Here’s the straight truth.
There’s no way for anyone on this planet to go through life without going through suffering.
I wish there was.
But there is not.
Though knowing that suffering is a part of life and that it’s coming can actually help. Because part of the problem of suffering is that so many people are surprised when it happens.
A silly example: the other day, my friend invited me to go trail running on a course I’d never been on. I asked him, “Are there any hills?”
My buddy paused and said “No.”
The next day, we started out on this trail, and I am telling you, it was murder. So difficult. At the end of the run, I turned to my buddy. “I thought you said there were no hills, man,” I said, feeling deeply betrayed. “Why you trying to trick me?”
“I didn’t say that!” he exclaimed.
“I asked you yesterday if there were hills,” I said.
“Oh!” he said. “I thought you said, ‘Are there any wheels?’ I thought you meant mountain bikes or something.”
I’m still a little mad about that one.
“Are there any wheels?” Who would ask it like that?
The point is because I thought the course was flat, I was dismayed and even felt a little betrayed by my friend. “You could have warned me,” I thought to myself. “I would have brought more water.”
The next time we ran it, I was prepared. And you know what — it really wasn’t so bad that time.
In a small way, that’s what life is like. So here are some ways to prepare yourself so that when the storms of life come — and they will come — you’ll be a little more ready.
It won’t be easier, really. But at least you’ll know what to do.
NOT IF, BUT WHEN
As I said earlier, it’s not an issue of if suffering and bad things will happen to you, but when. I wish this were not so, but one of the surest truths of life is that suffering will happen to you. Jesus even says at one point to His followers,
In this world you will have trouble. — John 16:33
In fact, if you love anyone or anything a great deal, there’s a good chance you will suffer quite a bit. As the famous author C. S. Lewis once wrote:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.1
NOT WHY, BUT WHAT
My friends who have been around a great deal of suffering tell me that the most common question people ask after experiencing a great loss is “Why?” As in, “Why did this happen?” or even “Why did God let this happen?” This is the question we want to ask first, and it’s actually the question least likely to be answered.
You’re probably never going to know why. And even if you got the answer, it wouldn’t help.
Instead, ask God the question “What?”
God, what are you up to here?
God, what are you doing in my life?
What — if anything — is my role in this? (There are times we suffer because of our own choices. Be careful not to slip into false guilt, though, because sometimes suffering has literally nothing to do with us.)
Another thought. If God actually explained why He allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains. My daughter, when she was younger, often would cry when her mother or I didn’t let her do something she wanted to do. She didn’t understand why we didn’t let her, for example, play with the sharp knives we emptied from the dishwasher. She was too little. But we would pick her up and hug her and let her know we loved her, even if we wouldn’t let her play with the knives. She might not understand the why, but she could understand that we loved her. And that’s what she needed the most.
I can’t understand all of what God is up to, but I know He loves me. I know He loves you. Jesus on the Cross proves it.
NOT AROUND, BUT THROUGH
We almost always want to do whatever it takes to avoid pain. We try to numb it, or distract ourselves, or get away from it. It’s natural. It’s what we do. But this is not how to deal with suffering. In fact, this is like if you have a gaping cut on your leg and you walk around pretending you don’t have a serious wound. You actually make it worse. There’s no way around the pain. We can’t pretend our way out of it. We have to go right through the painful valley. But there is good news. The good news is that this is where God is. He promises to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He walks with us.
NOT EVIL, BUT GOOD
In the midst of suffering, we have two tendencies that will paralyze us. The first is the tendency to believe that everything is ruined. When suffering happens, we think, “Things will never be the same, and everything is wrecked.” That’s almost never true. How many times in the Bible does God take a situation that seems helpless or hopeless and make a way out of it? God does this all the time.
One of God’s great superpowers is to write stories with surprise endings, where bad things come undone.
The second tendency is to believe that because this bad thing happened, it means God is bad. Or maybe not bad, but definitely mean. But God didn’t create the world with evil in it. That’s the result of mankind turning away. But even though there is suffering, God doesn’t turn away. In fact, if the Bible is to be believed, God rushes in to help us.
As the theologian John Stott once wrote, “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”2 So we must resist the temptation to believe that because the world is bad, God is bad.
Jesus proves otherwise.
COACH PEP TALK
One of the toughest parts about suffering is believing something good can come out of that season. This is where it’s important to remember and pay attention to your life. Think about your past struggles and how good things eventually came out of those hard times. This can give you hope that if it turned around before, God can do the same thing again.
What I went through
When I went through it
Something that came from it in my life
- C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960), 169.
- John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 326.
Excerpted with permission from Straight Up by Trent Shelton, copyright Trent Shelton.
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Consider the pep talk above. God’s people remember when He’s come through for us. We build memorials, altars, and sing songs. Let’s do that in our personal lives, too. What have you been through? What good came from it? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily