I’ve read the entire book of Job in one sitting twice in my life.
The first was on a plane. A window seat in an aisle to myself was the setting for my anguish and my desperate reading.
I was pregnant.
But not for long. The day before I’d been told that my hormones would not sustain the pregnancy and that I would lose this child.
It would be my second miscarriage.
Such weighty knowledge to carry, the child that made me nauseous, gave me silly girl laughter, and started me tentatively dreaming of baby clothes again, would not live.
I would spend the next two days in a training session, in another town, with no one close enough to share my suffering.
I would eventually miscarry after returning home. On my birthday.
I was suffering.
Eight years later.
We now had three children. Our third was diagnosed with a degenerative rare disease and was expected to live another ten years, all the while losing the skills he had learned. His innocent laughter just made the realization even more unbelievable.
I wasn’t sure how to go on.
I wasn’t sure how to even get out of bed, much less function.
Every night was filled with tears and every day with a pretense of normalcy, if only for my children.
Only God’s hope kept me alive. Let’s be very honest here.
I read Job while he played, laughing, in the room with me. He had no idea that he was slowly dying while each piece of cellular waste continued to build up in his body.
Job reminded me that it could be worse. And for a long time, that realization was one of the few things I could cling to.
But five years further down the road, reflecting on suffering as part of Jennie Allen’s Restless Bible Study this week, brings me to several conclusions about suffering.
1. Suffering is universal
In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.
I struggle to name anyone in my inner circle who has not suffered or is not currently in a place of suffering. From cancer to loss of a child, from infertility to divorce, everyone I know has felt suffering in their life. Probably those in your circle have as well.
To the extent you think they haven’t, I pretty much attribute it to their youth (let’s hope the young don’t have to endure too much suffering, although I know many who do), or their discretion. We don’t know everyone’s suffering, as we shouldn’t.
2. Suffering is individual
So if your next thought is, “But my or her suffering is so much greater than _____’s, if they have any at all…,” we should remember that suffering is unique in all of us. The same set of events causes different reactions, feelings, and transformations in each of us. So therefore, how we suffer, and how we change as a result, is very individual.
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5. The path of our individual suffering may weave and turn and double back in the course of bringing us to perseverance, character, and hope.
And not only that, but it creates in us an ability to minister to others in the same affliction, whether that is what some consider “great” or relatively “minor” suffering – it is all purposeful and comforting to others to share their grief and sorrow with those who have walked the same path.
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 Cor. 1:3-4.
3. Suffering is relative
The suffering I felt 14 years ago, sitting on that plane, felt like more than I could bear. No one wants the foreknowledge of death, much less of the child inside you. I also carried the weight of the possibility of never bearing children. For a young wife, that felt like a heavy loss.
That weight would grow with even two more miscarriages after that one.
But only that suffering could serve as a buffer when I was told our child would likely die young.
That suffering had to withstand the knowledge that this child could have never come into being were it not for the relieved suffering of bearing these three children.
Suffering – yes. But suffering smack dab in the heart of abundant blessing?
How could I not see that I was still blessed? God had poured out these children to me and in their dedications, I had pledged them to the Lord. Was I really to question His purpose for my child’s life? Or my life through the course of it?
Hard questions to work through. It doesn’t happen in a day, that’s for sure.
Suffering is never relative to the suffering of others, but instead, within the course of our own lives. Within our personal history, within our future to come. Within the blessings that have already come.
Suffering will continue.
But so will hope.
And not to be a spoiler, but….
Is suffering or hope winning in your life right now? What is it teaching you?