This blog is (or, perhaps has been) my attempt to encourage and challenge primarily myself, but other women as well, to view every area and event of life through the lens of Scripture. And to be joyfully content as we recognize God’s undeserved grace, mercy, and sovereign care in the big, unexpected joys, as well as in the difficult trials, but especially in those little, often overlooked, everyday moments.
Because, most of life is lived in the simple and the ordinary.
But, in doing so, my desire is not to paint our life as one of sunshine and unicorns, untouched by reality and troubles.
Like everyone, my days are filled with joys and failures, blessings and trials, celebration and suffering. My children are sinners. Their mother is a sinner. (I know Scripture says that I married a sinner as well. But, I’m beginning to wonder about that one. He’s amazing.)
I detest the trend of airing one’s dirty laundry to the whole of the worldwide web, under the guise of “transparency.” I don’t want to complain. I don’t want to “vent.”
My desire is to focus on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). To look for the grace and mercy that God has so richly, and undeservedly given, not in spite of the difficult times, but through, and maybe even because of them.
Amy Carmichael wrote, “A cup brimful of sweetness cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, no matter how suddenly jarred.”
So, it is rare that I will write from a place of discouragement and weakness.
But, you want transparency? Here it is…
Life is hard.
I am not making that statement in relation to the suffering, trials, or circumstances of anyone but myself. The comparison game is futile. Comparing my situation to that of someone else is like comparing apples and oranges. No. It’s like comparing apples and turtles. You just can’t. There is always someone else going through something bigger, something worse, something harder. (And I know many who are.)
I am just stating the simple fact that, life can be hard.
And, recently, it has been.
“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33 (NIV)
In addition to multiple minor illnesses hitting every member of our family, teething toddlers, night terrors, mastitis, our recent miscarriage, migraines, and a stint in the ER, I have been living with severe anemia (and the accompanying symptoms and side effects) for at least a year…likely a lot longer. I am now on a prescription iron supplement, which I am praying might remedy some, or maybe even all of that.
Oh. And, did I mention that, as a result, we are still trying to finish up our school year? And the laundry and dishes have continued to multiply at alarming rates.
So, those simple, everyday, real life moments are still very much there, very much demanding that we keep up.
And, somehow, in the craziness of caring for, and keeping up with us, my husband still has to do his job. He still has to prepare sermons and Sunday school lessons. Some weeks, I have wondered if he isn’t writing his sermons on the back of a napkin on his way to church! (Don’t worry. He’s not!) People are still coming to him for counsel. Each one a judgment call. Is this an urgent need? Can they wait? And, meetings that have been canceled, long-postponed, and rescheduled (multiple times), have to be attended.
There are just not enough hours in the day.
“Why does our heavenly Father seem at times to be steadily shoveling suffering into the lives of those he loves so deeply, when he could easily relieve it?” (Running on Empty, pgs. 15-16)
You may thinking, “Stop complaining. That’s nothing.”
And, you’d be right.
“Suffering, even in its mildest forms – inconvenience, delay, disappointment, discomfort, or anything that is not in harmony with our whims and preferences – we will not tolerate. We even reject and deny it.” (A Path Through Suffering, pg. 13)
We do not like to suffer. We avoid it when we can…except in the cases when, as a result of our own sinful stupidity, we run headlong into it.
But, I say that all that to say this…I am just weary. Physically, mentally…and yes. Spiritually.
I love what Gloria Furman says in her new book, Missional Motherhood (I am quoting from a much larger section, and, I hope, doing justice to the original context. But, I would encourage you to read the entire section, or even the whole book, for yourself.):
“Things that are part of our design – our need for others in community, our physical limitations, being embodied in an “earthly tent,” and our lack of knowledge – are not failures. We have no need to repent of those things, for this is the way God designed us. God has no need to repent of making us this way, because he reserves the right to create in whatever way his holy will desires. Moms don’t need to be redeemed out of their God-given design. But here is another place where we have to “use our words” very carefully. We must be very, very hesitant to name something sin. If it is sin, it requires atonement. But we often place worldly blunders on the same level as unholy sins….The eternal Son of God did not go to the cross and suffer crucifixion and the wrath of God to atone for a moms inability to accomplish everything she wants to do in a day…..Before we call upon the great doctrine of justification by faith alone to redeem us out of our so-called calamity, or before we herald the massive truth that we are counted righteous in Christ by faith in him, we ought to consider the nature of our need….If that neediness is owing to your sin, that vile rebellion against your Maker, then you repent….But if your neediness is simply because you are a human being (i.e., not omniscient, not omnipresent, not omnipotent, not God), then you have reason to rejoice.” (Missional Motherhood, pgs. 124-125, bold mine)
In weakness? In weariness? In suffering?
And, more than that, we can be thankful for it.
“Who can be grateful for pain? Only those who see beyond to the ineffable mercy, tender and severe, which is silently at work.” (A Path Through Suffering, pg. 56)
It is a gift.
It is a gift because it teaches us about the character of God. As discipline, it confirms God’s love for us, and our position as His child. It tests, strengthens, and refines our faith. It produces endurance, character, and hope. And, it is a condition of discipleship.
If we are to follow Christ, we must expect to suffer.
“He accepted suffering. He willingly laid down His life. He poured out His very soul unto death. Shall not we, His servants, tread the same pathway?” Pg. 39
But, perhaps, just maybe, our troubles, our inconveniences, our sufferings are not for us.
Lilias Trotter, in her book, Parables of the Cross, wrote “God may use…the things that He has wrought in us, for the blessings of souls unknown to us….” (as quoted in Elisabeth Elliot’s A Path Through Suffering, pg. 15)
It has been unintentional (on my part), but many of the books I have been reading recently have had a providentially similar theme. Suffering.
In her book, Running on Empty, Barbra Bancroft says,
“Ministry brings suffering into our lives. It is the hardest gift for us to accept from God. None of us enjoys suffering and it is one aspect of ministry we are always trying to avoid. God brings his gift of suffering and our response is to begin negotiating for a different one. We want to return this gift for one we think would better meet our needs. This is why Paul’s description of himself in Philippians 3 is so startling. We are attracted and repelled by it. We want his passion for Christ. We identify with his desire to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, but to share in the fellowship of his suffering is frightening.” (pg. 15)
Now, I don’t think for a moment that our church, or my husband’s vocation has been the source of the difficulties, trials, and yes, genuine suffering that we have faced in recent days.
Quite the opposite. Our church family has been a source of help, encouragement, strength, and comfort in all of this.
But, it is true that ministry brings suffering. It has a cost. Our family, our marriage, our children, our parenting, our faults, our sins, our quirks, our sufferings…our lives are all put on constant display. And, we are willing to live in that proverbial fishbowl for the sake of others.
“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” 1 Corinthians 4:15-16 (ESV)
Paul prayed three times that God would remove his “thorn in the flesh,” his “messenger from Satan.” (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
“God said no to Paul’s plea because He was to bring forth, for the sake of the rest of us, the beautiful flower of acceptance, a gift of grace, enough for his need. But that flower was to bloom, not in spite of, but because of the thorn…Could he know the millions who would be cheered and comforted by his example of quiet acceptance of a painful thing which he knew God could have removed? No, he couldn’t.” (A Path Through Suffering, pg. 45)
Maybe our troubles, our inconveniences, our trials, our sufferings are not for us at all. Maybe they are put in our life for the spiritual benefit of someone else.
We do not know. And, frankly, it isn’t for us to know.
“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10)
“We may take heart from the suffering of Job. Suffering was the necessary proof of the reality of his faith – to us, as to his contemporaries and his enemy Satan (his and ours). The suffering of our Savior proved the reality of His love for His Father. The world still needs to be shown that there are those who, no matter what the circumstances, will, for love of Him, do exactly what God commands. The end He has in view is a glorious one. We can fully count on that…” (A Path Through Suffering, pg. 53)
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 1 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)