Suffering and The True Story

February 17, 2017  |  Craig St. John

By Teena Dare

Sometimes suffering comes in waves. Over the past couple years, my husband and I have walked through some heartbreaking seasons. And then we got the good news: we were pregnant! We were going to bring life into the world after quite a bit of pain. Pregnancy brings a certain type of joy, a deep gratefulness that brings some of the magic back into the world.

And yet…the greatest excitement always carries the potential for the deepest disappointment. All of our anticipation stolen away with one word: miscarriage. Of course, we were aware of the possibility, but we had been fervently praying for the opposite. We knew that God is the giver and sustainer of life, and we eagerly hoped that he would give us the gift of a healthy baby in a short eight months. But that wasn’t the case for us. Not this time.

I somehow held it together while my doctor was giving us the news, but as soon as she left the room, I melted into my husband’s arms and sobbed. Nothing could prepare us for this. We were still early in the process, but the sense of loss was immense. It didn’t take long after that first positive pregnancy test for us to imagine our new life as a family of three. To begin sharing our excitement with those closest to us. We were living in a new magical world…shattered with a word.

Words are tricky things. They are just utterances until they become a reality. Then they gain immense power, then they have flesh. And yet in that moment, I had no words, just tears. Tears that flowed as if they had been stored up for this. My words to my husband, to my friends, and especially to God, remained few in those first days. Small phrases heavy-laden with emotion. And yes, the repetition of the one-word question: why? Again and again.

Maybe you’re going through similar suffering right now. Maybe it’s a miscarriage or infertility or the heartbreak of foster care, having to watch child after child return to questionable situations. Maybe it’s dealing with the devastations of divorce or cancer or bitter loneliness. And maybe you have searched high and low for seeds of hope and can’t seem to find any. For the rest of this post, I’m going to share the ways that I found God’s grace in the midst of my heartbreak. I’ve walked through times of suffering with much less hope, and it took a toll on me. Everyone mourns and heals differently. There isn’t a prescription that fits everyone. But my desire is that the rest of these words can plant some seeds that will grow into a source of hope for you.

How The True Story gave shape to my suffering

While it didn’t take away the pain, I knew God had been planting seeds to prepare me for this. I had just finished reading the book of Job as a part of our reading plan for the True Story Project. Of all of the 66 books I could have been reading through, it was the one devoted to the questions of loss and suffering in our world. Along with this, I had recently been meditating on the words in John 15, and the Holy Spirit had brought the word “friend” to my attention. I didn’t understand what it meant, but I felt Jesus saying that he wanted to be my friend and that he wanted me to lean into the friends he had given me.

Spending time in the story of Job undoubtedly shaped my suffering. The first thing it did was give me permission to be completely honest in pouring out my heart to God. Job lamented and cried out to God, knowing that he was the only one who could answer him. I told God that I felt hurt by him. That I didn’t know why he couldn’t answer our prayers for a healthy baby. That my heart was devastated by it. In these early days it wasn’t a well-constructed theology of suffering that I turned to, but I did have the example of Job and a big God who could take my honesty and would respond in wisdom and love.

The big question poetically posed in this wisdom literature also hammered home a truth that I desperately needed: suffering does not equate to punishment for sin. While our sin can bring painful consequences, often times suffering is the result of living in a world infested with sin and death. Experiencing a miscarriage was not some form of punishment for my sin, and a healthy baby wouldn’t have been a reward for good behavior before God. God is a giver of good gifts that he gives according to his wisdom. In the words of Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job protected my heart from turning to self-righteous bitterness against God or a self-despising guilt. It helped me mourn with a humble posture of brokenness before God.

Jesus: a Friend Full of Comfort and Hope

On day 2 of my grieving process, I went on a hike. Hiking has always been a special space for me to hear from God. It took some time to get out of bed and get dressed, but I made it. On the way up, I remembered the words of John 15, “I have called you friends…” I told Jesus I desperately needed him to be my friend. I still felt hurt by the Father, and I needed someone who understood my suffering, who could relate to the pain of loss. I also needed him to intercede for me because I still didn’t have many words. For the next hour, Jesus was the friend I needed.

Jesus offered the “me too” that we so crave in our suffering. He assured my heart that he understands my pain and feels it with me. But he also ministered to my heart through reminding me of his self-giving love and the hope of the Gospel. As I was climbing North Mountain, he began to paint a picture in my imagination: While I was making the trek to behold the beauty of God’s creation, he, too, once made a trek. But waiting for him at the top of Golgotha was only the ugliness of sin and death. And while he was physically sustaining me to endure my hike, on his journey, his abused body collapsed under the weight of his cross. And while the Father would pour his love out on me on top of that mountain, offering comfort and peace, Jesus’ journey would end in the Father pouring out his wrath. He reminded me that his closest friends abandoned him in his darkest moments so he could form a church that was now surrounding me with love and support. And that even the Father turned his face away at Jesus’ lowest point so I would never know a day without the perfect love of God.

Jesus was pouring his love into my heart through the story of his Gospel and the reality of the Word made flesh. Words become reality. His love for me revealed in the tangible blessings within and around me.

And it was clear that Jesus interceded for me, because he gave me what I didn’t know I needed and would have never asked for. On my way down the mountain, I plugged in my earbuds and listened to God’s address to Job in chapters 38-42. While this part of the story doesn’t fully reveal God’s mercies in our suffering, it reveals God’s unfathomable wisdom. And as I listened, I was humbled. It was then that I let go of my one-word question and my need for a sense of control and submitted my trust to the vast and perfect wisdom of God. I abandoned my one-word question and started asking longer questions about the work God wanted to do in and through me.

Sharing our Burden: The Compassion of the Church

The last seed that was growing was the Holy Spirit’s encouragement to lean into my friends. My husband and I have been a part of Redemption Tempe for nearly nine years, and a part of our RC for six. In past times of suffering, I yearned for the support of this community, but I feared the vulnerability it took to invite them all the way in. By his grace, God gave us strength to truly include our brothers and sisters into our mourning. We shared the sad news with a number of our friends and pastors, and the amount of love that we received was beyond anything I could have asked for. Many men and women cried for us, prayed over us and offered themselves up as a source of comfort. It is in this community that we see God forming through His True Story. A people who are the compassionate face and comforting hands of God to a world that is hurting. It truly made our burden so much lighter.

It’s certainly okay to be alone and just be sad in times of mourning. But I want to encourage anyone who is feeling lonely and isolated in their sadness that we are creatures that need to love and be loved. Start by reaching out to the person that you trust most to offer you the compassion that you need. Bitterness is like an infection that festers in the darkness. We need each other to heal rather than growing in hardness of heart. In that first week, I needed to be around my friends who had new babies and those who were pregnant and to continue to celebrate the gift that they had been given. This wasn’t always comfortable, but it was so important for me to receive comfort from them and continue to share in their joy.

Loving Others Through My Pain

Even when we were deeply broken, loving others can be a source of healing. On Day 4 of my mourning process, I had a sort of realization that my husband was in this with me. Just like I needed to be loved in it, so did he. So I spent half of the day speaking his love language cleaning and cooking. He is way better at those two things than I am and constantly shows me love through his service. As I cleaned our space and cooked his favorite meal, I found healing in pouring myself out in love, finding that the strength and joy of Christ met me there.

Similarly, I realized that this suffering gave me a greater compassion for the suffering in the world. I found myself praying for the many women who had gone through something similar and the many mothers in war-torn countries who were living with the devastation of losing children and still not having a home for the ones they were barely holding onto. It was so important for me to connect my pain with others and allow it to move me toward others in compassion rather than turn in on myself in despair.

I pray that the Gospel and its power all around us can be a tangible source of hope and comfort in the midst of your suffering.