My heart has been incredibly weary lately. I have struggled to find words that adequately express the tumultuous emotions within my spirit. Daily, I need to fight the impulse to turn inward and disconnect from those around me, as I teeter between pressing on or succumbing to the crushing weight of heartache, pain, and fear.
Crushed by Suffering
Months have stretched into years of enduring, waiting, hoping, praying, clinging, and surviving suffering that seems to have no conceivable end. A battle has been waged over my family and me. The enemy seems intent upon turning my heart against the Lord for the pain he has allowed.
For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore, my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. (Psalm 143:3-4)
But I am God’s daughter, and I’m trusting with all I have (as weak as my faith may be) that he will not let me go. In my brokenness, all I can do is believe that he will carry me through and prove himself faithful.
Is it a lack of faith to grieve and wrestle with the deep realities of heartache and loss? We live in a culture that’s so uncomfortable with suffering that we mask our hurt, cover our blemishes, medicate our pain, and explain our confusion away. Of course, pain is not to be glorified either, as if we are holier because we suffer.
However, the reality is that suffering hurts. It’s uncomfortable, sends some friends running, others judging things they cannot understand. Ongoing suffering is unsettling, disorienting, confusing, and stirs deep questions of faith that we usually don’t have to face until suffering forces us to. But by God’s grace, I’m choosing to face it head on, rather than running from it. We must choose how we will respond when the heaviness of life leaves us feeling joyless, hopeless, and even in despair.
Two Encouragements to Persevere
I have found great encouragement in the words of Paul, a man whose greatest desire was to love and glorify God, yet who also suffered much as he fought the good fight of faith. I am thankful for the way God used Paul’s devastating circumstances to encourage the Corinthians, and countless others who have suffered through the ages.
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)
1. The Lord allows us to “reach a point of having no intellectual, physical, or emotional human resource to fall back on” in order to drive us to rely on him alone.
After nine years of fighting an unseen enemy that has wrought unimaginable havoc through destructive neurological behaviors in our oldest son (and thus our other children), recent evidence seems to point to Lyme disease. This means a long uncertain future of costly treatments without any guarantees of healing. There is no area of our lives that has not been touched by a little tick that bit me and infected me years ago, which I then unknowingly passed on to all four of my children. Until recently, mysterious health problems had sent us from doctor to doctor, adding financial loss and burden to the many other stresses we were facing, while doctors simply shook their heads in confusion.
Even now that we have identified the enemy, treatments are complex. It’s hard not to battle fear and despair. As a woman and mother who desires to bring order and peace to our home, I must fight constant feelings of failure over the turmoil that seems constant there. Misguided judgments from people who don’t understand also leave me feeling vulnerable.
But by God’s grace, and despite my flailing, the Lord continues to carry me, change me, and help me press on another moment. As Paul experienced the complete emptying of his own resources in order to learn to rely fully on Christ, I am learning to do the same. Though I often feel like a die a thousand deaths every day, I am experiencing greater life in Christ. For the more that I am emptied, the more I am filled.
Are you in this place right now? You may be experiencing far greater trials than I am, circumstances I can’t even imagine. If you are despairing of life itself, uncertain whether you can endure one more moment of your pain, remember that the apostle Paul, a strong man of God, experienced the same. Even more, so did Jesus. He bore the entire weight of the world’s sin and the wrath of his Father in order that you and I would always have the presence and resources of the Almighty God.
2. The Lord uses circumstances that tempt us to despair of life to magnify the power of the gospel in our lives.
Circumstances that feel hopeless magnify the hope of the gospel. Circumstances that reveal our weaknesses magnify the strength of Christ. Circumstances that cause our love for this world to fade cause our love for Christ to grow. Circumstances that bring about the loss of earthly things magnify the glorious riches of eternity.
Therefore, although suffering is painful, it is a also a reminder that this life is a believer’s temporary home. When life is going well, it’s easy to be generally thankful for the gospel, but not to allow the veins of its truth to give life to us. However, when disappointment and suffering strike, the gospel becomes our life-line and empowers us to live victoriously. This has been true for me as I’ve desperately needed the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual strength to press on each day.
When my child is causing deep hurt in another one of my children, I need the love, grace, and patience of Christ to flow through me before I react. When I see pain in one of my children, but feel helpless to do anything about it, I need the reminder that Christ is grieved by their pain and remains Lord over it.
When I feel insecurity rise up in me when I see the worry in my husband’s face over finances, I need to remind myself that my true security in Christ, no matter what happens. When my body aches and I want to crawl into bed and sink into despair, I need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s strength to endure and focus on truth.
When the tenth doctor expresses how perplexed he is and suggests we see someone else, I must go to the Word to remember that God knows all things, that he is sovereignly working all things out for my good, even when the wise of this world are left baffled.
The truth and power of the gospel is not just our guaranteed future inheritance in heaven, it is the promised power, purpose, presence, and fullness of Christ in every moment of our lives on earth. Because of the gospel, suffering is no longer meaningless, but is wielded by the Lord to be used for our good, to change us into the people that our redeemed selves long to be: reflections of Christ.
Joy Comes with the Morning
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning…You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! (Psalm 30:5, 11-12)
As I write this, I am speaking to myself as much as anyone else. My temptation is to quit, become a hermit, and bottle up the bitter ache within my soul. But that would allow the enemy to have his way and, by the grace of God, he will not have his way in my life. I am the Lord’s and I know that he will not let me go. Whether I see God redeem this story in my lifetime or not, I am confident it will be redeemed.
Whatever your own circumstances are, I pray that you will be confident in this. If you are in Christ Jesus, you are covered in his promises. Though you may feel burdened beyond your strength and in despair, Christ will be your strength. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy will come in the morning.
Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But it will come. One day, he will turn our mourning into dancing, and we will be clothed in gladness, singing praises to his name and giving thanks for all that he has done.