Surrounded by Suffering

“We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know we are destined for such troubles.” (1 Thessalonians 3:2b-3 NLT)

We often get tripped up in our faith by the troubles and trials we face. But Jesus warned us when He said: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT) The picture Jesus paints with the words “trials and sorrows,” is something that’s being pressed, like a lemon being squeezed.

The troubles of life can make us feel pressured and trapped by circumstances over which we have little or no control. The loss of a job, the sickness of a child, the death of a loved one, these and a thousand other things can push us to the limits of our faith.

A.W. Tozer wrote: “Problems patiently endured will work for our spiritual perfecting.” There’s a likelihood that we won’t mature in our faith if it’s never tested by trials and sorrows. There are things we learn about God and about ourselves in sickness and sorrow that we can learn in no other way.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

When my son was 16, he was diagnosed with leukemia. The only person I’d ever known who had leukemia was a friend I had in eighth grade. He only lived about six months. Hearing those words flow from the mouth of my son’s doctor set my mind racing and what I was hearing was: “I’m pronouncing a death sentence over your son.” I didn’t know the great strides they’d made in cancer treatment. All I“knew” was I was going to lose my son.

My first response wasn’t to beg God for my son’s healing. My faith couldn’t stretch that far. Through the gut wrenching sobs I begged God to take his cancer and give it to me. But it doesn’t work that way, does it? The lessons the Lord wants to teach us, lessons about trust, and faith, and patience, and dependence, couldn’t be learned over night. I needed time, and, gratefully, the Lord gave it to me.

My son will be 47 in June and though the doctors said he would likely never father a child, he and his beautiful wife gave me Miss Hannah, my only grandchild, when he was 39. That period of his sickness taught me that God is faithful, that He can be trusted.

Even as I write these words, I know there are thousands of others who have lost children to cancer, and for other reasons. Why did God spare my son and not theirs? Does He love me more? Am I a better person? No, absolutely not! He loves everyone – sinner and saint – the same. And I’m a work in progress just like everyone else. Perhaps others are stronger than I was. I wish I could give you an answer.

My first funeral was for a young couple who lost a child at birth. I often wish I could have those moments back. I was of no value to that grieving couple. My concern was focused on me and “my” message, rather than on their deep need. I was in my early twenties and knew very little about grief, but if I had it to do over, and in subsequent funerals I finally learned, largely due to what the Lord taught me when my son was ill, that those are precious moments in which God can bring great healing if we’ll let Him.

Today, I would tell them, while I have no concrete reason why God allowed that horribly painful experience to happen in their lives, they now have a greater investment in heaven than ever before. Though their child won’t experience life here, they will live in the blissful presence of their heavenly Father until such a time when they can be reunited with their believing parents.

Whatever the reason, I have learned that God can be trusted and will heal and help us, not only to grow in our faith, but share the pain of others with the compassion and love we learned through times of trial in our own life. That’s why James wrote: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NLT)

Blessings, Ed 😊

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