The last few days it seems that God is trying to tell me something. I can be somewhat of a blockhead when it comes to knowing if God is speaking to me or if what I am hearing is my own thoughts echoing inside my head. I’ve been known to be oblivious to something in my own life that others see immediately as God’s involvement.
What makes me think God is trying to tell me something?
The first issue I see taking place is a recurrent theme popping up all over my days. I check my E-Mail and there have been several involving suffering. I check my Facebook newsfeed and as I scroll down, I see several people have shared blogs or personal stories about suffering. I go to Bible study and the topic is suffering.
Hmmm. Could it be that God wants me to tell me something about this topic that has caused me much emotional turmoil throughout my life?
You see, I once believed in a God that used suffering as a strong arm against those He claimed to love. Suffering was sent by God to punish for wrongdoing. If you really stop and think about that, you may be able to see why for years I questioned God’s motives in my life. If things were going well, I believed I was being rewarded for doing something correctly. If things weren’t going so well, I believed I was being punished for something I had done, said, not done, or not said. As you can imagine, living like that can drive a person nearly insane, for God never really revealed what the good thing or what the forbidden thing was that (I believed) was causing the circumstances in my life.
I still succumb to that thinking too often, even though I now know a different God than the one I used to know. God didn’t change; God changed me. Through some amazing orchestrations, God led me to people who were patient enough to hear not only the skewed beliefs I held but also the anger at God that had festered inside of me for so many years and they were willing to talk those things through with me. Before that, I know of several who prayed for me and planted the seeds that would eventually sprout into salvation. Admittedly, those sprouts are still small and that fact is what bothers me, for I believe it is the suffering in my life that I have allowed to block the growth God wants to give me.
So back to God trying to get my attention with this subject of suffering.
If you ask anyone if they would wish for suffering in their life–financial difficulties, a disease, the loss of a loved one, the rebellion of a child–I am inclined to think that most would answer with an emphatic “No!” Who in their right mind would want anything bad to take place either in their own life or in the life of someone they love? Of course, we know that bad things do happen in everyone’s life. No one walks this earth and escapes some degree of suffering. That was never promised. In fact, we were forewarned of just the opposite. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. If Jesus, who suffered far more than anything we can ever imagine, and He did so for you and me, why would we, a mere human created by Him, expect that we should be able to walk through life scar free? We shouldn’t expect it and it won’t happen.
In reading through the blogs and E-Mails and listening to our pastor and other people educated on this topic, I am beginning to believe that God is wanting a paradigm shift in my thinking. I certainly don’t believe God wants me or any of His children to pray for suffering. That’s not the paradigm shift I’m thinking about. But, what I believe God is wanting of me is thankfulness in spite of, and maybe even, dare I say it, FOR the suffering He allows in my life. “Why would anyone ever thank God for something bad?” you may wonder. I admit, it does sound a little crazy. And yet, at the same time, it makes perfect sense. It was in the midst of marriage difficulties so taxing that divorce seemed imminent that I sought help from godly people who planted seeds of God’s Word in my heart. It was in the midst of a fiery trial that I thought for sure would take my life that I found myself seeking answers from godly people who had the patience to demonstrate the unconditional love I needed to see. And it has been in the midst of the darkness of depression and the pain and suffering of a chronic illness that I have found myself driven time and again to the Psalms. The Psalmist was real with God; he used no flowery language to cover up the fact that he was often in despair. I treasure those Psalms and have started to commit many of them to memory, for on days that are so tough that I am unable to even will myself to grab my Bible and read, those words stored in my heart are brought to mind by the Holy Spirit. They are an affirmation that even though I am in the deepest despair or tremendous pain or complete loneliness, I am not alone. It is the suffering that drives me to God and it is God who is always there. No human on earth can always be there for me. Only God can completely meet my needs for He created me and knows me the best.
That paradigm shift is painful. In all honesty, it is very painful. I wish I didn’t have days so dark I wish to die. I wish I didn’t have a chronic illness that is robbing me of basic abilities. I wish we had finances enough to cover all we need and desire to do. Yet, if I had all those wishes, if tonight I was granted all of them as truth, would I still desire God? Would I still be driven to Him in desperation and humbleness? I don’t think so. If I had all those things, either I might be tempted to think I don’t need God or I might be tempted to think I am all God needs. That just isn’t reality. Reality is suffering is real and painful and discouraging and beautiful. That last one doesn’t seem to fit but without the beauty of suffering, I may never know the extent of God’s provision.
A paradigm shift that will probably take me a lifetime to learn.