My heart is warmed by the many, many emails I received after my last post. One person asked, “Is it really as hard as that?” Yes, it is. And harder still since yesterday.
If I am sitting under a desert canopy (what I call the way station), my better half is in a dungeon, undergoing ordeals of which I am only vaguely aware. Not because I don’t want to be aware, but even with my concerted efforts to comprehend, my ability to do so is limited. One thing I know: pain is a terrible thing. It robs you of your dignity and your sensibility. My dear one is suffering terribly.
The O.T. book of Job has much to teach about pain. And suffering. And endurance. In his book about Job called “When God is Silent—Choosing to Trust in Life’s Trials,” author Chuck Swindoll takes me by surprise. Contrary to the common (but not biblical) teaching that God will never give us more than we can bear, Swindoll says:
“There are days too dark for the sufferer to see light.”
“There are experiences too extreme for the hurting to have hope.”
“There are valleys too deep for the anguished to find relief.”
Finally, someone willing to tell the difficult truth…life at its extreme can be more than we can bear. The Bible is worthless if it doesn’t speak to reality…thank God that is not the case! And what liberation there is in letting biblical truth resonate deep within us.
No one knows what’s around the corner. It could be wealth incomprehensible, or it could be devastation. God gives and God takes away…that is the lesson of Job (1:21). But the lesson doesn’t end there. Here is the nugget of gold, more valuable than life itself: “We take the good days from God—why not also the bad days?” (Job 2:10, Eugene Peterson, The Message).
I know, that’s not what we want to hear. But it is something we NEED to hear, that everything we have (property, things, loved ones, health) belongs to God alone. It’s not ours to control, or even keep.
So then what’s the point? To teach us which way to look. Not to the horizon, but Godward. Since my last blog post, I have learned a valuable lesson. The “bus” I am waiting for is not going to take me to a different place, a different time, a different situation. It will take me to a Person, as St. Peter puts it, the Shepherd and Guardian of my soul (1 Peter 2:25), who will:
“…console those who mourn, give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).
Suffering is not the end of the story. Job knew that, for in the midst of his suffering, he said, “He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). Somehow, even in his darkest days when Job preferred death (Job 16-17), he knew God had a different future in store for him, one that would make him shine like the most precious of metals.
What’s needed in the meantime is endurance. If I had my way, life would be a bowl of marshmallows, soft as a cloud with no sharp edges. But then what a wimp I would be! Worthless to everyone. Do I really want that? No. Instead I will choose the way of Oswald Chambers, who wrote:
To choose suffering makes no sense at all; to choose God’s will in the midst of our suffering makes all the sense in the world.”
None of this is written to diminish what my dear husband is experiencing. Words pale in the reality of his distress. Yet I choose to trust with my brother Job, to carry my personal burden in light of his hard-earned wisdom: “I know that You can do all things” (Job 42:2).