It’s not easy—none of it.
It is not easy when your family adopts a child who has a damaged brain. It is not easy when you are 13 and your brother is rushed 3 hours away to a hospital and your parents are gone for 12 days, leaving you with responsibilities that are incredibly difficult for a thirteen year-old to handle. It is not easy when a church rises up against your family—the pastor’s family—and forces you from your comfortable life and into an eight-month period of unemployment and moving around. Life is not easy.
You have your problems as well—chronic illness, eating disorders, addictions, broken homes, suicidal thoughts, never-ending depression, etc. No one is exempt from suffering/trials. The main question is this: “What will be your reaction to these trials?”
Suffering essentially produces one of two results in us: bitterness or maturity. How we react to trials determines the outcome of our suffering. If we simply endure these trials or begrudge them, we miss a valuable opportunity for spiritual growth. We all do this in varying ways, but we must strive to remember that suffering plays a vital part in our progression of maturity.
I know an older woman who has been through so much suffering and loss, but she is still filled with joy. Joy in the midst of suffering is a sign of real maturity. She has walked hand-in-hand with the Lord through the trials of life, and is the most spiritually mature person that I know. This is what I’m going for. Suffering is an amazing opportunity to grow in maturity, and I want to utilize that and grow. As Chip Ingram put it:
Your Circumstances + Your Perspective = Your Experience
If you notice, the only factor that we can change in this equation is our perspective (which, in turn changes our experience). But why change our perspective? Aren’t pain and suffering pretty cut-and-dried; they’re just awful, right? Well, I think it is time that our perspective on suffering shifts drastically so that we can learn how to benefit from trials. The following three things will hopefully help change your perspective on suffering as they have changed mine.
Suffering is never pointless.
There is a plan and a purpose for every trial that you go through. It is never just meaningless pain (although it may feel that way sometimes). As I said already, we must view hardships as opportunities for spiritual growth. This past year has been one of the hardest times of my life. Each day brought further uncertainty and fear. I could have responded in bitterness, which is what I wanted to do at times, but through that trial I learned to trust in God even through the most uncertain of times. That sounds so cliché, but it serves to prove that God uses the lowest points in our lives as the building blocks to the highest points.
Through God-given strength we can determine the outcome of our hardships.
You will mess up. You won’t always react correctly to trials. Pray for strength to not only endure suffering, but also find JOY in it. With God’s strength, there is no limits to what we can learn from a trial. Nobody likes having to learn things the hard way, but things learned through bad circumstances tend to be the things that stick with us the most. Recently I have had a lot of stress—more than I’ve ever had on me—and I have been learning (mostly through trial and error) to rely on the strength of the Lord.
Learning from suffering does not mean absence of trials, it means having a proper understanding and perspective on hardships.
If you learn a lesson once, it does not mean that God won’t teach it to you again. God knows that we are human and that we so easily forget. No matter how much we read what Scripture has to say about suffering, no matter how much we read from different writers about suffering, we still often forget and react humanly to trials. Stay humble and teachable; look to God when in the valley.
The last thing that I want to mention is joy. We who experience trials should strive toward becoming “joy experts”. Joy does not mean that you must have a smile on your face 24/7; it does mean that you are thankful for what God has given you and you trust Him to use this trial to strengthen you. Joy in suffering! Imagine having joy in the darkest valley! Joy is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), it is an outward manifestation of Christ’s unending love for us. The psalmists experienced terrible tribulation, but again and again they praise the name of God; they choose joy! That is my challenge to you today. CHOOSE JOY.
“Oh, but Christian, it can’t be that simple. You don’t even know my circumstances.”
“It doesn’t matter. Choose joy.”
“But I can’t, I’m naturally a depressed person.”
“Jesus Christ himself was depressed at a time (Matthew 26:37-38). You can still choose joy. If you are a believer in Christ, you have the Holy Spirit inside of you and thus the ability to CHOOSE JOY.”
My little brother has a condition called FASD, which means that his brain cannot function at the level that the brain of a child his age should function. He gets angry easily, needs constant redirection, and cannot “act his age”. This makes life extremely hard, but it has taught me one of the most important lessons that I’ve ever learned—how to dance in the rain.
Let me finish with a question for you:
Are you willing to choose joy and let God work in you through your suffering?
“All suffering is intended to train us to fix our eyes on the true God.” – Edward T. Welch, Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darnkess
— CHRISTIAN HANNA, founder of The Heart Of Teens