“Will it hurt?”
This used to be a frequent question of mine, though I phrased it differently over the years.
“What will this cost me?”
“What’s at stake?”
“Who will I lose?”
“Will this be worth it?”
In my younger days, if any of those questions produced an undesirable answer, then off I’d go, as far away as possible from anything with the potential to wound me. Even if that thing was for my good. My capacity for bearing pain, after all, has never been impressive.
Then I met Christ.
I remember being a new believer, hungry for God’s presence and devouring the books of the Bible as if they were actual food. I also remember how some of those books sat in my stomach like stones, the story of Job being particularly hard to digest. A faithful servant of God, Job lost every worldly joy and comfort without warning, and without a clear reason.
The story of his life unnerved me. I understood the principles of victory necessitating a preceding battle – of how in order to experience restoration, one needed to be broken or made bereft in some manner. Still, I couldn’t read Job’s story without an underlying hope and prayer that God would never try me in such a way. Notwithstanding the parts of the account where God bragged about Job, where He rebuked Job’s friends on his behalf and blessed his later life greater than the first; if there had to be a sequel to Job’s story that included the hardship, I wanted my name left out of those pages.
I also balked at the story of Joseph. Of his slavery, imprisonment, and separation from his loved ones; of being betrayed by his blood and fearing whether his old father still lived. Though I celebrated and praised God for the outcome of that narrative, I also cringed to think of what it must have been like to walk through something like that. Joseph suffered for years – decades – before coming out on the other side victorious. I couldn’t imagine such a testimony, and I didn’t want to.
Let me live a simple, joyous, obedient life where I tell people about Jesus, give to the poor, shine my light in dark corners and all that good stuff. But Lord my God, please don’t let anything hurt me. That was my sincere prayer.
Yet the more I read, the more I realized the error of my appetite for ease. Evidence against the carefree life of God’s people existed in abundance: Elijah’s exile, Daniel’s lions, Hannah’s infertility, Paul’s shipwreck, Stephen’s stoning. Hosea loved an adulterous wife while Ezekiel’s beloved wife died. Moses led a stiff-necked and ungrateful people yet couldn’t finish the journey with them. David sinned and had to bury his infant child. Job lived righteously and had to bury all of his children.
These people loved God. They walked with Him and trusted Him. And yet, they suffered.
Moreover, the forewarning that a believer in Christ would have trouble in life (John 16:33), and the urging to count those trials as joy (James 1:2), served to confirm that the simple, subtle, painless life I craved would not be the abundant, blessed, and best life God had in store for me.
“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
– C.S. Lewis
Because I knew the conclusions to the stories of these mighty men and women of faith, I could appreciate their journeys. I understood how God worked in their circumstances to accomplish His purposes and display the intimacy of relationship that He has with all of His children. But rather than focus on that gift of intimacy with Him, I couldn’t stop worrying about the cost.
I became a nervous, fretful mess; the queen of back-up plans and alternate escape routes; a medical savant capable of over-diagnosing the most innocent of coughs; the ceaseless voice in a loved-one’s ear to be careful, stay alert, and not take risks.
Playing God rather than trusting Him.
I’d like to be able to pinpoint a singular event that snapped me out of my pursuit of painlessness. But in reality, there were many. And, ironically, they were all quite painful.
At times God intervened, rescuing me from the pain in ways that were undeniably His doing. Once He sent a stranger to repeat to me what I’d prayed in isolation before giving me the response to that prayer. Another time He defied the predictions of doctors and nurses, causing my premature twins to enter the world in perfect health.
Yet other times, still loving and in control, God allowed me to suffer. I lost my third child days before entering the second trimester of pregnancy. I endured the slander and betrayal of a trusted family member. I watched my cherished mother-in-law lose a short battle against leukemia. And the death of my beloved brother, which was violent and sudden, carved a wound in my heart that will ever ache for his presence.
Time and again, with stakes dear and high, I’ve suffered loss. And yet, in each case, I’ve endured. Persevered. Experienced the faithfulness of Jesus to draw near to the brokenhearted.
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.
Though I would not willingly ask with somber piety to be broken, I have grown beyond appreciating the difficult journeys of those biblical men and women of faith. There is something about being in the fire and having Christ appear in the midst of it that captures a heart like no simple life can. That “something” takes one from a faith that merely memorizes “he who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty,” to a faith that asks, “Father, where is Your secret place? Will You show me?”
It’s not the suffering itself that gives hope, but the work of Jesus in the suffering. He knows the myriad things in this life that will hurt us, and He walks us through them, comforting, refining, and shaping us as we come to understand that regardless of the cost, He is the ultimate reward.
And He is worth it all.
Tanara McCauley is a writer of stories inspired by the adventure she lives in Christ. That adventure includes one husband, three children, and a fearful little dog named Charlie. And books. Lots and lots of books.
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