Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering. Or, should I say, recently God’s been forcing me to think about suffering.
On Sunday Jared (our High School pastor) spoke on suffering and showed this video from Matt Chandler. For those of you who don’t know Matt Chandler’s story, he is the 35 year old pastor of The Village Church in Texas and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last November. The video was an update to his church right before a 7-hour surgery to remove the tumor in early December. At one point in the video he says,
“There’s this part of me that’s so grateful that the Lord counted me worthy for this. And there’s this part of me that goes, ‘Okay, because now, in an area where it’s not a big win, I get to show that He’s enough. I get to praise Him, and exalt Him, and make much of Him in this’…
…So know that, man, we’ve cried our tears at my house. I’ve held my children and I’ve kissed them and I’ve kissed my wife. What I would love is to be a 70 year old man drinking coffee, I would love to walk my daughter down the aisle, I’d love to see my boy turn into the athlete I never was. I mean I would love to do all of that. But none of those things is better than Him. None of those things. And I’m saying that NOW. I’m saying that right NOW. Not as the guy who has everything, who has nothing in front of him that he could lose. But I’m telling you that now as a guy who could lose everything in an instant.”
The video hit me pretty hard as I sat there wondering if I could accept such foreboding providence from God and count it all joy, even viewing it as God counting me worthy to suffer. I thought of the silly things that seem to be trials to me right now — my friends live a half a state away, I have a hard time keeping track of my budget, my pants fit tighter than I’d like them to since I moved up here to Santa Cruz, I’ve yet to meet the love of my life. These things are largely self inflicted and all very small in comparison to a husband dying of a brain tumor, the sudden death of a child, the betrayal of a cheating spouse. I realized all my trials have an end. They aren’t the final word. That got me thinking about the way I interact with God in them — my temptation is to ask Him to just change my circumstances & give me what I want. If He won’t, I get upset and distrust His love.
So what would I do if He suddenly took my husband away to a brain tumor when we had 2 small kids at home and it seemed our lives were just getting started? That’s the final word. There’s no changing that circumstance. Would I trust His providence? Would I say He is better? Would I feel honored to be counted worthy of such suffering?
Or would I run from Him? Would I withdraw from Him, not wanting His comfort in such adverse circumstances because I know He could have done something to stop it? Would I make Him the enemy?
I can say that I am 100% confident that God would give me the grace to endure it. I know I wouldn’t lose my faith or totally walk away because He is faithful even when we are faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). And I know from experience that when the storm hits, somehow God upholds you, He sustains you, and sometimes the hardest trials feel very easy because of His grace.
But, from where I sit now, I feel humbled to know that I can barely accept the trials I do face with joy and gratitude from the Lord…and they can’t even be compared with the types of trials some people have to endure.
So on Sunday I realized I need to re-approach the way I approach trials. I’ve prayed to be one of whom the world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:38) and yet, instead of seeing that God has seen fit to count me worthy to face trials & honored that He hasn’t given me everything I want in this world, I have questioned Him, doubted him, and run away from Him as He was answering my very request!
That was Sunday.
On Monday night, I got a migraine headache. These aren’t uncommon for me, so as I sat at my sister’s house waiting to eat dinner, I decided it would be better for me to just go to my parents house and lay down for a bit before driving home to Santa Cruz. When I got home, my dear mother (who was born to be a mother — the woman oozes love and compassion and care) gave me pain-killing lotion, rubbed my feet and my back, kept heating and re-heating an eye mask for me to put on my forehead, and sat by my side in a dark room until my headache went away.
After I had been feeling better for a bit, I started getting on my way to drive home. My mom told me I should think about staying there…but the thought of waking up at 6 to be at work by 9 the next morning made me want to keel over and die, so I continued on with my intended course of action.
That’s when Papa C stepped in.
Now I can honestly only remember 4 other times since I graduated college that Papa C has told me what to do. He has given me a lot of wise counsel and advice, but generally he leaves the decision in my hands. The man uses his trump cards very sparingly which gives them a lot more power when he does use them. So when Papa C said, “Lizzy B you shouldn’t drive back tonight. If you need to wake up early or go to work late, it’s better to do that than to push yourself tonight,” I started washing my face and getting ready for bed. It wasn’t even a discussion at that point. When the man speaks, I listen. I can’t think of a time when my dad ordered me to do something when he didn’t have my best interest in mind.
- Exhibit A: After I graduated college, I moved home to be with my fam and to help my dad whose health was declining at the time. I took a job at a church and worked as a receptionist/admin assistant. My dad could tell I was miserable. I loved leading small groups, but the rest of it was not exactly my cup of tea. So my dad stepped in. He saw that I loved counseling, loved small groups and loved people, so he told me that — while he loved having me home and appreciated my love for him — I needed to consider moving back down to Santa Clarita, getting my MABC, and applying to be an RD because he knew that’s where I was gifted. His encouragement quite literally gave me the courage to do each of those things. He promised to be a safety net for me, so I set out on my own. I would have never done it had he not given me the courage to.
- Exhibit B: The fall after I graduated college, my dad stepped in in a certain relationship I was trapped in at the time – trapped by my own desire – but trapped. We were just friends and I couldn’t reason myself out of it. Wouldn’t that break up the unity of the Body? Wasn’t I called to love him above myself and consider his interests and not just my own? It seemed so wrong to tell a friend I couldn’t be friends — after all, we were brother and sister in Christ, right? But Papa C walked in a freed me by putting the kabosh on things. I was incredibly grateful to obey God by having to submit to my dad in that. He freed me by making that decision for me. It was the excuse I needed to finally walk away.
- Exhibit C: There came a time in my post-college years when I was struggling with legalism vs. gospel. I was struggling to teach and pour out to the girls in my dorm while I simultaneously retrained my mind in my understanding of God’s Word and the Gospel. When my dad’s best friend – a man he deeply respects – from college moved to Santa Clarita to pastor a church, my dad asked if I would think about going there. After a year of serious struggle and evaluation at my church, I didn’t feel free to leave. Then after my parents and I went out to lunch with the pastor & his wife at the end of the school year, we drove away and my dad said, “You need to go to that church.” In my heart, that’s what I really wanted to do but felt as though I’d be giving up too easily. He said, “Lizzy, you so are young and you can get turned around so easily, especially when you are having to teach and pour yourself out. I can see it’s just too much for you to process and teach simultaneously and I want you to be somewhere where you can just trust what you are being taught. And here you have a chance to be under a pastor who knows you personally and already loves & cares for you.” Once again, my dad freed me in my decision to go to a church that was a better fit and support for me at the time.
- Exhibit D: I can remember very clearly sitting on the over sized chair in my parents’ family room as I told my mom, “I will bet you $100,000 that I will not end up with Ricardo* someday.” My dad began to ask me why. He said, “Now wait, Lizzy. Why would you say something like that?” To which I countered a laundry list of reasons why Ricardo was not the man of my dreams. The longer I talked the more my dad liked him (I know this, because my dad said so after my diatribe ended). Then my dad said, “Lizzy. All I know is you are a very unique young lady. Both spiritually and in personality. And you are going to need a very unique young man. And Ricardo is the only young man I know who I think is worthy of you.” It was only because my dad said this that I took it seriously. So I began to pray that God would change my heart and help me see why I was so opposed to Ricardo. And in the process God did a lot of things in me. He exposed my pride, my fear, my unrealistic expectations of men & relationships, my desire for approval and accolades from others, and what I truly valued. God bent my heart during that season, but my heart very much needed bending. Although things didn’t work out with Ricardo, it all worked out perfectly according to God’s plan because He changed me in the process (not to mention I should have a hefty $100,000 check coming my way).
So, when my dad told me to stay home, I did. Because I implicitly trusted that he was looking out for my best interest, just as he always does.
I thought of how this circumstance could be misconstrued depending on your perspective. If I only told you my dad told me I had to stay home Monday night, he could look like a very mean, strict, and uncaring father. “Doesn’t he care that you would have to wake up at 6 am to get home the next day? Doesn’t he know you are a grown woman and free to make your own choices? How can he be so controlling?” you might ask. And you would be right on some points if you didn’t have all the information.
But, if you knew my dad the way I know my dad and how he continually sacrifices, serves, and loves me to his own hurt, you would interpret it much differently. And if you knew he has kept my room just the way I left it since I moved out 4 years ago so I had a beautiful room with a queen bed covered in italian sateen bedding to sleep on that night, you might not think he was quite so cruel. And if you knew he makes sure I have a steady backup supply of contact solution and face wash and jammies and everything I could possibly need to stay the night at my parents house so that staying the night was no trouble at all, then you might think he wasn’t just trying to make my life uncomfortable. And if you knew he was concerned about my safety in driving home after having a migraine headache, you might even think of him as wise instead of mean.
And that’s the difference perspective makes in our suffering.
Sometimes when we suffer, it’s not quite so easy to see why God is allowing something in our lives. But we have to convince ourselves by the grace of God, from Scripture and from our own experience of God’s grace upon grace, that God is up to something good. Whether it’s to kill our pride, or to make us more like Christ, or to magnify Him to others around us in our response, or to enable us to comfort others as they suffer, or to draw us closer to Himself and give us greater trust in His love and promises, it’s always necessary. He never inflicts pain on His children arbitrarily. And if He does inflict pain, He also gives the grace to endure it and strength to sustain us. He is a very present help and refuge. He will carry us. He will not drop us.
That was Monday.
I’ll blog another day on what happened Wednesday. That’s when the other shoe dropped.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the innocent.