Can Anyone Really Prepare for Suffering?

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“How do you prepare for suffering?”

When I was first asked that question years ago, I was startled. I had no idea how to answer. How does anyone prepare for the unthinkable?

Personally, I have felt unprepared every time suffering has shown up on my doorstep. Even when I think it’s coming. Even when I know what to expect. Even when I’m sure it’s inevitable. Somehow it feels theoretical until it actually arrives. Or maybe I just keep hoping it will not be delivered. But when it’s finally here, it can take my breath away with its intensity.

Even as I write, I’m dealing with escalating struggles with post polio syndrome, struggles I was warned about over a decade ago. And yet I’m still surprised at how hard it is to deal with the losses.

As I struggle, I stay in the Word daily. I declare that God is trustworthy. I remember that He is in control. I remind myself of truths that sustain me every day. Truths that come straight from the Bible. Like those I have learned from Job, who has been my faithful mentor in suffering.

In one fateful day, Job lost everything. His children, his servants, his home and his livestock. And then he was afflicted with sores all over his body. No one could never have foreseen that type of loss. There was no way to prepare. Yet before disaster came near his tent, Job did things that helped him withstand his trials. And I have found those same things have helped me face my own suffering.

Most importantly, Job knew God. Before calamity came, Job feared God and talked to Him. Continually. He prayed constantly for his children. He lived his life looking to God in all circumstances.

Like Job, my relationship with God was forged years before my heartbreaking losses. I grew to know God deeply through reading the Bible and praying. Even when the Bible felt dry and boring. Even when God felt distant. And even when devotions felt like pure duty.

Over time, simply reading the Bible and asking God for wisdom taught me to hear His voice, understand His heart and know His ways. And bringing my requests to Him, telling Him my fears, and listening for His still small voice brought genuine depth to my relationship.

And when I came to the dark valleys, Job showed me what trusting in God looked like.  Job trusted God enough to lament to Him. Job declared (10:1), “I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” Yet, in the midst of his suffering and sorrow, Job continued to bless God’s name. Job could say (13:15), “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.”  Job could put his complete hope in God yet argue his case at the same time. Nothing would convince Job that God was not trustworthy.

To trust God, I have to believe that He loves me. That He has my best in mind. That He is for me. It’s easier to believe those truths when life is going well.

In the fiery furnace, God’s love seems like an abstract concept. In the furnace, I often doubt His care. My faith wavers. But then I must go back to what I know to be true from Scripture. That He lavishes His grace on me. That nothing can separate me from God’s love. That God will supply all my needs.

I know that God can fulfill all those promises because He is in complete control. Job knew that as well. From the beginning of his suffering until the end, Job never doubted the sovereignty of God. When everything was first taken away from him, Job fell to the ground and said (1:21), “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job clearly saw that everything that happened to him came from God’s hand.

At first I resisted this theology. If God was loving, He wouldn’t make me suffer. Love was defined from my perspective, not God’s. Love was about my comfort, not my character. My happiness, not my holiness.

But as I searched the Scriptures, I found an entirely different God than the one I had fashioned. I found that this God used all things to work together for good for those who loved Him. Nothing was random or haphazard or outside of His control. Even the hard things that made no sense to me had purpose. As Job says (42:2), “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

God’s purposes cannot be thwarted. Everything He has planned for me will come to pass. He will use every difficult situation for my good and His glory.

This understanding of God applies not only to major struggles but also to daily problems. It applies to broken dishwashers as well as broken relationships. To common colds and to cancer. To unexpected bills and to bankruptcy. God is using all of these things in ways that one day we will thank him for. As Joni Eareckson Tada says, “We’ll thank God endlessly in heaven for the trials He sent us here.”

It is in turning to God in our everyday struggles that we learn to trust Him. He loves us fiercely, He knows what’s best for us, and He is sovereign over our lives. He will make sure that we lack for nothing.

John Newton says, “Everything is needful that he sends. Nothing can be needful that he withholds.” This applies to ALL of life. The everyday disappointments and the life-altering losses. They are all under His control and He uses them all for our good and His glory.

So how do we prepare for suffering?

We get to know God through Scripture and through prayer. We trust Him, confident that He is sovereign over our lives. And we apply what we’ve learned. Every day. In all circumstances. In intermittent drizzle and in pouring rain. He is always with us. And He is always good.

 

  • April 21, 2016 - 6:03 pm

    Lisa - Today I read and shared your writings with two women who lives the LORD but are in the fiery furnace these days. The days are sad. I sent them you word from GOD to remind them that God is still God and He is still Sovereign. Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • April 21, 2016 - 7:27 pm

      Vaneetha - God is still God and He is still sovereign! What a wonderful truth for us all to remember in the fiery furnace.ReplyCancel

  • April 22, 2016 - 7:57 am

    Elaine - Just love this post. I stopped reading for a moment and thought of Job looking up and saying Holy Moly, how did this happen? What did I do? The how and why questions. But God loves us when the sun is shining and when rain is falling in buckets, something that took a long time for me to grasp. You are such an encourager and I pray, Vaneetha that you will always be encouraged.ReplyCancel

    • April 22, 2016 - 1:58 pm

      Vaneetha - It is hard to grasp that God loves us even when our world is falling apart – but that is when we get more of His comfort, which is an amazing gift.ReplyCancel

  • April 22, 2016 - 9:15 am

    Scott - “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

    Vaneetha, thank you for comforting me this morning with the comfort which you have received from God. I too have had escalating pain and can relate to a feeling of complete unpreparedness and dependence on God to get through it, although at times it feels as though He has turned His face away from me. Grateful that through Christ, He has not, nor will ever. Grateful for your words of comfort. Thank you again.ReplyCancel

    • April 22, 2016 - 2:00 pm

      Vaneetha - I too am grateful that He will never forsake us or turn His face away. I’m sorry for your pain and praying that God will meet you in an unmistakable way today!ReplyCancel

  • April 22, 2016 - 12:25 pm

    Trudy - Thank you for these comforting words, Vaneetha. We can find such encouraging truths in Job, can’t we? I love that Job could trust God and yet argue his case at the same time. Just this morning I read Job 23. Job looked north, south, east, and west, but He couldn’t find God. Then in verse 10, he says, “But He knows the way that I take [and He pays attention to it]. When He has tried me, I will come forth as [refined] gold [pure and luminous].”(AMP) He is right beside us, and the refining fire in all our troubles will make us more and more like Jesus. I’m so sorry you suffer so much pain, Vaneetha, and I pray God will give you grace and strength moment by moment. Hugs!ReplyCancel

    • April 22, 2016 - 2:00 pm

      Vaneetha - Love those words from Job, Trudy. Thank you for sharing them!ReplyCancel

  • April 22, 2016 - 2:34 pm

    Liz Sewell - Vaneetha, thank you again, so much. You articulate such rich truths so well. Life is hard…BUT God is GOOD, and means all for our good and His Glory if we are His…oh to ever meditate on this and for our faith stand strong in the day of suffering.ReplyCancel

    • April 22, 2016 - 2:59 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Liz. I write to remind myself of these truths as well because in the heat of the furnace, its easy to forget!ReplyCancel

  • April 23, 2016 - 12:07 pm

    Bancy - Thank you so much for sharing this. What a thought, that these difficult circumstances are actually blessings that we’ll thank God for one day. Nothing develops faith, character like testing. And we can’t really understand the depths of His love until we find it in the darkness of the storm when all else has been swept away.ReplyCancel

    • April 24, 2016 - 9:36 pm

      Vaneetha - I so agree with that! Nothing develops our faith and character like trials…ReplyCancel

  • April 27, 2016 - 7:57 pm

    Ruth - Thank you for the encouragement. We have traveled a similar path. I grew up in a Christian family. I had polio at age 3. God’s most precious gift was my mother’s faithful teaching about God’s love & soverignty. I became an RN, married, and had 6 children…all that I truly longed for was granted. When our fifth child was born with a rare syndrome & died at the age of 6 months I was to re-learn, or underline the things mother taught me. No matter how you FEEL…remember what you KNOW. God’s tender mercies became more real than they ever had been during sunny carefree days. His Word…especially from the book of Job…and the Psalms were my anchor. Experiencing deep sorrow was not ever what I would have signed up for, but experiencing God’s faithful love, mercy and sustaining strength would never be something I would regret.
    About 10 years ago I was diagnosed with Post Polio Syndrome. This was something I had heard about, but was sure I would never allow to happen. I had learned to fly over the top of my physical disabilities. After all God had given me an amazing recovery, and blessed me with strength to accomplish my goals in my career and my family for His glory, right? What a humbling, bumpy path this diagnosis has been. And yet another circumstance to experience and underline, “My grace is sufficient for you Ruth, & my plan for you is best.”
    We keep on learning about His grace, sovereignty and sufficiency…everyday.
    Thank you again for sharing and being real.
    I pray that God will send just the right people…just the right encouragement, and His measure of strength to you in His perfect time.
    Blessings,
    RuthReplyCancel

    • April 27, 2016 - 9:39 pm

      Vaneetha - Love this: “Experiencing deep sorrow was not ever what I would have signed up for, but experiencing God’s faithful love, mercy and sustaining strength would never be something I would regret.” Thanks for writing, Ruth!ReplyCancel

  • September 20, 2016 - 5:29 am

    Andy - My experience has been that suffering has prepared me for suffering. My nephew drowned when he was 12 and I watched her grief, and would often say to others that I didn’t know what I would do if something happened to any of my children. Then my younger son suffered major brain injury in 2012, when he was hit on the head by a train in London. As he lay in a coma, not expected to survive, I was challenged by the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, to trust God no matter the outcome. While he was unconscious I received word that my mother had died, suddenly and unexpectedly. But praise the Lord, He healed my son. However, 3 months after his accident my daughter collapsed with a cardiac arrest, and an ICD was implanted. Tragically this became infected with a rare bacteria, and she suffered immensely as doctors fought the infection, through a total of 49 operations over 10 months. She suffered another cardiac arrest when she was alone in February 2014, and passed into the presence of her Lord. My son’s accident enabled me to grasp the truths of God’s sovereignty, love and wisdom in our suffering, and to be better prepared for the death of my daughter. I do not understand why God chose to heal my son, and chose to take my daughter home – but I do know there is an answer.
    Thank you for your writings.ReplyCancel

    • September 21, 2016 - 2:01 pm

      Vaneetha - Andy, I honestly have no words for all you’ve been through. It sounds unspeakably hard. God’s ways are certainly mysterious and I often have more question than answers. But I love the way you ended this- “I do not understand why God chose to heal my son, and chose to take my daughter home – but I do know there is an answer.” Thank you for your faithfulness in the midst of crushing loss.ReplyCancel

  • October 26, 2016 - 8:22 pm

    Marie - I’m glad I found your blog. I have been dealing with anxiety and bouts of hopelessness for a few months now. The past few days have been really rough. I continue to cling onto God even if it feels so hard. I know He is near, but it is hard to feel His presence. Early on this journey, I tried medication and found out immediately that it was not the path for me. God has closed the door to that 3x. Right now is really tough and it saddens me to see how all of this is affecting my family and my work. Thanks for writing and for inspiring others as they go through their fiery furnaces.ReplyCancel

    • October 26, 2016 - 8:46 pm

      Vaneetha - I’m sorry things are so difficult right now, Marie. Praying as I write this that you will sense God’s presence as you walk through the fiery furnace with Jesus.ReplyCancel

  • October 26, 2016 - 8:56 pm

    Marie - Thank you, Vaneetha. I know Satan is trying to pull me down, but I also know that God never leaves or forsakes His children.ReplyCancel

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