I don’t like struggling.
I want days with little drama, minimal stress, no pain.
But as I look back over my life, those simple, lighthearted days are not the ones for which I’m most grateful.
I’m most grateful for the days that I’ve had to fight for faith. The days I’ve called out to God in desperation and pain. The days that I have barely survived, struggled to make it through, wondered if life was worth it anyway.
Those days have driven me to my knees. They have molded my character, grown my dependence and made me see Jesus.
For me, that gratitude is often in retrospect. Looking back, I can rejoice at what God has wrought through my trials. When the pain is gone and only the fruit remains, I see the value of my suffering.
But for some trials, the pain never passes. The long-term ongoing daily struggles that grind away at us. Chronic illness. A difficult marriage. A child who is “atypical.” A disappointing career. Financial worries. Depression. Unfulfilled longings. When we live with these wearing trials, we often fantasize about how pleasant and normal our lives would be without them.
I’ve frequently thought, “If I just didn’t have to struggle with this one problem, I could handle everything else.”
But in reality, this one overarching problem is the thing drawing me closest to Jesus.
I have learned from saints, living and dead, that I need to thank God for my deepest suffering. Believers who have thanked God for blindness, for prison and for quadriplegia. Unthinkable suffering that most would consider unbearable, these Christ-followers have seen as God’s gifts.
Gifts wrapped in black, but gifts nonetheless.
These heroes, George Matheson, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Joni Eareckson Tada have mentored me from afar, teaching me the value of my thorns.
Rather than summarizing their thoughts, I want to let their own words stand, as they each describe what God has done through their trials.
The first, George Matheson, was a well-known blind Scottish preacher who wrote the hymn, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” He says of his blindness:
“My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross; but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory.
“Teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbows.” (Streams in the Desert, April 8)
The second, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was a Russian writer who endured prison and forced labor camps under Joseph Stalin. It was there he became a Christian, and went on to write:
It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts…. That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!” I…have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” (The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2, 615-617)
The third, Joni Eareckson Tada, is a Christian author, speaker and ministry leader who became a quadriplegic at age 17 after a diving accident.
Most of us are able to thank God for His grace, comfort and sustaining power in a trial, but we don’t thank Him for the problem, just finding Him in it.
But many decades in a wheelchair have taught me to not segregate my Savior from the suffering he allows, as though a broken neck- or in your case, a broken ankle, heart or home- merely ‘happens’ and then God shows up after the fact to wrestle something good out of it. No, the God of the bible is bigger than that. Much bigger.
And so is the capacity of your soul. Maybe this wheelchair felt like a horrible tragedy in the beginning, but I give God thanks in my wheelchair…I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Saviour. And that’s where the joy is…
Your “wheelchair”, whatever it is, falls well within the overarching decrees of God. Your hardship and heartache come from His wise and kind hand and for that, you can be grateful. In it and for it. (Joni’s foreword to Nancy Leigh DeMoss book, Choosing Gratitude, pp. 12-13)
I thank God for these fellow believers, who have shown me how precious my pain is. In the hands of an Almighty God, my tears have made my rainbows, shown me my own depravity, and pushed me to the arms of my tender Savior.
What more could I want?