A few years ago, a series of circumstances and life choices incited a prolonged season of shock, grief and pain in places so deep I didn’t even know they existed. Embarrassed, confused and utterly devastated, I struggled to regain my equilibrium and adapt to losses that made no sense and caused me to question everything that was once certain.
Seasons of suffering are incredibly difficult to engage, yet they are part of our common human experience. At some point, we each will face something that takes us to the end of ourselves and offers the opportunity to be hardened, consumed or swallowed by hurt. What good could possibly come from pain this profound? How could losses this immense ever be settled? Where is there room for hope, let alone wholeness?
Suffering well doesn’t mean the season wraps up quickly, nor does it mean we’ll never think about it again. We may always wish certain things didn’t happen, and that is OK. What it does mean is sitting in the tension between the realities of pain and of God’s constant goodness. It also means experiencing fruit in a few poignant and personal ways. Reflecting on my journey, here are four ways I have gratefully experienced growth through suffering:
Suffering Pushes Us Closer to Christ
My friend Christine Wyrtzen says, “Suffering the loss of valid dreams is an opportunity to gain Christ.” She’s right. To not suffer would be to not know Christ and thereby not fully know the Father.
Scripture says Jesus was despised, rejected and acquainted with sorrow and grief (Isaiah 53:3). The perfect son didn’t get what He deserved. He wrestled in gethsemane, begging for the cup of suffering to pass from Him (Matthew 26:39), surrendering to what the Father allowed and modeling obedience.
Jesus showed up to the gravesite of his friend, Lazarus and, fully knowing the miracle that would come, took time to grieve—to physically respond in sadness—alongside Mary and Martha (John 11). He is the only one to experience the epitome of rejection when, on the cross, He saw His father’s back because of our sin.
Jesus is the only one who will ever cry, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) He is a man who was “tempted in every way” and can sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15).
Suffering is not inherently wrong. Jesus knew it to the extreme. Rather, it is an opportunity to know Christ’s desire to relate to our brokenness, to grieve with us, and to fortify us with priceless wisdom, strength and friendship. It’s a chance to deeply know that He “gets” us.
Suffering Welcomes Us into Community
Many people think suffering is a solitary experience, but in actuality, suffering confronts autonomy. First, because it pushes us to cling to God and grow in friendship with Him. Second, because if we’re willing to be open about what we’re experiencing, we can grow in friendship with those around us.
Suffering opens the door to real conversations, sharing pain and growing in trust. It lets those in our orbit listen to the call of the Lord and obediently offer us the gift of presence or a comforting word. And after we make it through a season of suffering, we will have the chance to be there for someone else who is hurting. Suffering always draws out our need for community, calls us to grow in humbly giving and receiving, and then lets us share our story with someone else.
Suffering Forces Us to Examine Where Our Priorities Lie
Each of us have a call on our life that is rooted in the mission and glory of God’s Kingdom. Suffering shines a light on our crippling need for control and begs us to surrender. It draws us to know who we are by knowing whose we are. It begs us to build rhythmic, sustainable, daily processes of knowing Christ into our lives. It establishes us as worshippers who, when faced with future disappointments, can remember what He has already done for us and what He is calling us to.
Suffering breaks us open so we can joyfully pray, “Whatever you want for me is what I choose.”
Suffering Draws Us to Wonder at the Redemption That Is Coming
Suffering was the perfect Christ’s currency for sin and the way He tore the veil for us to go directly to God. It was His path to redeeming the world. Walking through dark valleys reminds us that He makes a way where there isn’t one (Isaiah 42:16) and that He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Most gloriously, suffering reminds us that He is fully seated on the throne (Hebrews 8:1) and coming very soon (Revelation 22:7). Walking through dark places will grow our imaginations and our excitement for the grace that is waiting to envelop us in heaven. Suffering is a meaningful way through life, because redemption came and will come again for us.