03 Apr LEARNING PERSEVERANCE THROUGH SUFFERING
Recently, I was looking up quotes on suffering and I was captivated by Helen Keller’s words —
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
This struck a chord in my heart, as I’ve spent the past few years enduring trials that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. A year ago, Keller’s words would have made me bitter, because I didn’t see how my pain would ever lead to more strength or ambition, but now, reflecting on what God has brought me through, I see incredible strength, ambition, and success that would not have been gained without my suffering.
My story of pain goes back 10 years when my battle with anxiety and depression began. Just when I thought I was beginning to overcome that struggle and use it to glorify God, life got a lot worse. I developed an autoimmune disease, a horrible gut infection, and chronic pelvic nerve pain that left me unable to care for my small kids most days. Doctors couldn’t figure out how to help me, and I was left feeling alone, scared, and miserable 24 hours a day. The pain and the heightened anxiety felt like a burden too heavy to bear. If I’m honest, I contemplated ending my life and I blaming God for it. I had so many angry conversations with God about how this was “all His fault,” and I was seriously doubting His goodness.
One discouraging day, after a trip to the ER left me with no pain-relief, I broke down and confessed my truest, darkest feelings and fears to my husband. Thankfully, he helped point me back towards the truth of Scripture. At first, it made me angry because I had spent years giving in to the lies of the Enemy that God didn’t care and He wasn’t to be trusted. Reading Scripture about suffering, made me confused and irritated, because I was trying to interpret it from the lens of my pain and my expectation of how I thought the world should be.
Then it hit me—the world should be without pain, that’s how it was originally meant to be, how God wanted it. It was because of our sin that suffering became a part of the world. I realized that I deserve far greater pain than this, but it is because of God’s goodness and faithfulness that I never have to face the pain I really deserve—because Jesus bore that pain Himself, for me.
It was the most incredible revelation when God revealed to me that He can be both good and sovereign even while allowing suffering in the world. He showed me that His allowance of pain does not negate His faithfulness. Despite how much I doubted God’s goodness, He revealed it each day. Instead of abandoning my stubborn, bitter heart, He softened it. He spoke gently to me, just like I do to my children when they are hurting. Slowly, I began to feel held and loved in the midst of the worst pain of my life.
I still didn’t understand what was happening, but I took comfort in the book of Job. I expressed my anger to God, but promised to continue to trust Him like Job did. I felt like a wounded psalmist, crying out for help and only finding peace in the promises of God. As I did this, and continued to pour out my sorrows to Him, He began to transform my heart in ways I didn’t even know I needed.
Throughout this painful journey, God opened my eyes to my pride and self-sufficiency. He showed me areas of my heart that were very far from Him and other areas that desperately needed to become more aligned with Him. The conviction came with such love and power, that a revival was stirred in my heart and my relationship with Jesus grew stronger than it had been in years. That might not have happened if my pain had never caused me to draw near to Him again.
Before my pain began, I called myself a Christian, but I was living such a comfortable, complacent life and I rarely spent quality time with God. I went to church and used my knowledge of Scripture to help me “appear” close to God, when in reality I was far from Him. It was through my suffering that God showed me how I’d been seeking the things of this world instead of Him for several years. When I hit rock bottom, I had nowhere to turn but to God. The world offered me no solution for my illness, physical pain, or anxiety. In the world, there truly was no hope left for me. But, in Christ, there is always hope.
As I continued to let God in, He continued to break down my anger towards Him. He revealed to me pieces of His plan, and how I need to trust even when things don’t make sense. I was blown away when I began to search Scripture for examples of Christ’s suffering. Hebrews 4:15 is so spot on when it says that our own Savior was tempted and tried in every way, yet he was without sin. My heart toward my suffering was especially softened when I read Luke 22. Jesus was on the Mount of Olives praying that the Father would take the cup of suffering from Him, but then He added “not my will, but yours be done.” For the first time, I realized Jesus didn’t enjoy dying on that cross for me. No part of His experience would have been enjoyable, yet Jesus was willing to do what the Father had asked him, because He trusted the plan and that the end result would be worth all of the pain.
I suddenly felt less alone in my pain, because God himself understood it. Instead of feeling debilitated, I began to feel empowered and emboldened to say to my Father, “not my will, but yours be done.” I let go of my anger towards God and began to truly trust Him and allow Him to use my pain for His glory.
This trust changed the course of my life and illness. I humbled myself, and I finally experienced the comfort and peace I’d been searching for. I was finally able to read Scripture on suffering without being bitter. James 1:2-4 took on a whole new meaning for me: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
My battle with chronic pain and autoimmune illness is not over, (though a functional medicine doctor recently has been able to help me recover from some pain), but in the midst of it I can now find joy. I am now in a frame of mind that is willing to let “perseverance finish its work” so that I can continue to mature. I’ve already seen God shape me so much through this process, and I have faith that He will continue to do so.
I refuse to believe the lies of the Enemy anymore, lies that say that God is not to be trusted and that He doesn’t care about my pain. I now choose to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) each day, so that I can take a stand against the Enemy’s tricky schemes and lies. I choose to believe the countless Scriptures that tell us that God is faithful and He keeps His promises (Deuteronomy 7:9), His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and that all suffering, crying, and pain will come to an end someday (Revelation 21:4).
As I wait for that Day, when all pain will end, I’ll continue to be encouraged by the words of Scripture and the words of Helen Keller that I shared at the beginning. Just as she discovered for herself that character is developed through suffering, I too, have now discovered this. I have experienced increased ambition and strength as a result of God using my pain to transform me. I pray that you too will find greater strength and perseverance through whatever trials you are facing.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, and make His face shine upon you (Numbers 6:24-25). Amen.
***To read more from Sydney Kirkpatrick, check out her blog, Mama of Valor. Sydney loves Jesus and theology, as well as inspiring women through the Word of God while encouraging people to faithfully press into Him in the midst of trials. If you are looking for inspiration, motivation, and empowerment or comfort, encouragement, and solidarity in the midst of a trial or suffering, we encourage you to visit her site!