Finding Joy in the midst of Suffering

joy maple+

photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar

I write and speak primarily about suffering. I didn’t choose this topic- if it were up to me, I’d be an expert on effective parenting, or gourmet cooking, or physical fitness. Or wealth management. I’d even settle for waste management. Life would be easier and more fun if my experiences centered on something less bruising. My mom agrees. Years ago, after hearing me speak about the death of my son, she offered a suggestion: “I love hearing you talk about suffering. But I think you’ve spoken enough about it because God keeps giving you more material. Your next topic needs to be joy. Tell God that you don’t have enough first-hand experience with joy so He needs to give you more!”

My mom, one of my favorite people in the world, has a great sense of humor. We have laughed about that statement many times, though I know she was only partially joking. She’s weary of watching me suffer. She wants me to have joy.

In the ensuing years since that talk, my life has gotten increasingly difficult. I have cried more, screamed at God more, and felt more miserable than I care to admit. But at the same time, I have experienced a deeper joy than I could ever have imagined. For the first half of my life, my joy seemed dependent on my circumstances. When my life was going well, and things were easy, I felt happy. I felt that God was blessing me, though I couldn’t find much time for God. I was too busy enjoying the good life.

But when life unravelled and the days felt unbearable, God’s presence was unmistakable. Even when my major accomplishment for the day was making it through without a breakdown, there was something extraordinary about my time with God. I desperately needed Him. To give me strength. To revive me. To help me hang on. It was the only way to survive.

And through those excruciating days, God spoke to me. He comforted me through His Word. He whispered to me in the darkness, as I lay awake on my tear-stained pillow. He sang songs over me of His love.

I wouldn’t want to go through those days again, though I wouldn’t trade what I learned for anything. On the worst days, I just wanted the pain to go away. I didn’t rejoice in the moment. I didn’t rejoice at all. But I clung to God and His promises knowing He would bring me through. Joy did not come easy. I had glimpses of delight, but mostly joy was slow and incremental. I had to fight for it.

But as the days went by, I realized I had a joy that I couldn’t explain. It was completely independent of circumstances. Actually, it was almost inversely proportionate to my circumstances. The harder things got, the more joy God poured into me. The joy was in knowing that God could be trusted. In seeing His faithfulness through unimaginable pain.

Though I’m referring to a time of great suffering in my life, what I’m writing about isn’t limited to earthshaking pain. Significant trials have forged my faith, but I live, as we all do, in the mundane suffering. Feeling misunderstood or rejected by a friend or family member. Feeling lonely or depressed. Dealing with the same parenting issues over and over again. Being overwhelmed by responsibilities. Having everything in the house break down at once. Feeling physically ill- with a cold, a backache, a headache. Those things are universal. We all face them.

But just like the monumental struggles, we wish they were different. That they’d go away or get resolved so that we can get on with our days- the real things we’re called to. We fantasize that if they were different, we could be happier, more joyful, more faithful.

But what if we looked at those trials as the very things that God has ordained for our joy. To mold our character. To teach us to trust. To give us Himself. When we run to God with our pain, instead of running away, our perspective changes. We find a joy that can never be taken away. If we could only see all our disappointments through this lens, we would discover that suffering is often the gateway to joy.

We don’t get joy from having a winning lottery ticket. That may buy us some happiness- but that happiness is fleeting at best and months later leaves us emptier than before, looking for the next big thrill. But the joy we get from enduring suffering gets richer over time. Our circumstances cannot diminish it. It produces lasting fruit like endurance, character and hope. It draws us to God in breathtaking ways. It achieves a weight of glory that is beyond all comparison.

I am convinced that our capacity for God, and for true joy, is carved out of our suffering. Suffering chisels deep into our soul, often making us feel empty, misunderstood, alone. And yet it is out of that chasm, that emptiness, that God alone can fill us. With Himself. With His joy.

I so appreciate my precious mother, who prays unceasingly for my joy. Her prayers have been answered, not in the way she expected, but in the way God intended. For I understand in a more profound way than ever, when I’m speaking about suffering, I’m really speaking about joy.

 

 

 

 

  • January 10, 2014 - 2:28 pm

    Ann - Great post!! Your mom’s prayers are answered in abundance!ReplyCancel

  • January 10, 2014 - 2:30 pm

    Anne Mercer - My dear Vaneetha,
    Carol sent me your blog address, and I would like to read your thoughts and share mine with you. I love your mother saying you need more joy in your life –
    that God has given you enough pain and you need to know more joy Oh how much I agree with your mother ! She sounds like my Mom.

    Personally, I think you are incredible and what a witness to God’s stregnth !I do pray for you for less pain, endurance — that he stops the progress the polio is making and replaces it with good cells. But I also thank him for your spirit and faith. You are truly an inspiration. Thank you for allowing me to share in your life. My love and prayers……..AnneReplyCancel

    • January 11, 2014 - 11:12 am

      Vaneetha - Oh Anne, thank you for your prayers and encouragenment. I know you have walked through tremendous suffering yourself… and have been a wonderful witness through it all.ReplyCancel

  • January 11, 2014 - 9:04 pm

    Jennifer - As I know we’ve discussed, joy and an increasing sense of God’s presence is often the “consolation prize” during trials. And experiencing intimate fellowship like that makes all earthly pleasures pale in comparison.
    Thanks for this beautiful post that I’ve witnessed in your life first hand…
    Keep writing friend!!ReplyCancel

    • January 12, 2014 - 6:03 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Jennifer. We’ve walked many roads together and I’ve always appreciated your perspective in trials. Intimacy with God does make everything the world has to offer pale in comparison.ReplyCancel

  • January 12, 2014 - 8:09 am

    RuthAnn - Beautiful! And I love your mom too! 🙂ReplyCancel

    • January 12, 2014 - 5:57 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, RuthAnn! Thank you for your encouragement! And I agree- my mom is great!ReplyCancel

  • January 19, 2014 - 7:32 pm

    Renuka - I have read (and re-read) every one of your posts and have thoroughly enjoyed them. What makes your blog so special is the honesty with which your write. These are not mere words…they come from the heart… and that’s what makes them so encouraging and challenging. I have learnt much from you as I have watched you lean on God’s grace and live out your faith. Despite your circumstances there is abundant joy in your life that can only come from God(the radiance that Psalm 34 talks about.) I think you are one of God’s most beautiful creations (inside and out) I truly do. This particular blog reminded me of Dwayne Potteiger’s comment: “I would not have chosen the path I now walk, but wouldn’t trade it for the world”

    BTW, please tell your mom that I love her:)ReplyCancel

    • January 22, 2014 - 8:40 pm

      Vaneetha - Renuka, you have always encouraged me by your steadfastness and grace in the midst of tremendous trial. For well over a decade. Thank you for your kind words. They mean the world to me.ReplyCancel

  • January 1, 2015 - 10:21 am

    Sarah - Thank you for your wise words. I am once again awaiting the delivery of my dead baby girl at twenty-one weeks. We went through this February 2013, as well. We thought we had learned enough then, but God had another plan. As I struggle through the pain and the questions, I know that God has a purpose and He always works for our good and His own glory. I did not handle things well the last time, so now I have an opportunity to do a better job of reflecting His glory in the hard times. Anyway, a friend of mine just pointed me to your writings a couple of days ago and I am grateful for you and for her, women of God, who point me to the Truth.ReplyCancel

    • January 1, 2015 - 12:17 pm

      Vaneetha - Oh Sarah. Words feels so inadequate in this. My heart aches for you. I am so very sorry. I am praying as I write this that God will comfort you and hold you in the midst of these unspeakable losses and that His love and presence will overwhelm you. I cannot wait for heaven where there will be no more tears or crying or pain…ReplyCancel

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