Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Suffering as an Answer to Prayer

Andrew has been doing well since his last surgery. So, last night I was able to leave a lot earlier, around 10:30 p.m. As I walked down the tunnel to the parking garage, I was surprised at the apprehension I was feeling. I was already missing Andrew and wondered what I would do when I got home. I had expected to feel relief at leaving the hospital earlier and the opportunity to finally catch up on some sleep, but instead I wanted to turn around and run back to Andrew's hospital room.

By the time I reached home, showered, and settled down, it was midnight. Sleep overcame me the moment I laid down. I dreamed about Andrew. Sometimes he was asleep on a couch, just like in the hospital, only more conked out without the disturbances of nurses and doctors hourly examining him. And then I was dreaming that I was sitting in the passenger seat of his black Acura Integra while he drove. It must have been back in our dating days.

When I awoke in the morning, I felt discouraged and empty. Whenever I feel desperately discontent, I long for the perfect days of living in California and when Andrew and I first fell in love there. Life in California was always perfect. And whenever I thought it couldn't get better, it always got better. Then Andrew and I got married, and we travelled for three months. I mean, who even gets to do that? These thoughts weighed heavier and heavier on me as the morning wore on.

I ate with the kids then prepared to leave for the hospital.

"Mama, I don't want you to leave me. I don't want you to leave me!" A.J. cried.

I hugged him and kissed him, rubbed his back. I thought silently, I'll be home tonight anyway...Course you'll already be asleep, but I'll be home.

After awhile of hugging he sighed, "Okay, you can leave. I'll see you tomorrow morning."

I frowned. I hadn't thought of it that way and hadn't realized the way A.J. saw it. We had missed each other all day, and all I gave them was an unsatiating 45 minutes in the morning, only to take off again?

Still, it was getting late and the hospital had already called that Andrew was looking for me. I left the house, my heart still heavy longing for the days before bad health, wondering how things had turned. Instead of things getting better and better, whenever things couldn't get worse, they always did.

Once we moved to Washington after our three month honeymoon, our entire time in Washington - three and a half years - one of us was debilitatingly ill. Just weeks after we moved there, I was miserably ill with pregnancy. I had anemia that my doctor didn't tell me about and so didn't treat with a simple iron pill. At times, it was difficult just to walk down the hall. Andrew used to say to me, "At least it's not cancer." Little did he know the irony of his statement.

Then nursing was also very difficult on my body. Changing the kids' diapers in the morning wiped me out. But I had felt miserable for so long, that I had forgotten what it felt like to feel healthy. I thought it was just how all moms felt, and so I accepted it. Between my two pregnancies and nursing, I felt like I was dying for nearly three years. Now that I'm feeling good, I realize that the way I had felt was horrible and not normal. As I wrapped up nursing Gracie, Andrew was starting chemotherapy last year. And so other than our honeymoon travels, the only time we've had good health between the two of us was the first three months we moved to Minnesota.

I knew I needed to bring it all before the Lord. I always start to go crazy when I need time alone with Him. On my way to the hospital, I stopped at Starbucks and read my Bible. I felt heavy with thoughts looming about the strange contrast between our lives in California and our lives with bad health. Then I opened my Bible to Job.

Chapter One of the book described Job as being very prosperous. His children, what the Bible considered a sign of great blessing, were so in harmony with one another, that his seven sons each held a feast in his house on his appointed day of the week. All the brothers and sisters would attend. I thought, How fun. They always get to be together. Andrew and I love stuff like tight familial relations and being with the brethren constantly.

Then, God asked Satan if he had ever considered his servant Job. Satan replied: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” (Job1:9-11).

But when all of Job's prosperity was removed, did he curse God as Satan predicted? No. Rather, this was his response:

"Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said:

“ Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong."
(Job 1:19-22)

This chapter encouraged me. Job, too, had massive prosperity in his life and then it was contrasted with "when things couldn't get any worse, it did." But it says Job still did not sin nor charge God with wrong. Rather, he blessed the name of the Lord.

And a few chapters later, he says: "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him" (Job 13:15) .

By the end of the book, it says that God blessed Job even more greatly than He had blessed him in the beginning (Job 42:12).

Job's example gave me great hope that something did not have to go gravely wrong in order to go from prosperity to severe suffering. Sometimes, it's just what God gives us. But we can still trust God and that He has a purpose that is much bigger than we can see that is for His glory and our good, just as it was with Job.

Also, I read psalm 71. A friend once said that the Bible is truly alive. That's why believers never get tired of it, like they might with something like Huck Finn. The Lord always highlights new verses to us and opens our eyes to things we never noticed before. This day these verses popped out at me:

"You, who have shown me great and severe troubles,
Shall revive me again,
And bring me up again from the depths of the earth
You shall increase my greatness,
And comfort me on every side."
(Psalm 71:20-21)

Macarthur says "depths of the earth" refers not to resurrection, but a near death experience, such as severe illness. Even though I keep reading it in Scripture and I keep singing songs about it, each time I see it, I find myself still surprised that it is normal to suffer. I think the default is to assume that we must have severely messed up in order for this to happen to us. But no, the people of God have always suffered.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

I thought I would also share with you a passage from a novel by Elizabeth Prentiss, author most famous for her 19th century novel Stepping Heavenward. This other novel of hers is about a Christian man and woman and their journey of sanctification as they meet, fall in love, and are married. This is how Prentice prefaces the book, summarizing what the reader will see about the couple:

"They were living to themselves: self, with its hopes, and promises, and dreams, still had hold of them; but the Lord began to fulfill their prayers. They had asked for contrition, and He sent them sorrow; they had asked for purity, and He sent them thrilling anguish; they had asked to be meek, and He had broken their hearts; they had asked to be dead to the world, and He slew all their living hopes; they had asked to be made like unto Him, and He placed them in the furnace, sitting by "as a refiner of silver," till they should reflect His image; they had asked to lay hold of His cross, and when He had reached it to them, it lacerated their hands. They had asked they knew not what, nor how; but He had taken them at their word, and granted them all their petitions. They were hardly willing to follow on so far, or to draw so nigh to Him...They could almost pray Him to depart from them, or to hide His awfulness. They found it easier to obey than to suffer - to do than to give up - to bear the cross than to hang upon it: but they cannot go back, for they have come too near the unseen cross, and its virtues have pierced too deeply within them...."

He has fastened on them His look of love, as He did on Mary and Peter, and they cannot but choose to follow...They behold Him lifted up - they gaze on the glory which rays forth from the wounds of His holy passion; and as they gaze, they advance, and are changed into His likeness, and His name shines out through them, for He dwells in them. They live alone with Him above, in unspeakable fellowship...."

Had they chosen for themselves, or their friends chosen for them, they would have chosen otherwise...Many a time their foot had well-nigh slipped; but He, in mercy, held them up; now, even in this life, they know all He did was done well. It was good for them to suffer here, for they shall reign hereafter - to bear the cross below, for they shall wear the crown above; and that not their will but His was done on them."

- Aunt Jane's Hero, Elizabeth Prentiss (3-5)


  1. What a blessing are all your posts! The Prentiss quote is amazing. Praying and trusting with you.

  2. I read your latest post and God is certainly with you. Your words pierced my wicked heart and showed me that my snivelling over my circumstances is selfish and ungodly. May the glory of the Lord in this suffering bring you joy unspeakable.