Grace in Suffering
When I first started this blog several years ago, my mission was singular: exploring, defining, and articulating how to live a genuine life as a Christ follower. I thought I knew what that meant. I focused on right belief and an accurate understanding of the Gospel. I felt (and still do) there is often a gross misrepresentation of what becoming a Christian truly entails, that our culture sometimes reduces Christ’s offer of salvation to one simple, magical prayer.
I had also seen too many trusted and love people fall hard because of hidden sins made known, and I longed to encourage others to live vulnerable, honest lives. Why conceal what destroys us, when we can make it known and find freedom? Be honest, I reasoned. Live vulnerably, I challenged. Chase genuine, I called.
I began this blog with an emphasis on genuine faith in Christ that translates into genuine Christian living. Yet, little did I know, my own faith was about to be tested to see of what quality it was really made.
I look back on the woman who started this blog, and I wish I could forewarn her of what was to come. I had faced some very real and painful hardships in life by that point: a devastating miscarriage; the bitter, lingering sting of unexplained infertility; and the tragic death of a brother-in-law, to name a few. But nothing compared to the storm brewing just around the corner. Nothing could have prepared me for the testing that was to come, namely because the strength of the storm was not aimed at me, but my child.
That storm first made its appearance through a refreshing early spring rain. After years of infertility, we became pregnant with our youngest daughter, Alisa Jane. Our souls rejoiced, our spirits revived, and our hope was no longer deferred. But even as the gentle spring shower washed away the drought of my heart, I hesitated. I felt the winds shift, and I observed storm clouds building on the horizon. Something was coming, I discerned, but I didn’t know what.
Just a month or so later, that something became clear, and before we knew it, the full force of the storm was upon us. A diagnosis dangled in the air, trying to attach itself to my unborn daughter as a disability for life. I refused to believe it, praying it would go away, but instead, more and more evidence surfaced to support this diagnosis of Down syndrome. How could this be so? I thought. Things like this don’t happen to me!
But the storm raged on, and things like that did happen to me. The violent rains battered my weary heart and slammed my feeble faith, and I slowly realized no amount of believing or praying or begging had made it go away. The tempest raged, and I dug my nails in deeply, clawing and clinging to this faith I have held since childhood.
At last, though, the storm finally lessened, and the winds began to calm down. And as the sun peeked out once again, I gingerly held out my faith as I would a foreign object, studying it, exploring it, and familiarizing myself with what this faith meant under these new circumstances. In what ways had my faith changed in light of all my suffering, heartache, and desperation?
How would my daughter’s diagnosis affect my trust in the One whose hand could have stopped it all?
It was like a person I had known my entire life had just told me a secret that transformed everything I knew about him. Only it wasn’t that I hadn’t known…it’s just that I hadn’t ever really had to acknowledge its reality. Yet there I was, facing a life I had never asked for and never been consulted over. I found myself tasked with a new charge in life, a special-needs child.
For a while, my faith felt foreign in my hands, not because I didn’t believe anymore, but because my faith had been so stretched, twisted, and bent, it didn’t fit like it once had. It wasn’t comfortable anymore, as I had been pushed unwillingly into a deeper dimension of awareness about life.
Through that journey, I came to understand — not just mentally, but in my heart of hearts — the suffering that comes with the human condition. I had put on grief that clothed my body like a weighted blanket, feeling as if my arms and legs were filled with lead. I had tasted bitter, salty tears as they fell from my eyes like a cascading waterfall. I had seen the frailty and brokenness of our lives, brushing against the veil so thin separating the temporary from the eternal that it made me tremble.
As time has passed since that raging storm, my perspective on suffering has slowly changed. I understand a little more deeply why Paul said, “…we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17). I see a little more clearly why Peter reasoned, “…rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). I know a little more personally why James challenged, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” (James 1:2).
There is grace in suffering.
While we may not always know the exact cause of our suffering, we can always know God’s loving hand will guide us through it. There is grace in suffering. Just as the refiner places precious metals to the fire, wiping away the impurities that bubble to the top because of the rising temperature, so God uses trials, tribulations, and suffering to purify our lives. It’s not that He wants us to suffer anymore than the refiner desires to destroy a precious metal with fire. But He knows the only way to purge those impurities from our lives is through the heat of the flame.
I wish I could tell that young mom in 2014 as she hesitantly began this blog, “Just wait, it only gets harder. But also…it only get better.” I wish I could tell her, “You only see the beauty of the trees ahead, but wait until you reach the summit. Then you will really see.” Suffering may come, but dear follower of Jesus, there is grace in suffering.