As I sit down to write this I have just received news that one of my dear friends from my time while serving in Uganda, his brother has been brutally murdered by thieves that broke into his home in Kenya. His wife is in the hospital fighting for her life as she was also a victim of this attack and most likely will not be able to attend her husband’s funeral.
Currently my Grandmother is in her final stages of life as she struggles to fight the battle against dementia. Hospice says she won’t make it to her 89th birthday which is just a few weeks away.
Some very dear friends of mine struggle with infertility and walk through the pain each month of the disappointment of longing for a child of their own yet not being able to conceive one.
Another dear family friend this week has just received the news that her father who has always appeared to be such a strong and healthy man has just begun his journey and battle to fight liver cancer.
One thing I have come to realize is that suffering is inevitable. Somewhere, somehow, some way along our journey in life upon this earth we will unfortunately encounter some degree of suffering.
Suffering for some of us will make us a little uncomfortable but for others it will stop us in our tracks… take our breath away…knock the wind right out of our sails…having the potential of bringing us to a place of complete devastation and hopelessness.
Whether you are in a place of complete brokenness or just in a place of being made a little uncomfortable due to suffering I would like to share with you some nuggets of truth God has shown me as he has carried me through my own recent season of suffering when my high school sweetheart and husband of 22 years of marriage decided he was done with the marriage, left, and in leaving tried his best to destroy me.
Why does suffering seem to always take us by surprise?
John 16:33 – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.
James 1:2 – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
“You will have trouble…” “Whenever you face trials…” These phrases tell us not that we might experience suffering but that we should expect it.
If we should expect these trials, difficult days, hard times then we should not be surprised by them and should even prepare for them.
As I have weathered my own storm this past year, here are some truths I’ve learned:
First and foremost our foundation in which we are building our life upon is so important.
We need to ask ourselves the question, “How firm is the foundation that I am building my life upon? or “Upon which foundation am I building on?”
Are you building your life’s foundation on the truth found in God’s word or are you building it upon the lies and false comforts of this world?
As a kid I use to sing this song, maybe you did too, that goes something like this:
“Don’t build your house on the sandy land, don’t build it too near the shore. Well it might be kind of nice but you’ll have to build it twice. Oh you’ll have to build your house once more.
You better build your house upon a rock. Make a good foundation on a solid spot. Oh the storms may come and go, but the peace of God you will know.”
Now as a kid this song was nothing more than simple words being sung from a child’s heart at the top of her lungs, as I danced around in our church fellowship hall where children’s church was held on Sunday mornings, but now as an adult and maybe a little wiser, they hold great truth and bring great peace as I reflect upon my own life’s foundation in which I build.
Another childhood memory is the classic story my mother use to read to me of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. Three little pigs left their mother’s house to build a house of their own. The first little pig built his home of straw because he found that it was light and easy to work with. The second pig tired of walking chose sticks as he thought they were thin and easier to work with. The third little pig decided he would build his house with bricks as he felt it would be a sturdy home that could whether any kind of difficult situation or circumstance.
The big bad wolf comes and destroys the first little pigs home and then goes and destroys the second little pigs home but when he came to the third little pig's home…. well you know the end of the story, the big bad wolf was unable to destroy the home of the third little pig due to the material the third little pig chose to build his home from.
Now as a child I honestly wasn’t thinking about the importance of considering good solid material when building a foundation and a house. I was mainly thinking are these little pigs going to be able to escape danger and be safe from this big bad scary wolf.
In scripture we read in I Peter that we have an enemy just like these three little pigs had an enemy and that we need to be alert and on guard because our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us.
Whether it be our enemy in human form, a devastating diagnosis, loss of a loved one, family crisis, divorce…our foundation will be key in how we come through these great storms in life to see the other side.
I think often what we do instead of considering the foundation that we are building upon is we look for an easy path to take, ways of how we might keep ourselves safe and avoid these storms all together in life instead of preparing for them as we build upon a solid foundation, looking to God and his word, the one who is peace and offers great comfort, strength and peace in the midst of the storms of life.
Isaiah 26:3 says “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.”
John 14:27 says “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.”
Psalms 119:165 – “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing causes them to stumble.”
Isaiah 9:6-7 – “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end,…”
Romans 8:6 – “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
Do you see a pattern here in scripture? He is our peace and a PEACE like no other!
What are you building your life’s foundation on? Are you building upon what the world has to offer as peace and stability, or on the One who is the Prince of Peace? The one who provides strength, peace, comfort and even joy in the midst of the most difficult storms in our lives.
The storms in our life will always expose the foundation.
Build your foundation upon the solid rock of God and the truth of his word. Begin the habit of hiding his word in your heart so that when the storms come, your foundation might be shaken but will not crumble nor will it be destroyed.
If you are in the midst of the storm I would encourage you to lean into Jesus. It’s in the shelter of his wings that you will find his peace that passes all understanding. If you are not in a season of suffering it might be that you’ve just come through a difficult season or about to head into one. Think now how you might strengthen your foundation by grounding yourself in the word of God and learning to recognize his voice as oppose to the voice of your enemy satan.
The second little nugget of truth I have come to realize is that PERSPECTIVE is key.
I know for most of us, we would love to live in a perfect world shielded from all pain, suffering and heartache but unfortunately this is just not possible in the world we live in. We can’t avoid suffering however we can choose the manner in which we walk the path of suffering and that is where I believe perspective plays a big role.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
In your own seasons of suffering how have you approached them? Do you say “Why me God…why does everything bad happen to me?” or “Why me God…what is it that you want to do in me and through me in the midst of this storm?”
I remember praying often during those long drives into work through the tears and confusion, “I am not sure what will happen but God may my story somehow, in some way bring you glory.”
Romans 5:3-5 – “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Oh how these words from God through the apostle Paul have rung so true in the depths of my heart. The storms I have walked through, although not pleasant, have changed me and shaped me for the better, making me who I am today.
I have had the privilege of traveling to and even living in a few third world countries. I have lived 15 years in East Africa, in the countries of Kenya and Uganda. It is interesting to me how my perspective on suffering has changed over my years of living and experiencing life in East Africa. God has used my experiences to shape and change my perspective on suffering and on life in general.
When I first arrived in Africa there were so many new sights to take in that it felt a bit overwhelming. It was hot and dirty. Seeing all the barefooted children running around with filthy tattered clothing that barely covered half their bodies. The African sun beating down on them and all the flies feasting on the puss oozing from their open wounds that plagued their frail bodies.
I arrived with a savior mentality. I wanted somehow to rescue them from what appeared to me as great suffering. Twenty dollars would go such a long ways and I wanted to help them all. Yet the more I lived amongst the African people I began to realize what I initially saw as suffering for them was just a normal way of life there. Running around barefoot was what they knew their whole life from the time they took their first steps. Offering them a pair of shoes only irritated their skin rubbing blisters and causing even more open wounds. Don’t misunderstand, helping them by educating them with important hygiene habits of cleaning their wounds with salt water and covering them to prevent the flies from feasting on them bringing more infection was important, but I would never be able to protect them from the hot African sun beating down on them nor from the long walks barefoot to collect their daily need of water for bathing, cleaning, cooking or drinking, in which they would first have to boil to kill the parasites and then allow to cool before quenching their thirst. These were just normal daily routine tasks each day.
Their lack of what I felt to be essential made them stronger and more appreciative of the finer things in life like the gift of everyday and the beauty of community through family and friends. They turned more to God to provide for them their daily food and ate with a deeper appreciation of his provision in their lives. They looked more to him to be their healer and embraced each day as a gift instead of an entitlement to life and health.
Then I think of how in our own lives of my family and friends here in America how God has used the storms and struggles in our lives, although different but very real, to bring growth, develop perseverance, a strong character and an overall deeper appreciation for the simple things in life.
A journal entry from my dear friend I mentioned earlier whose dad has recently been diagnosed with cancer:
“Dad and our oldest child spent an evening together last night at the Ribfest. That is a gift that no one or cancer can take away. They will have that time and memories to speak of forever. If dad didn’t have cancer, that special night may not have happened. Those are the gifts we treasure and appreciate with what has been handed to dad. My parents would not be spending every two weeks with us if he did not have cancer. That is a gift. Dad wouldn’t be shooting targets with his grandkids and son in law almost every night if he didn’t have cancer. These are gifts in the midst of total yuck! And we look to these moments to keep us uplifted and going. We pray for clearing of the multiple liver lesions as we move towards his scan. We pray no lesions in his lungs or abdomen/pelvis and we pray for more memories. Dad is feeling good and for that we are again, thankful.”
This reflection is such a beautiful picture of how perspective has the potential to change so much in the midst of our storms in life.
“We can’t always choose the path in life but we can choose the manner in which we walk it.” – John Oleary
One more nugget of truth I would like to share with you, yet it’s definitely not the last one I’ve gained as I have walked through some pretty hard days is this…I have a choice… you have a choice… we have a choice in how we walk through each new day God gives us. There are days I will say, “One moment at a time Lord I choose to trust you as today seems to be too much to take on.” Moment by moment of that trust turned into day by day and I am learning the secret of choosing to lean into Jesus and trust him and his presence in my life each day.
I’ve learned that I can choose to have a grateful heart and operate from a spirit of thanksgiving or I could choose to be negative and operate from a spirit of bitterness, self-pity and un-forgiveness. Practicing the discipline of a grateful heart and choosing to see all the things throughout my day to be thankful for instead of dwelling on all the things that were hard and not making sense, on the things that were going wrong and seemed so overwhelming made so much of a difference in how I walked through each day.
As I began writing this piece on suffering my Grandmother was in her last days of her life on this earth and now is in the presence of her Savior. I will miss her most definitely but am grateful for the hope we have in Christ that this earth is not our home that we are only passing through.
Just days before my grandmother passed away a precious friend and counselor of mine who helped me through some pretty hard days in this most recent storm in my life, suffered from a stroke and due to complications and internal bleeding she also passed away and is now in the presence of her Lord and Savior. Both of their services were this past week.
The day before my counselor’s funeral and four days before my grandmother’s service, my sister’s father in law also passed and they will have his service this coming weekend.
I received news yesterday that my brother in law was rushed to the ER due to a heart attack and blood clot on his lungs and has been resuscitated 8 times and is in critical condition in ICU.
Yes suffering in this life is inevitable. We see it all around us every day. We can’t escape it but we can learn the secret of the manner in which we walk through it.
“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning to dance in the rain.”
– Vivian Green