Hope in Disguise: How Four Simple Words Can Change Everything

Hope in Disguise:
How Four Simple Words Can Change Everything

“Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.”—Romans 12:12-13 NLT

If you read my last post (Waiting for Redemption) you know the last year has been a difficult one. But during that time, God has continued to sprinkle little blessings here and there via a couple of special women in my life. The friendship and support they have given me have often served to keep my head above the waves as I’ve attempted to tread water in a deep ocean of uncertainty. So many times I have wanted to give up, but at just the right time, their words, hugs, and even silence, have shot hope through my veins when I’ve needed it most.

 
One of the first things she said to me, shortly after I drug my tired, discouraged self into her home yesterday was, “How is the depression?” Four simple words never spoke so much hope into my life. I know, it doesn’t make sense, after all, how can asking a simple question about depression, of all things, actually bring hope? I don’t really know, but somehow it did. Not at that very moment, but a few hours later.

 
Anyone who has dealt with clinical depression (I have now for over 15 years) knows the feeling. Even the simplest activities of daily life seem overwhelming at times. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you’ve got the added guilt of not being a “good” Christian because you’re not walking around on cloud nine all the time (see How to Live When Depression Lingers). If you have a lot of people in your life who don’t understand what you’re going through, sharing your true feelings can be risky. It’s hard for people to resist trying to give solutions and pat answers to “help” you, when in reality all we really want is someone to listen and meet us where we’re at.

 
Anyways, later that afternoon her words sang through my head, “How is the depression?” I was able to speak to her freely about my struggle, while she nodded in understanding. She knows what it feels like too. And, as much as I hate that she knows what it’s like, I am so grateful for it. None of us want to suffer, but, admittedly if it weren’t for our mutual suffering, none of us could relate to anyone in any tangible way. Our struggles are often how we find those “kindred spirits”, the ones who will hold our hand through our trials, speak truth in love, but also listen at the right time, instead of always being the “problem solver” or “advice giver”.

 
Because of her own struggles with depression and hardship, my friend instinctively knew what I needed—to be listened to and met with grace. She didn’t offer up a bunch of things to do to fix my “problem”. Really, she just listened. And it had an amazingly therapeutic effect.

 
Later that afternoon I sat in my recliner, as I have done so many times over the past months, staring at the wall while warm tears flowed down my face. Only this time, it was because of hope. My friend’s four simple words brought me hope. She cared, she understood, and she wasn’t trying to change me. She was merely loving me in the dark places, and continuing to pray in earnest for my physical and emotional healing. In that moment I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness for the two special friends God brought into my life almost two years ago. We are “sisters” in every way. And it isn’t because we’re perfect Christians, it’s because we’re perfectly flawed Christians who know we can be transparent with each other without fear of judgment, criticism, or cliché advice-giving.

 
If you know someone struggling with depression, please try to avoid offering them “solutions”. Your intentions are amazing and appreciated, but unless you’ve suffered in the same way, you can’t really “know” what it’s like or how to “solve” the problem. Yes, we need to go to and stay in God’s word, and yes we need to focus on the truth and refuse to believe lies. Yes all of these things are true and helpful to the depressed Christian, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will produce spiritual rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes the depression lingers and sometimes all we really need is someone to listen. You can be a good friend without offering “answers” to every problem. Often, not spewing “answers” is just what your depressed friend may need.

 
In my case, just knowing how loved I am by a couple of flawed friends inspires me to get back up and move forward through the difficulties instead of allowing them to control me, and the prayers of my friends have been the greatest gift, more so than any “advice” they could have given.

 
So, ask God to bring to mind someone in your life who may need to hear four simple words. Maybe it’s not “How is your depression” but some other difficulty, “How is your [insert chronic illness]” or “How is your grief”? Just asking a question and listening patiently to the answer might be all your hurting friend needs to see a ray of hope amid the darkness of their circumstances. Choose to be that source of light in their life. And most importantly, continue to pray for them, even if it seems they aren’t “progressing” quickly enough through their struggles. God is listening, and in due time, He will answer (and quite possibly use YOU to be the answer).

 

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”—Proverbs 13:12 NIV

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If you or someone you know struggles with depression, or is going through difficult life-circumstances, please share this post. Instead of shying away from these “troubled” people, let’s come together and encourage them through the hope of Christ. Let’s be the hope of Christ in their lives.

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Also, I will be starting a new blog series titled “Choices”, and will be sharing more details about my journey over the past year, and how our choices, from the big ones to the seemingly insignificant, can have a lasting (positive or negative) effect on our lives and the lives of those we love most. Please sign up to receive new blog posts in your email and share this blog with your friends. Your support is much appreciated! Thank you!

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Waiting For Redemption

 

Waiting for Redemption

I’m not particularly looking forward to sharing what I’m about to share with you. In fact, I’ve been fighting it for some time, which, as you may have noticed, is why I haven’t written anything in a couple of months. But the Holy Spirit keeps pressing so, reluctantly (yeah, I don’t always obey cheerfully, shocker!) I am sharing an extremely difficult journey in hopes that someone else out there will make better choices as a result of reading this, and perhaps, save themselves and their loved ones unnecessary pain, heartache, and grief.

 

 
About four years ago my life was completely different than it is today. I was abusing prescription pain killers; I was also taking other mind-altering prescriptions that left me, as my husband later shared, in a state of what he considered the “crazies”. I was emotionally all over the place but mostly in a deep dark depression that left me suicidal on many occasions.

 

 
At the same time, I was struggling with my faith. I had only “come back” to God two years earlier, and was fumbling through the logistics of how to cope with being in an “unequally yoked” marriage. I harbored a great deal of bitterness and resentment towards my husband as well. But, rather than communicate with him about my struggles, I chose to talk about my problems in somewhat of a venting manner, within the confines of a twelve step program (even in the twelve step program, I continued to abuse the drugs). I had no idea how to cope with the things in my life, not just the present situation but my past choices.

 

 
I vented to anyone and everyone except my husband and received varying degrees of advice. I had some Christians advise me to divorce and start over; after all, God would want me to be happy (that’s a load of crap, by the way). I had a lot of voices whispering in my ear, but the one voice I wasn’t hearing or even looking for was God’s. I didn’t pray about it, I talked to people about it. In turn, I followed human reasoning.

 

 
So, one day I made my decision. I told my husband what I was doing, and that it was my body, I didn’t give a damn about his opinion (what a great Christian influence I was!). I refused to pray about this decision because I knew God’s answer wouldn’t be the same as what the people in my life were giving me. I liked their advice, it suited my purposes better. So, in somewhat of a selfish fit of anger, I stormed off and willingly made my choice.

 

 
This decision was made based on emotions and current circumstances, without any regard for the fact that God is all-powerful, and maybe, just maybe, He could and would change the circumstances, my husband’s heart, or my own heart (which was in desperate need of an overhaul!). I didn’t take any of that into consideration though, and by making the decision I did, I deeply wounded my husband in a way that very well could have ended our marriage.

 

 
Over the next two years I got sober, and discovered what a real relationship with Christ is like (as opposed to the legalistic way I was accustomed to). My heart was changing, and in that change, God gave me a glimpse of what I had done through His eyes. I’ll never forget that moment driving home from church in tears. I felt like Jesus was in the passenger seat with me, it was a presence I had never felt so clearly before. I looked in the rearview mirror and there it was, in an instant, my decision laid before me in all its awfulness. I saw my husband’s hurt for the first time. I have no words to describe it other than sheer mortification over what I had done.

 

 
Over the next year my husband and I talked about what happened for the first time, trying to work through it. Then last year the unexplained medical problems kept coming in waves. We went through thousands in medical bills only to never get a straight answer or diagnosis. During that time, my husband made a decision of his own. He started coming to church and told me he “prayed and something happened”. He had a change of heart and it was more than just a prayer. His whole attitude and demeanor changed. We began communicating with each other in absolute honesty for the first time. Ten years of anger and resentment over all the unspoken “issues” was laid out. Several weeks went by where my husband and I cried with each other and dealt with these things one by one until healing could take place in each area.

 

 
What’s happened in our marriage, in my heart, and now my husband’s heart, is nothing short of a miracle. Many have prayed for him and I over the years, and now these prayers are being answered. To hear my husband say, “I want to be the spiritual leader of this family” is, well, it’s a dream come true! Four years ago, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) believe I would see him change or hear those words spoken in sincerity. I could only see what my immediate surroundings were dishing out, and what my emotions were screaming at me. It’s a dangerous thing to make life-altering decisions in times like those.

 

 
A couple of months ago I finally received an answer to the medical problems that had caused me and my family so much heartache and stress over the past year. It could all be traced back to that choice I made four years ago. Yes, it was all because of that choice, the choice I made.

 

 
And friends, I can’t tell you how that feels in words. I can’t articulate the pain, guilt, and shame from realizing you’ve caused your own pain in such a way. And not just for me, but for my family. The stress and financial burden, the doctors, the prayer requests, and it all came back to that one choice. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the words, “This is all your fault” hasn’t swept through my head a few million times over the past eight weeks.

 

 
So, where does that leave me now? I guess I am in a place of waiting. A place of mourning, a place of grief as I realize my child and husband have been irreparably damaged by a stupid choice I made four years ago. That our family is forever changed by it. That my day to day life is changed as I continue to suffer the physical symptoms that will not just magically go away.

 

 
During this time of grief and sorrow, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ve read how God redeems things, and I’ve tried to take hope in that. But honestly, hope wanes most days because in my humanness I can’t fathom how God could redeem this situation nor do I expect Him to. The sad fact is, some of our choices won’t get “redeemed”. Just because we repent does not mean everything is magically fixed with a God sized band-aide.

 

 
So, I’m here to ask you, to plead with you, please please don’t make choices, big or small, in the heat of emotion or in the depths of desperate circumstances. You may think things (or people’s hearts) will never change, but they can.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but just in the last several months I’ve talked to several women who are making terrible choices based on current circumstances. Oh, I can’t tell you how it breaks my heart. One day I know they will grieve those same choices and gnash their teeth in frustration over playing god in their life, instead of stepping aside and trusting and fully surrendering to His perfect plan.

 

 
So, there’s been a lot of crying and wondering if, when, or how God will fix this, understanding He owes me nothing but taking comfort in the fact that He knows my heart. And despite this I am so thankful for the radical change that has come over my marriage. Wow, it’s more than I can comprehend. God is healing our hurts little by little and drawing us closer together every day.
I know I haven’t been specific about what I “did”, but at this point it’s just too painful to talk about. I only share this because I know some of you are feeling overwhelmed by your circumstances, wondering when God will show up and just “fix” stuff or make life easier for a second. While you’re in that time of waiting and wondering, tune out the noise of the people around you and tune in to the Holy Spirit. As hard is it may seem to do what He’s asking, He knows the future, and whatever He leads you in will be for your greatest good. The heartache and grief of choosing to walk in your own way or listen to the advice of people who are content to tell you only what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear will never be worth it.

 

 
As I continue to grieve this loss, I am holding on, if only by the tips of my fingers, that hope is out there somewhere, and God will someday turn this pile of ashes into something meaningful, even if it seems impossible as to how that would come about.

 

 
This post isn’t filled with Scriptures or Christianese, just a simple message from my heart to yours. Choices matter, in our lives and the lives of those we love most. Our choices will affect others. Seek God’s counsel above all else, trust Him, and for crying out loud, listen to Him! Don’t turn back, friends, don’t even look back. Press on, follow Him, and don’t force your will upon His. He’s God, He actually knows what He’s doing. He wants what’s best for you. What I am experiencing now is something God wanted to protect me from. The pain my husband is experiencing is something God wanted to protect him from. The questions and confusion and hurt this has caused my little daughter, is something God wanted to protect her from. . He knew the second I made that choice the ramifications, even though years would pass in the interim. How I wish I had trusted Him!

 

 
And if you’re currently where I’m at, grieving the losses of your choices and watching those around you hurt because of what you’ve done, take heart, Hope is there, it’s just hard to see through the fog of shame and remorse. Eventually the fog lifts. No matter what, don’t give up on your faith making a bad situation even worse. The best thing you can do for your family now is to surrender to Christ 100%, learn from this, and trust Him to bring something good out of it, as He promises to all who love Him and surrender to Him (Romans 8:28).

 

 
Plugging this story into my website is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, it’s embarrassing to some degree, and painful to open up to others in such a deep and personal way, but I am learning, albeit slowly, to trust God in all things, even in something as mundane as a blog post. So, with that being said, I would love to hear your stories of redemption and hope, if nothing more than to encourage me in my sorrow (yes, it’s true, I don’t always have it all together!). Please share your experiences in the comments or email me @ RebeccaAarup@mail.com

The Love God Hates

I’ve got nothing to say other than READ THIS! Excellent article from my friend, Pastor Joe. And while you’re at his website, give him a “follow”, he’s a fellow lover of TRUTH and a gifted Biblical expositor!

Joe Quatrone, Jr.

slide-1-638 A group of first-graders had just completed a tour of a hospital and the nurse who directed them was asking for questions. Immediately a hand went up. “How come the people who work here are always washing their hands?” a little fellow asked.

After the laughter had subsided the nurse gave a wise answer. “They are ‘always washing their hands’ for two reasons. First, they love health; and second, they hate germs.”

In more than one area of life, love and hate go hand in hand. A husband who loves his wife is certainly going to exercise a hatred for what would harm her. “Those who love the Lord hate evil” (Ps. 97:10). “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9).

In my last article, we saw how John’s epistle reminds us to exercise love (1 Jn…

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How to Live When Depression Lingers

One of the most read posts on ilovedevotionals.com since it was first published…it was one of my favorites as well. Check it out!

Rebecca Aarup

Today I had the opportunity to guest write for a friend of mine and fellow Christian devotional writer, Wendy vanEyck at ilovedevotionals.com. I hope you’ll take a second to check this out, as it’s a message dear to my heart. Thanks!
–Rebecca
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How to Live When Depression Lingers
Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on His God. Isaiah 50:10 (NIV)
Shaking my head I punched the “End Call” button on the cell phone while thinking, “That didn’t go too well. Lord, I wish she would at least try to see things from my perspective.”
She didn’t understand what my “problem” was, she made it clear she couldn’t relate to me in any way, and also made it clear that due to my…

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Intimacy: the book is now available

I’ve known Rivera for 17 years and just had the privilege of reading her new book, Intimacy: into me You see. This is a MUST read! Please take a moment to read about it and support my friend in sharing TRUTH. I’ve also added a link to her book on the right-hand side of the screen (or the bottom of you’re screen if you’re viewing this in mobile format) so check it out and share with your friends!

Intimacy Book -Rivera Douthit

I stand completely IN AWE of God who is faithful and true to His promises. IF He says it, that settles it.  He told me three years ago I would write this book. Wow. He meant it! HE never UN-promises His promises.  Oh how He desires a deeper love relationship with every single one of us.  I pray this book catapults you to that place.

Thank you all for your patience, prayers, love and support during the last few weeks.  I am so excited to announce that Intimacy is available. Simply hit one of the many links here. Click BuyIntimacyBook.com where you can order a signed copy of the book.  Or Amazon.com where books are typically available at a cheaper rate.  Either way is great with me. I’m just excited to get the book in your hands.

Did I mention I created a permanent page for the book on this…

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Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics

Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics

 

            Admittedly, I’m an Olympic nerd. I love the drama, the personal stories, the action and intensity of the individual events, and of course, I love rooting for my home country. Normally I tune in to my favorite events, usually whatever is shown on the major networks in prime-time. But this year was different. So far my 2014 has been wrought with more physical nightmares than 2013 delivered. Both my daughter and I contracted a rarer type of flu, one that sent us both to the hospital, one that had us sick for two weeks, and one that eventually gave me pneumonia (which I still have). So, aptly timed, the Olympics aired while I was on bed rest; quite convenient! Having the opportunity to watch not only my favorite events, but all of the events (yes, I even watched Curling!) afforded some great learning opportunities.

 

Shut Up and Own It

           

            After an abysmal performance in Speed Skating, an athlete provided an explanation in an on-camera interview, “I don’t know what it was, but I know it wasn’t me!” Um, ok bud, thank you for clearing up the confusion, because I’m pretty sure I just saw you put up a not-so-stellar time, in more than one race. But it’s ok, it’s not you. It’s the ice, the elevation, or the whacky design on your evidently not so aerodynamic skating suit. But it’s not you. Even worse, this was an American athlete. Not a proud USA moment for me but a clear reflection of how most of society thinks—blame someone else and avoid personal ownership, no matter how ignorant.

            But as much as I want to get down on the guy, I have to admit, I do the same thing. I get defensive about my performance as a Christian, as a wife, or as a mother and I make excuses for my behavior. It’s just easier to heap the blame on someone or something else than it is to own my mistakes, short-comings, or outright blatant meltdowns of maturity. Seeing that interview was like seeing my own reflection. I wanted to judge the guy, but I saw his excuses within my own heart. Maybe there are reasons, circumstances, or outside influences affecting my behavior, but in the end, what I say and do is my own choice. How I perform (behave) is my choice, how I respond to adversity is my choice, how I react to conflict is my choice. It boils down to an attitude and response that either attracts or repels others. Squashing pride, owning our choices, and humbly admitting our faults will attract the right attention (and people) in our lives. Making excuses, blaming everything and everyone, and refusing to take personal responsibility will only serve to show our immaturity and pride, while simultaneously poisoning the relationships in our lives. So, let’s all do each other a favor the next time our attitudes and behavior fall short; let’s shut up and own it, and move on.

Keep a Golden Perspective

 

            Dozens of athletes compete in each Olympic event, but only three walk away with hardware around their necks. Over the last two weeks of competition I’ve seen every range of reaction to a given outcome. Some athletes were overjoyed beyond comprehension just to get on that Olympic podium, they didn’t care what color they got, while others had no trouble hiding their disdain over the color of the medal around their necks (think USA women’s hockey medal ceremony—you would have thought that silver medal was battery acid). By far the attitudes of gratitude spoke volumes more to me than the whiny, it’s-not-good-enough looks of resentment. But again, I find myself looking in the mirror, seeing the reflection of my own heart.

            Truth is (I know, it’ll come as a shock, because we all know I’m perfect…) more often than not I have a spiritual attitude of ingratitude. I compare my circumstances (i.e. what medal I’ve received) and gripe about what the other guy got that I deserved. I studied hard, obeyed a lot, and tithed my paycheck, so why didn’t I get God’s golden favor of physical health and material wealth? But alas, in the real world it simply doesn’t work that way. Christianity is not a vending machine religion, where you dial up a result, put in your coins, and know what you’re going to get. You can do everything “right” and still end up as a widow, a grieving parent, or permanently physically handicapped. Our obedience to God, our choice to follow Him and choose to live from Truth guarantees us nothing (as far as circumstances goes) while we’re walking around on this earth (but it does guarantee a whole heck of a lot in eternity!). No, in this world we will have trouble, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have peace at the same time. That’s the promise of a golden perspective. When we keep our eyes focused on Truth we live and breathe the peace that passes all understanding. That other guy can get the gold medal, we’re fine with the bronze, because we know we’ve been promised much more in a time not too far from now. It’s easy to say but hard to practice, yet maintaining a golden perspective is what will determine how we react to the success of others (as well as our own failures).

 

Well, What Do You Expect?

 

            Don’t even get me started on this issue of unmet expectations. Well I guess I got myself started. Anyways, I could easily be the poster child for this problem, but watching the Olympics reassured me that I’m not alone in the fight. As I listened to the announcers talk about the athletes I was left with an expectation of who was going to come away with the shut-out victory. I mean, the way some of these athletes were discussed, you would have thought everyone else should have just forfeited and handed them the medal. But then the competition would begin and whatever the announcers just said seemed, well, foolish. In some ways, it was humorous as the announcers would be just as shocked as everyone watching. But hey, the unpredictability of the games is part of the excitement. On one hand you’ve got an athlete who can scarce believe their own performance and the gold medal they’ve unexpectedly received, and on the other hand you’ve got a gold medal “favorite” sitting in 4th, 5th, or even 30th place, wallowing in disappointment and “what-ifs”.

            If there’s one thing nearly every conversation about disappointment and despair (“I want to quit!”) has in common, it’s the issue of unmet (and often unrealistic) expectations. Someone didn’t respond to us the way we thought they would (or should), the person we thought was our best friend turned out not to be a friend at all, our financial security was blown out of the water with an unexpected job loss, the happily ever after was cut short by a death…on and on we could go. Like it or not we all have expectations of ourselves and others, and when those expectations aren’t met we get grumpy. There’s a little phrase I learned as a kid, “Give all your expectations to God.” I wish I had paid more attention to it, because it could have saved me a lot of depression, despair, hopelessness, self-loathing, bitterness, resentment, hurt feelings, and lost relationships. Sometimes people won’t treat us the way they should, sometimes we won’t treat others the way we should—it happens. One way to avoid the trap of despair (and self-loathing and self-pity and living life as a victim) is to literally release all our expectations to God. One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Stanley, “Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.”

We have control only of ourselves, our own choices, and our integrity (that is, whether or not we have integrity). So then, the only thing we can reasonably expect is the unexpected. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, it will be easy, or we should stuff our feelings down when things don’t go as planned, it just means we shouldn’t be surprised by it. Whenever we’re struck with feelings of resentment, hurt, despair, feeling like the world is out to get us, etc. it can likely be traced back to an unmet expectation. Like tracing our steps as we search for our lost car keys, we need to trace the pain back to its source and then give that “source” to God. We can try to manipulate others or our circumstances to fit our expectations, but we will never have peace until we relinquish the idea that we have control over anything other than our own free will.

 

Closing Ceremonies

 

            I actually had a longer list than this but I’m tired of typing and you’re probably falling asleep reading. So I’ll end it here. I hope the next time the Olympics rolls around you’ll watch and look for the lessons, because there are many to be found. So, this is Bob Costas bidding you a good night from Sochi…

Alright, it’s just Rebecca, and I bid you a “thanks” for reading, as well as inviting you to share what lessons you may have learned as you watched (or read about) the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

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.