Everyone suffers. We experience or watch it every day. But it seems harder to digest it this time of year. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Baby Jesus. A sense of everything glowing and bright. And the expectation of a new year, a new beginning.
In the last month, I’ve had numerous texts, emails, and phone calls asking me to pray for love ones and friends who are suffering. Liver cancer. Pancreatic cancer. Breast cancer. Cardiac issues. Opioid addiction. Death. Emotional crisis. COPD. Stage 4 kidney disease. An angry son who has left home. A pregnant teen just released from the hospital after a brutal beating by a boyfriend. The list goes on and on.
When I turn on TV the world shatters into a thousand pieces as I hear unthinkable words: killing, death, murder, adultery, rape, and incest. Nothing about this brings joy. Quite the contrary, it brings grief, unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, remorse, brokenness, and sometimes turning away from God.
But wait a minute . . . let me attach God’s story to this whole theme of suffering.
When Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, God pronounced suffering as a punishment for disobeying His only command. Eve would suffer in childbirth. Adam would toil a cursed ground for sustenance. For the first time, they felt shame. Then God drove man out of Paradise into a foreign world filled with suffering and death. Immortality came to a screeching halt when the cherubim raised the flaming sword to block reentry.
By Genesis Chapter 3 paradise is over and suffering begins. Suffering is sin induced. But Praise God, He spends the rest of Genesis and the next 65 books in the Bible offering redemption to mankind by giving him the choice to honor Him and follow His commandments. That’s the good news.
We have to understand the beginning of suffering to begin to understand where we are in our suffering. How do we manage it? Do we suffer well? By that I mean do we honor God while we are suffering, acknowledging His involvement in our life, and His continual love and care?
David exclaims, “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” Psalm 119:50
David believed and followed God. Yes, David sinned and suffered, but David’s cries for help and forgiveness were to God. God blessed David even while he suffered, and David gave God the credit. David suffered well because he had a personal relationship with God and knew God’s mighty hand had saved his life on many occasions.
In the New Testament God sent His only Son, Jesus, to redeem those who would follow Him. During Jesus’ ministry He called disciples and apostles to walk with Him so that they would continue the ministry after Jesus’ death. Following Jesus was filled with blessings, healings, and miracles. It was also riddled with ostracizing, hunger, thirst, beatings, prison, blistered feet . . . all forms of persecution and horrific deaths. Suffering.
We are told suffering will exist until the promise is fulfilled at Jesus’ return where He will set up His kingdom on earth.
From Adam and Eve until now, God has been weaving a tapestry of suffering. Our suffering is woven in and around other’s suffering as we share our concerns, hurts, disappointments, and brokenness. Thousands upon thousands of lives depicted in a giant masterpiece. Tears blending colors and overlaying landscapes of brokenness. Can you imagine its intricate complexity? Then go one step further and envision the tapestry’s border woven from Jesus’ suffering and blood. Each tear, each heartache, each prayer, every hurt, all threaded by God’s hands into a unique pattern, encapsulating every thread, binding every suffering to the border of Christ’s suffering.
Paul reminds us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” 2 Corn. 1:3-5
So, what do I do when I get news of suffering?
I do what Jesus does for me. I try to comfort. I cry with them. I ache as they talk or as I read their labored words. I pray that Jesus heals their hurt and heartbreak. I listen. I offer love. I follow up with cards, calls, or texts to get updates and send more encouragement afterwards. Then, I continue to pray.
I am part of God’s tapestry of suffering. I have a common thread with every other sufferer. Every day I pray:
I cannot live without You, Lord. I cannot trudge through valleys of disappointment alone.
I cannot watch innocent people destroy their lives on drugs and maybe never know that You are with them, always. I cannot hear the cries of the destitute and hopeless without knowing You are the hope and anchor in their lives. I cannot listen to sounds of agony and pain without knowing You are with them, ministering to them.
You, Lord, are our common thread in suffering. There is nothing we’ve been through that is foreign to You. You are the border that keeps suffering contained within the boundaries of Your love, grace, and mercy. Lord, weave us tightly and securely. Don’t waste a moment of our lives. Use all of us to serve You even in our affliction. You are the golden thread that binds us. Our love pours out to You.
In all these things I pray,