When Suffering Feels Meaningless

The kids had gotten up earlier than usual, so I threw some French Toast on the griddle and got together our vitamins, juice and dishes. I heard branches start to drop on our roof and looked outside our back door window to see the forest of trees behind our house swaying back and forth–so much that the solid trunks appeared as flimsy as their branches. Isaiah and Hosanna were already in their booster seat and high chair, and as soon as I went to sit down, I heard an enormous cracking sound, followed by a crash that shook our entire double-wide. I screamed and Isaiah started crying. (Ten-month Hosanna seemed to hold up the best out of the three of us.)

I went to the same back door window and saw that a tree about a foot in diameter was leaning against our house, and an even bigger tree was laying in the backyard nearby.

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img_1190Though we now have a hole in our roof and a couple cracks in the office ceiling, I’ve tried to remind Isaiah of God’s protection each time he hears the wind blowing and gets scared, (and how God promises to be with us when we do get hurt).

It’s scary to talk about suffering because I want to have all the answers. When someone shares their pain with me, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. It doesn’t feel like a fair fight when my words are coming up against their real, raw pain. I have to keep the lies of empty motivational phrases from trying to wriggle their way out of my mouth, because that’s what people say when they’re trying to cover up the fact that they don’t know what to say. It’s all the world has. Either feel guilty because there are so many worse off than you, or try to believe phrases like:

You’ll get through this. You are a survivor. You are stronger than the pain.

It might even make someone feel like they are not allowed to feel the pain fully–that it would be better just to ignore it and look to the future.

But what if the future isn’t better but only delivers more pain? What about those who face injustice and persecution until their last breath?

All I know is that whether someone follows God or not, the only hope I can offer is Jesus. If I can’t receive the gift of faith to believe in His sovereignty, justice, and goodness (notice I didn’t say feel), I also probably won’t be able to cling to the hope of eternal joy with Him on the New Earth. If this life is all there is, I have no comfort to offer the hurting.

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But if, when I read His Word, my soul strives to believe and submit to not understanding the ways of the One who is Infinite and also the source of all love, I can cry and scream and pour out my emotions before Him. I can feel and not ignore. Allow myself to claw through the pain of losing someone I love. Speak the disappointment of forfeiting another night of sleep to a fussy newborn. Grieve when my child yells at his cousin, doesn’t want to share his toys, and doesn’t want to apologize. Feel weary when my husband’s responsibilities take him away from helping at home.  

As Hosanna continues to conquer new territory through her crawling, I have needed to intervene on behalf of library books and her own safety. My back and shoulders have taken on a new ache, causing memories of past chronic pain to try and make me fear that the discomfort, discouragement, and limitations are ready to take over again. That the rhythm I’ve found doing life with two Littles is going to be impossible to maintain.

What if I let the Holy Spirit use the fear as a trigger to respond to Him?

When I see my need for Jesus and that apart from Him I can do nothing,  it prepares my heart for His strength to enter into the pain. When I tell him how scared I am or how much it hurts, it opens the way for His Spirit to lead me to a response. (Here’s a great short video on this by John Piper.)

When I mentioned to my dear friend Jessie that my word for this year is surrender, she wrote back these words:

“Surrender to an enemy would be terrifying, but surrender to one who has your highest good in mind, who is the Lover of your soul? That sounds positively wonderful, the very thing our souls are longing for, but often don’t admit. To just let go and be loved. To open our hands and receive.”

Letting Go

When I’m not trying to control my life so much that any pain becomes a bitterness-producing interruption, I can receive the way God wants to use it in my life. Maybe He wants me to leave my plans behind and walk with Him into something totally different. Maybe He wants to comfort me with a promise I’ve never had to set my heart on before.

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When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, there was no mistaking His power. When He brought water from a rock and bread from heaven, there was no mistaking His provision. But before each of those things, He allowed suffering. Slavery. Hunger. Thirst. Fear.  

I recently worked through a Bible study on 1 Peter where I asked the Lord to show me what He has done in my life through allowing suffering. This is what He brought to mind:

  • A deeper knowledge of God’s care and faithfulness
  • Seeing my need to depend on Him more clearly
  • A longing for heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • Freedom from the perspectives of this world by growing in obedience and purity. (Hebrews 5:7-8)
  • Deliverance from the temptation to be prideful in what I can accomplish or perform. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
  • The chance to comfort others with the comfort I have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)

Suffering as Ministry

1 Peter 3:15 is often quoted when talking about evangelism, but I’d never taken time to really look at the context:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

What if God chose to draw others to Himself as they saw my faith in suffering?

What if they were reminded of Jesus’ example of submission through suffering when they saw me suffering unjustly?

What if I talked through my own suffering with others rather than trying to give all the answers to their pain?

What if I was able to speak about the benefits I’ve experienced because of suffering, even as I expressed my current pain honestly with others? (Rather than simply depending on inspirational phrases that decorate my living room walls or web images that pop onto people’s Facebook feed to do the job.)

When God brought the plagues and split the sea, one of the reasons He did it was that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 7, 13) The Egyptians did, and some even joined the Israelites, leaving their security behind to follow a God of glory and power.

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God is not afraid to use suffering to draw people’s hearts to Himself, because fellowship with Him is always better than escaping painful circumstances.

He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, and has made a way for us to know Him through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Will we speak that hope to ourselves and others when they ask?

What benefits has God allowed you to see as He’s worked for your good in suffering?

What anxiety is He longing for you to cast on Him?

What promise is He inviting you to grab onto today?

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5 thoughts on “When Suffering Feels Meaningless

  1. So sorry about your roof!! Will be praying for you and your family during this time! Thank you for your words of encouragement! Suffering is a challenge, will also be praying for your neck and shoulders!

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  2. Alicia, I read your report of suffering in the context of four days of suffering from a viral respiratory infection. I have seldom if ever, felt this so helpless. I went to my physician yesterday and am being helped by his medical intervention.

    Your report was a robust source of encouragement.

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  3. Alicia, I am so proud of you! That was beautifully written. I know the Lord is beaming with pride as He looks on your beautiful heart for Him! Thank you for sharing what you wrote. It was very encouraging and challenging to me. The Lord is in the process of teaching me some of the very things about suffering. I was reminded recently of the story of the Exodus out of Egypt as one to study to learn more about suffering. It is a God-thing that the Lord led me to read your article today. I love and miss you!

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    1. So good to hear from you, Hannah! I’m so grateful to be able to have a place to share what I’m learning and be encouraged by others learning the same things. 🙂 Love and hugs from Delaware.

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