Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You
A few hours ago a friend and I were musing about the difficulties we’ve experienced in our lives over the past year. “I wonder if God is taking a nap,” may have been uttered. Both of us have been through our fair share of suffering, but if it was a contest I’d have to say she is the winner, hands down. So in a lot of ways I remind myself that as bad as I think my situation is, it’s certainly not as bad as it could be (don’t we all try to make ourselves feel better with that statement?). Our conversation sort of ended with a, “Well, life sucks, time to go take a shower now.”
As I’ve been doing a lot lately, I stood in the shower after our talk and stared at the wall, thinking, praying, complaining, questioning…and finally I just had to ask, “Why does it have to be like this, God? I mean, why does it have to take thirty years for someone to find out they’ve been married to a monster? Why has it taken me over a year of suffering without any answers or diagnosis? Why, if we have to suffer, can’t it just be quick? Why couldn’t she have found out about her spouse a year into her marriage? Why couldn’t I have gotten a diagnosis last year when this all started instead of being turned away time and again by doctor after doctor? Why, why, why?”
Of course I know better than to ask “why,” but for some reason I chose to go that route with God anyways. And as it happens when things like this are going on, God has been strangely silent during my prayer times. But this time (maybe He’d heard enough whining?) He chose to speak to me. He said, “What if it’s not about you?” And that was it. He allowed me to stew on that one for a while. So I stood there staring at the walls, having just received a verbal crack upside the heart with a truth so simple yet so profound I couldn’t even respond.
Then I thought of Job, how he probably suffered more than any human being in the history of humanity (besides Jesus), and how he never had the privilege of knowing the “why” behind his tragedy. Not that he didn’t ask, but God never answered him specifically (at least, not on this side of heaven). And then I think of how many people throughout the course of time have been helped because of Job’s story. How many people have suffered and turned to the pages of that book to find the answer to their “why” only to stumble across chapters 38-42, and realize they probably won’t ever know their “why” either, but somehow gaining a measure of hope from his story.
Then I think of how much my friend has suffered, and I consider how much my spiritual life has grown just through knowing her, and as a result of watching her suffer. Maybe, just maybe, my suffering isn’t about me at all. You know, we say it all the time (and I hate hearing it, honestly) that “God is just teaching me a lesson right now, I’m trying to listen to what He’s saying” as if God is some cosmic sadist getting some sort of pleasure out of causing us pain, just to teach us a lesson. That is not the God I know from the Bible, my God isn’t a sadist. My God came to give me life to the full (John 10:10), not cause me misery in order to teach me something. But, that doesn’t mean pain or suffering isn’t a part of the process of life, in general. And who am I to presume to know the plans and purposes of God, anyways? How do I know what God is doing in someone else’s life as a result of my suffering? The truth is, I don’t know, and neither do you. We don’t know who is watching us or being ministered to through our pain. We don’t have a clue as to what God is up to about 99% of the time. We only know what we wish He were up to, or what we expect Him to be up to, and most of the time (at least in my experience) he rarely delivers as expected (I find He delivers far better than expected).
I sit here and think of all the people who have influenced me in my life, and many of those people suffered a great deal. A lot of what God taught me had to do with watching them respond to their circumstances. And all of this gives me pause. Because if my suffering isn’t even about me, that means God is using me for some greater purpose in someone else’s life, even if I’ll never know who, what, or why. Who am I to be used by God? All of a sudden my “why” turns into an “Oh, thank you, God, for choosing me!” Not that I am happy about suffering (who is?) but knowing all of this actually has nothing to do with me gives me some measure of peace within the ugly process of hurting.
Throughout the past few weeks God has brought a verse to mind repeatedly, and it’s worth noting here, “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” Ephesians 5:16, NLT. The reality is we are all going to suffer. Some of us will experience great loss. Some of us will die younger than we had thought. Some of us will be considered “Modern day Jobs” by our friends. Some of us won’t really suffer much at all. But one thing we all have in common is that from the moment we take our first breath, we are already beginning the process of losing time and dying. So as William Wallace shares in the movie Braveheart, “All men die, not every man truly lives.”
Within the process of suffering a pathway to true living exists, through embracing the pain (not with a giddy, happy, la-la kind of feeling, but in an embrace of surrender) and trusting that God is choosing to use us in His master plan in ways we won’t be able to comprehend. That maybe this journey we’re on isn’t even about us, it’s about Him and seeing how intricately he fits the pieces of our puzzles together to bring ultimate life abundant to us and others, all for His glory. Like Joseph was able to say to his brothers, “What Satan meant for harm, God used for good.”
Then again, maybe none of what I’m saying here makes sense to anyone but me. I don’t know. I just know that at least in my suffering, I am gaining a bit of relief in knowing it’s not about me at all. And I’m finding a way to be thankful in it, even excited about it, because I know God is working something incredible out. And whether I know what it is on this side of heaven or on the other, I will understand it eventually, and when the final picture is brought together, I know I’ll be smiling as Jesus looks at me and says, “It hurt, but it was worth it, don’t you think?” Yeah, it is, Jesus, it is.
The first thought that came to mind when I read this was “I wonder if she knows who Elisabeth Elliot is”. Here is a link to one of her talks about suffering: http://www.reviveourhearts.com/radio/revive-our-hearts/classic-message-elisabeth-elliot/
Of all that, it is the simple things that I hear or even read in the Word that do the most work. I will paraphrase this one thing that she said… During the time that Jesus was on Earth, He experienced every form of suffering a man could know. He went through what I went through and will go through. It seems I need to be told repeatedly to trust Him and not lean on my own understanding.
Tim, yes I’m quite familiar with Elizabeth Elliot! I’ve got a few of her books in my library. Also Kay Arthur has written some great stuff about suffering. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Excellent post, Rebecca, both in substance and style! I have been away for a while, but am catching up with all my favorite bloggers, which of course you are one of. This is very inspiring and encouraging! You really hit the nail on the head with this one! I like how you take suffering and put it in an entirely new perspective for your readers and to give God the glory!
You and I could probably swap many stories about the sufferings we have endured. When I am suffering, I try to remember some important verses: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Paul said sharing in the glory of Christ in the future required sharing in His sufferings in this life. But our present sufferings are far outweighed by the glory that will be revealed in (as well as to and through) us! This future glory is so great that present sufferings are insignificant by comparison. The glory is forever, whereas our suffering now is temporary. Certainly this truth can help believers endure afflictions.
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). Part of the means used by God in our transforming, renewing process is suffering. Paul compared the sufferings he had experienced, severe as they were, to light and momentary troubles. They were nothing in view of the eternal glory that would be his when he would be in Jesus’ presence and would be like Him. This is amazing: all of his heavy, continuous burdens were, he said, “light” and “momentary”. While his hardships were far beyond his ability to endure, he said his coming glory far outweighs them all. This is extraordinary! This eternal perspective and hope in things to come sustained Paul in the midst of the temporary sufferings that marked his ministry. As he elsewhere reminded the Corinthians, the world and its present sufferings are passing away. What is seen (the material) is temporary, but what is unseen (the spiritual) is eternal. The temporal will be replaced by a “glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:4), an “eternal glory in Christ” (1 Peter 5:10). How we long for that day!
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin” (1 Pet. 4:1). Maintaining proper conduct in suffering requires that we maintain a Christ-like attitude, living for the present in God’s will, knowing that we will live for eternity in His presence. Peter referred back to Christ’s suffering and applied the principles of patient endurance in unjust suffering. He exhorted believers to arm themselves with the same courageous attitude or mind-set Christ had regarding suffering. With the same determination and care with which a soldier puts on his armor, we are to adopt Christ’s attitude toward persecution and suffering – an unswerving resolve to do God’s will. Christ suffered in His body and we suffer in our body also. God uses our suffering for His glory!
Thanks again for this great reminder, Rebecca! God bless!
I JUST now saw this comment, Joe! Thank you for checking in on my blog, it is always an honor and quite humbling to know you read anything I write. I very much look up to you and your writing! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on suffering. I feel like it’s a subject we could write/discuss for an eternity. I don’t understand it all, but I know God is teaching me a lot through each experience. And with each new trial I am learning how to trust Him more and rely on ME less. Do you happen to have an email address? Or do you have mine? I can’t remember if we’ve corresponded that way. I have something to run by you! 🙂
I don’t have your email. Mine is email@example.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Thanks! Will be in touch soon!
This was so encouraging to me today. You are so young to be so wise.
(By the way, I am sending out a Knee-Mail devotion this week…so if you need to use it for your servant sisters, feel free to do so.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Happy New Year to you too Rachel! How are you feeling? Maybe send me an email with an update. 🙂
The Why? The Answer: It isn’t even about you! Yes, I would have to agree in more ways than one! I asked this same question multiple times, WHY did this have to happen? Why is my body going through SO much pain and hurt? Yes, I have asked the same questions, time and time again, and will never forget when the night nurse said to me, “it might not have anything to do with you!” Wow, that was a moment I will always remember! Many times, our sufferings, our loss, our hurt, our pain…..each used for His purpose, to teach or to share His glory to those that are watching us go through it!
Love this so much Rebecca! There is truth in so many words that you have spoken…..the most important, the fact that each of us are like puzzles, we have an outer edge border, a name defining who we are, and lots of pieces to connect to be able to see the image we were created to be!! The ONLY question to ask is “God, where does this piece go?”
Thank you for sharing!!
Yeah, someone named Stacey put me on to this “puzzle” idea. 😉 It’s an illustration that helps me see things a lot differently!