Einstein once said, “God doesn’t play
dice.” He also made it very clear that he didn’t believe in a personal
God, but rather he trusted that there were underlying laws of nature that made
perfect sense of some of the science (mainly quantum mechanics) that even he
couldn’t wrap his brilliant mind around.
Einstein was an incredible man of science, but
he also appreciated that he couldn’t make sense of everything. Yet, even in the
midst of this, Einstein professed that there still had to be a rhyme and reason
to it all. Even if he or current science couldn’t make sense of it, Einstein
held the belief that there was still a structure, an order behind it all.
I believe the same is true for suffering. I
believe this because I’ve seen evidence of it firsthand.
To put it bluntly, I watch my son die a slow,
painful death daily. He suffers terribly, and my heart suffers, too. My heart
breaks each time he cries out to me for comfort and relief, and there’s nothing
I can do.
My head is weary of keeping tabs of his daily
intake of protein. Too little and he becomes catabolic, metabolizing his own
muscle tissue. Too much, and ammonia levels rise in his blood stream causing
debilitating headaches and irreversible cognitive loss. There’s no cure, and
that’s just the tip of the medical and genetic iceberg.
There’s also the GRIN2B genetic mutation that
causes my son debilitating joint pain, short and long-term memory loss and yet
more metabolic issues. His specific mutation causes his body to convert the
amino acid called arginine to histidine. This poor kid can’t seem to eat enough
food to ever really feel full because he can’t eat more than about 15 grams of
protein per day.
Think about that for a moment.
Imagine being underweight with low muscle tone,
experiencing constant headaches and joint pain and then never feeling fully
satiated…and that’s when he actually feels up to eating at all.
It’s hard enough to watch Mark suffer, to walk
through all of this with him. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be
Mark’s physical suffering alone is staggering to
imagine. Prior to joining our family through adoption, Mark was subject to severe
abuse and neglect. Deprived of basic nutrition, physical touch and comfort as
an infant, it’s not surprising that he suffered cognitively, developmentally
and behaviorally as a result.
I share all of this because I’ve heard it said
that one should write about what one knows. The last ten years have taught me
quite a bit about suffering: how it feels, the toll it takes, and just how
unsettling it is when looking ahead holds no promise of relief or respite. I
know how it feels to not be able to quite catch your breath, to feel completely
and utterly helpless, to vacillate between wondering if you’re (really) strong
enough to keep going or when exactly you’re going to fall apart.
It’s from this place that I write about
suffering, an open, raw place of complete transparency, because frankly I don’t
think there’s enough out there about it. Everyone experiences hardship at some
point. Christ even told us to expect it (John 16:33). Yet most every blog post,
podcast and article I’ve come across covers how to get out of it, how to avoid
it or—even worse—does a tremendous disservice by quickly trying to sugarcoat
it. Suffering is rarely if ever a choice. It’s a natural part of the human
experience. So, why isn’t there more help out there on how to do it well?
I believe in the power of prayer. I know God
can—and still does—move mountains. I also know that God allows suffering, too.
Suffering is a part of His plan. If it weren’t, Noah would’ve never been stuck
on that big boat after watching everything he’d ever known be engulfed in
water. Joseph never would’ve been thrown into a pit, sold into slavery and
imprisoned. Jesus Himself would never have been ridiculed, tortured and
During my prayers for Mark’s relief and the
easing of my own emotional burden, none of this escapes me.
We don’t have to relish suffering. We don’t have
to run after it. It’s completely natural to want to avoid it. Even Christ
prayed to the Father and asked that suffering be taken from Him if it was
within God’s will (Mark 14:36). But sometimes suffering is a part of the
plan, a piece of the story that God is weaving together in our lives. If we
know this is true, that sometimes suffering is a part of the Lord’s greater
plan, then doesn’t it make sense to prepare for it as best we can?
It has been said that misery loves company, so I
took the hint. I dove into Scripture and surrounded myself with what felt like
old friends, but I visited with them in different ways. While their stories
were nothing new, I connected with what their emotional experiences must have
been in brand new and very personal ways. I noted what they did and how God
responded to their thoughts, words and actions. I found patterns and parallels.
In my searching, I discovered evidence time and time again that God truly does
meet us in our mess.
Jesus said, “What I tell you in the
dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops”
(Matthew 10:27 ESV).
Jesus will tell us things in the dark when we’re
unsure and insecure. It is in this darkness
where He whispers to us, sharing things that are only accessible when we’re
willing, able and waiting to hear.
Suffering is often the place of this darkness.
During suffering we’re broken enough to stop
listening to ourselves, and instead tune in more carefully to His whispers.
Ironically enough, it’s usually in the middle of hardship where our
relationship with Jesus can truly grow the most. Whether we like it or not,
hardship often pushes us out of our comfort zones. Suffering enables us to grow
through what we go through.
From this perspective, what a tremendous
opportunity suffering can be!
Yes, hardship hurts.
Yes, suffering sucks.
But there’s very important work—and rewards—we
need to be occupied with in the middle of it all. That’s exactly how this book
is different. In the pages that follow, you won’t discover how to pray your way
out of challenges and pain. Quite the opposite, actually. You’ll be
encouraged to go for broke, to face suffering head on in anticipation of
meeting God personally in brand new ways. Suffering has a way of stretching
us beyond ourselves. It prompts us to reach outside of our current comfort
This book has been designed to help you take
full advantage of this, to essentially help you not waste your pain. If
God allows us to suffer, then we can rest assured that it isn’t and won’t be
for not (Romans 8:28).
Suffering isn’t just an experience or state
we’re in. It’s a skill, too.
We can squander our experiences and energy
trying to spin our wheels to get out of suffering as soon as we can (and
sometimes futilely so) or we can choose to suffer well. We can be intentional
about how we respond to suffering. We can work on ourselves, actively seeking
to grow into all that God wants us to be. We can work on our listening skills,
discovering how to quiet ourselves and the chaos around us. We can practice and
grow in patience as we wait on God, His will, and His timing. In short, we can
recognize with our choices and our actions that, yes, suffering is in God’s
plan for us, too.
If you’re suffering now, I hope this book serves
as a tool to help you feel less helpless. I hope that it helps you discover new
opportunities to grow closer to and experience God in ways you’ve never known
before. I hope that it helps you realize that you are not buried by your
current circumstance or hardship even if that’s exactly how you feel, but
rather God has planted you right where you are for a reason: It’s just time
to get growing.