joy and gladness.” — J.R. Miller

“(Jesus) has been where we are, and He walks with us and weeps with us. And with your tears He can water the seeds of character planted by pain.” — Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton

“God has a bottle and a book for His (children’s) tears. What was sown as a tear will come up as a pearl.” — Matthew Henry

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Does Good Come Out of Suffering?

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If you’ve followed the news as of late, you’ve most likely heard of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old newly married woman that has made the choice to die. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Maynard has opted not to put her family through the stress of watching her slowly deteriorate and has chosen death with dignity, a program that allows for terminally ill patients an end-of-life option. Surrounded by her family and friends, she will consume the contents of a prescription pill bottle and depart from this earth.

Maynard originally made the decision to take the prescription November 1, but according to a recent video released by CNN, she is now waiting for the “right time” to take the fatal dosage.

While I certainly sympathize with Maynard’s situation and have compassion for her in her difficulty, I am saddened by her decision and the voices in our culture that support the idea that we have the right to elect out of life when things get hard.

In first reading about Maynard’s unorthodox choice, I joined the discussion by posting an article on Facebook railing against death with dignity and Maynard’s views. Then I felt a quiet conviction that perhaps my path as a Christian should not so much be to condemn her actions, but rather, as Ellen Painter Dollar argues in her article “A Christian Response to Brittany Maynard’s Decision to Die,” offer an alternative approach to the complicated issue of suffering.

Maynard’s story certainly raises some questions: Why should we allow ourselves to experience suffering? What good can possibly come out of it? How should we as Christians approach it? And while it’s convincing to believe that we shouldn’t have to go through pain if we choose not to, the Bible offers a few other ideas on the subject.

We are Promised Trouble

Understandably, we are made in God’s image and have this idea of perfection for this life in our mind because God is perfect. When we get diagnosed with a devastating disease and our idea of happily ever after shatters, we feel we should have an immediate rescue from our tribulations, but God never promised us that we would have it easy. We are simply encouraged to “take heart” and know that He has “overcome the world” (John 16:33). God doesn’t tell us we won’t experience trouble, He tells us that as Christians we can expect it.

And while we may not understand all the reasons we have to go through the trials that we do, we have the assurance that our longing for perfection will be fulfilled in heaven.

Suffering Has Purpose

One thing that we can find comfort in is that the only perfect human being to live on this earth, Jesus Christ, suffered. His suffering had a purpose: to provide salvation for all of humanity. Even in His perfection, He still struggled with His own emotions before having to endure the cross. He didn’t want to go through what He did; if He had chosen to avoid the Father’s will, however, we would not have the opportunity for the life we enjoy in Christ. According to Isaiah 53:5, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Clearly, Jesus’ pain was for something — a purpose bigger than himself.

Similarly, our trials are for something — our “light and momentary trials are achieving for us eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our suffering has a distinct purpose that God uses for His kingdom.

Pain Enlarges Us

If we go through life and never experience hardship and struggle, we would all act pretty superficial. Suffering is what produces in us some of our most enduring qualities and gives us the ability to “comfort others” as we ourselves have been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:4). It is in the fires of affliction that we develop the qualities that make us “iron” believers.

In Streams in the Desert, L.B. Cowman offers the following excerpt from George Matheson — where Matheson observes that suffering “enlarges” us:

Someone once said of Joseph that when he was in the dungeon, ‘iron entered his soul.’ And the strength of iron is exactly what he needed, for earlier he had only experienced the glitter of gold. He had been rejoicing in youthful dreams, and dreaming actually hardens the heart. Someone who sheds great tears over a simple romance will not be much help in a real crisis, for true sorrow will be too deep for him. We all need the iron in life to enlarge our character. The gold is simply a passing vision, whereas the iron is the true experience of life. The chain that is the common bond uniting us to others must be one of iron. The common touch of humanity that gives the world true kinship is not joy but sorrow — gold is only partial to a few, but iron is universal.

While our culture may argue that suffering only takes away, Matheson asserts the idea that suffering can actually add to us. We are built up by the very trials we wish to escape from. It is from our very prisons that our character is perfected, and our own difficulties help us connect to others in similar trials.

The Other Side of Suffering

We have, in the midst of our suffering, the promise of “the other side.” As Joyce Meyer notes in her New Day, New You devotional, “Learn to endure whatever you need to, knowing that there is joy on the other side!” Like Psalm 30:5 promises, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” We will get victory in the struggle if we have the right mindset, even if we don’t get the resolution or result we want in this life.

My grandmother, a devout Christian, nonetheless struggled with dark bouts of depression and then dementia and Alzheimer’s in her later years. She was an accomplished pianist and the director of music at her church before she retired. I still have memories of her sitting at her large black Steinway grand piano playing and singing in her clear voice at family gatherings.

The woman who very much struggled with her own mental health was still a light to those around her, and even though she lost her battle to Alzheimer’s some time ago, she now has these words on her headstone: “In His presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). Although she didn’t experience complete healing on this earth, I now have the reassurance that her ills have been healed. She endured to gain what was hers: fullness of joy in the presence of God.

Our world tells us that happiness is based on circumstances — and when those go bad, we should find an immediate out — a deliverance from. However, the Bible tells us that there is a peace that can transcend all circumstances and a beauty that comes out of some of our most harrowing situations.

Matheson reminds us that God “enlarges” us when we are in “distress” (Psalm 4:1, KJV), and sometimes we must accept that God’s will isn’t for us to get out — but to go through.

*Updated November 18, 2017.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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