It is a strange thing to feel thankful for some of the things we gain through suffering, even while wishing we didn’t have to suffer.
I was sitting in Bible study this morning with some lovely ladies, and it occurred to me that I have a new understanding and empathy for those who have suffered poor health. Up until a couple of years ago, and even a couple of weeks ago, hospitals for me were a lovely little vacation spot where I got to have pain-eliminating drugs, a team of professionals doting on me, my husband at my beck and call, anything I wanted from the cafeteria menu, and a darling baby to take home at the end.
Now I understand how it feels to dread going to a hospital. I understand what it feels like to have a body that can’t do even the most basic tasks around the house, even if I want it to. I understand what it feels like to have to undergo unpleasant medical procedures with no “payoff” other than the hope of being restored to a normal state of health. (Which is obviously a good thing, but not the same euphoric feeling of the “payoff” of bringing a snuggly new life into the world.)
These are not things I ever wanted to understand, but now that they’ve happened, I feel a new tenderness inside — a new ability to understand and weep with those who have experienced something similar. I have a new understanding of how God comforts and gives peace. And I’m thankful for this.
A friend of mine once shared with me some of the painful, shame-filled parts of her childhood and young adult years. She was speaking in past tense, because she has met Jesus and he has transformed her life, but the questions are still fresh: “Where was God during those times? Why did he allow them?” And though we likely won’t get an answer that fully satisfies our human minds in this life, she is able to see some of the exquisite beauty that God is bringing from even the darkest of times. Her heart is tender toward women who are still lost in the darkness, and her suffering has actually been transformed into a light that can shine there. Because God did not leave her there; she is a living testimony that his mighty love overcomes. Her particular suffering allows her to shine in places where other people cannot shine and love in ways other people cannot love — just as I can shine in places of pain and suffering where her experience has not taken her.
Both of us, as daughters of God, have been given new opportunities to glorify him because of our suffering. And how can we not be thankful for that? God does not waste our suffering.
Other gifts God has given me through this:
The humility to receive help. And oh how thankful I am for the help that came! Two particular ladies spent many hours at our house playing with the kids and doing chores, while I sat by and watched. It was hard to sit by and watch while someone else managed my house, but it was even harder to get up and move around. So receiving the help was a huge gift.
Love experienced. I know in my mind that we have friends and family who love us, but in suffering we actually got to experience the reality of that love. Meals made and shared, cards written and sent, flowers received, prayers and hugs, calls to let us know we were being thought of. Love becomes more real in action, and receiving it is a gift.
My husband’s faithfulness. It’s easy to make the vow “through thick and thin, in sickness and health” but hard to live that out. But Kerry did. He cheerfully and faithfully worked all day before coming home and working all evening. He encouraged me to rest and never made me feel guilty for it. He was tender in his care of me, and attentive. I know it’s hard to pour out for a long time without a break, and hard to serve without resentment. Now Kerry’s love in hard times isn’t just a theory, it’s been demonstrated. Now I have the experience of my husband’s love and faithfulness.
These aren’t gifts I would ever put on my wish list, but I understand people who say they wouldn’t change their suffering because of what God has given them through it.