In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 1 Peter 5:10 (NLT)
We don’t want to think of suffering. The thought of it makes us anxious and unsettled. It increases our heart rate and sets our sweat glands on overdrive. When we’re in it, we just want out. We cry like the Psalmist, ‘How long O Lord?’ We beg for mercy. Relief. Even numbness to just dull the pain.
Often, when we’re in the thick of it, we can’t see past our suffering. It looms overhead, clouding our way, casting shadows over everything in sight. Joy is absent. Light is gone. And feelings of isolation and loneliness overwhelm.
We live in a culture that celebrates strength, power and independence. Suffering and pain are signs of weakness. Reaching out for help or assistance is viewed with disdain. And so, we hide our need. We suppress it. We cover it. And when we can’t; when glimpses of our pain break through our carefully crafted walls, those around us feel awkward, unsure and embarrassed. They pretend they don’t see. They don’t enter in. And we, in our suffering and pain pretend we don’t need them to.
But suffering is to be expected.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33
This world is broken. Pain and suffering is everywhere. So why do we pretend to have it all together? Why do we stubbornly suffer alone, frustrating any offers of help? And why do we ignore the sufferings of others?
I read an article yesterday about an elderly homeless man who had slipped and fallen while crossing the street. He lay there bleeding and unable to get up for more than 10 minutes while cars drove by unwilling to stop and assist. A good Samaritan finally came to his aid, helped him to his feet and drove him to the hospital for the medical care he desperately needed. After receiving treatment, he was interviewed and had this to say, “I have no ill-will to those who didn’t stop to help. I can understand why they don’t want to get involved in human misery. People don’t need it in their life.”
What a sad reality. And yet, I’ve done it too. I hope it will never be to this extreme, but there have been times when I’ve chosen to ignore the tears, turn my eyes from the suffering, and walk away from a need. Often because I feel uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do or say. And so, I do nothing. But I’m making it all about me instead of about them. I’m choosing my own comfort over theirs. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. We were never meant to walk in our suffering alone.
[God] comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. 2 Corinthians 1:4 (MSG)
God brings us alongside people who are suffering so we can enter in and comfort them the same way God has comforted us. When we ignore these people or pretend we don’t see, we disobey His will for us. We are to love God and love others. But how do we love well when we disengage from suffering? Only through embracing others, pain and all, will we point them to the hope that only God can offer in such situations.
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:19-23
When we walk through our suffering with another it doesn’t seem so dark. Yes, the pain is deep. Yes, the shadows still loom large. Yes, the tears still overflow. But, there is comfort when we walk hand in hand through the darkness. We’re stronger when we lean on another for support. The path is less overwhelming when walking side by side. And hope lingers when another fights alongside us.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
God promises that we will be strengthened after our suffering. That He will restore us and place our feet on solid ground. Our suffering will not last for ever. He will redeem us. But know this, there can be beauty in the pain. We need to look for it, and that can be tough. We need to let God pursue us and soften our hearts to Him even when it’s easier to walk the road hardened and unfeeling. And when we do, hope will prevail. God will reveal Himself in ways so evident and so tangible that we’re drawn into relationship with Him in more intimate ways than we could ever have imagined.
God is real. He is present in our suffering. He is faithful in His promises. He is a God of great compassion and love. We are never alone. And sometimes it takes suffering to discover how great our God really is.
I’ve walked through suffering. My dad died of Cancer right after university. It took him fast. We weren’t prepared. Yet, God was so real and so evident through it all. My faith grew out of my suffering. God’s faithfulness proved true in all my pain. And my trust in Him is deeper now than it was before because I know Him more intimately.
I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones. I was able to see God with me even when the way was dark. I felt Him carrying me when I was too weak to stand. And so, I wanted to share with those walking a similar journey, the beauty I saw in the midst of the pain.
I wrote this on the one year anniversary of my dad’s death, almost 17 years ago now. It’s raw and imperfect but it’s real. And for a moment, I’m inviting you to step into my pain, into my suffering but also into the arms of the Father who loves us so tenderly. My hope is, that all of us, by taking this first step, will start to move beyond the awkward, beyond the apprehension, and beyond the fear of suffering and enter in to it with those around us. Joy and blessing await us when we do.
The Garden Path
The garden path stretches before me. It is paved with tiny pebbles, perfectly round. I gaze down the path and see various bends, deviating paths and rocky sections. On either side of the path I see the rich colors of life, beautiful flowers stretching as far as the horizon and then seeming to continue still. I begin to walk down the path. The flowers loom above me like a forest. Greens, reds, yellows and orange. Colors more vibrant than I’ve ever seen. The peace and tranquility entices me on. Something catches my eye. I stop. Upon closer inspection, I realize that each leaf and petal hold something precious. I walk a little closer and turn over a petal on the sunshine yellow daffodil before me. Engraved in the silky paper are the words “I’m so proud of you” with a picture of Dad’s arms around me at my high school graduation. The next petal shows Dad teaching me how to change a tire. The next, Dad running through a field with me in tow and a soccer ball the means of the chase. I continue down the path of my childhood anxiously turning over each leaf and petal to see what cherished memory it holds. I see Mom cleaning my scrapes when I fell off my bike, or gently wiping away a tear when my feelings were hurt. I see my sister and me sitting in our room laughing at some silly story or making up some new dance routine to perform for the neighbors. I see my brother and me race to the school and practically kill ourselves as we try to outdo each other in sit-ups and pullups on the monkey bars.
As I move along I see smiles and I see tears but one thing remains consistent – I always see love.
The path has been straight and the colors bright. I step again. This time I look ahead at the path before me. It veers off sharply. The contrast of what’s before me is striking against that through which I’ve come. Gone are the vibrant colors of purples and pinks, golds and greens. Gone is the serenity of the garden. Gone is the blissful joy of childhood wonder and in its place is anxious foreboding. The smooth pebbles have turned to jagged rock and the beautiful flowers to prickly thorns. I slowly step forward hoping this section of the pathway will end quickly and take me back to the peaceful beauty and security I once felt. But no end appears to be in sight. I stumble. Pain envelopes me. I want out but can’t seem to find my way. The thorns too, hold memories but each picture is wrought with tears. I continue to look around and notice here and there lone flowers among the thorns. I make my way to the first, tripping as I go. I see Mom and Dad dancing in the living room celebrating their last Valentine’s together. With tears in my eyes I push through the thorns to the next flower. I see Dad in his sweat pants and fleece jacket planting his garden with a smile on his face even though the pain of his illness is great. I continue among the thorns, making my way to each flower to see what life’s event it has captured. Each flower brings with it increasing admiration for the parents I hold near and dear to my heart.
As I progress down the path I see one flower that stands out among the rest. Blue in color, it stands bigger and brighter than the rest. I walk up to it wondering what amazing memory this flower might hold. I turn over the leaf in my hand and see the date engraved – June 7, 2001. My heart sinks in my chest. My eyes overflow. I don’t want to look at the picture. How can this be? Why is this day, the day my Dad died, represented with such a beautiful flower? Shouldn’t it be a thorn? I force myself to look. This is the picture I see: the Dad I love sleeping in his own bedroom, wrapped up in the love of his wife with her home-made quilts around him and his son, whom he loved so much at his side. The scene represents peace, it represents love and it represents God. I collapse on my knees. My strength has failed me. How do I go on? I hear a gentle whisper call my name. I look up and see the Lord with His hands stretched out to me to help me up. He slowly lifts me back on my feet and wraps His comforting arms around me. He speaks to me, saying, “I will get you through this. I will give you peace and joy again if you just trust me.” “I trust You,” I say. He leads me back to that one blue flower. I question why He wants to bring me pain again but then I remember His words…”Trust Me.” I see that same picture again and my eyes fill with tears. Then I turn over another petal and another. Each one is a page in my Dad’s life. Each one a cherished moment. I suddenly realize why this flower is so bright and so big and so amazing. This flower represents my Dad. The gentlemen he was, the Godly life he led, and the moments he made count. Even through his illness he chose to live and each moment he made count during this time was represented by a flower among the thorns. As I looked back at the rugged terrain I had come through I realized that there were more flowers among the thorns than I had first thought. Their colors penetrated all over. Life had prevailed. I looked ahead and saw the path appeared less rocky and further up I saw some straight stretches with luscious greens and vibrant reds. Good times would come again. Smiles would prevail once more. I knew I would never again experience the innocent joy and peace I had growing up but life does go on.
I started on my way again but God called me back. He picked the blue flower from the ground and handed it to me. An identical one grew in its place. I took my memories, turned and continued on down the garden path wondering what new experiences, triumphs and trials God has in store for me. I may not know what the future holds but I know that with God’s strength I can get through anything. Just as God is with me always, my Dad will be with me always and his example and his teachings will continue to guide me through the garden of life.