How to persevere and honor God in the midst of suffering: Part 1

Why do we suffer?

Have you ever had a time in your life that was really hard and painful? If you live on this earth, then your answer is probably YES. No matter one’s personality, ethnicity, culture, family dynamics, religion, or socioeconomic status, we ALL have experienced some level of pain and suffering. There are three primary reasons why we suffer: (1) other people’s sin against us, (2) our own sin, and (3) the simple fact that we live in a fallen world. Man’s original sin in Genesis 3 has far reaching tentacles that touch so many aspects of our lives, including our physical and mental health. Nobody is immune. Part one of this blog will focus on our own suffering. Part two will focus on how to love others in their suffering.

Questioning God

I am well acquainted with pain both in my personal life and in my professional life as a mental health counselor. Nothing shakes our faith more than pain and suffering. We feel confused and begin to question God. How could he let this happen? Why didn’t he protect me? If he’s good, why is there so much evil? I can’t even pretend to know all the answers to those questions. There is a profound mystery in God’s sovereignty and so much we will never wrap our minds around on this side of heaven. That’s a hard truth to accept, especially if you struggle to let go of control. But one thing I have learned in my own walk is that it’s okay to grieve what we don’t understand about God. It’s okay to bring your doubts and questions to him. It’s okay to lament. There are dozens of Psalms where King David, the man after God’s own heart, cries out to God with fears, doubts, and confusion. God is not afraid of your big emotions. One of the most beautiful things I find in David’s laments is that they often end in praise. He lets out unfiltered cries and accusations, and then he starts worshiping God’s goodness and faithfulness.

Outwitting the enemy

  • Remember when Satan came along to tempt Jesus in the wilderness? Jesus resisted all his attempts, but Satan didn’t give up for good. He left Jesus until an “opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Suffering definitely presents itself as an opportune time for Satan to swoop in and wreak havoc in our life. Here are some tips to outwit the enemy:
  • Resist isolating. Isolation gives Satan an opportunity to trap you into his lies and to distort your ways of thinking, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and even apostasy. Stay connected to the body of Christ and allow trustworthy individuals to walk alongside you.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell God what you’re honestly thinking and feeling. He already knows anyway, so you’re not fooling him with your self-protective, polished prayers.
  • Allow yourself to truly grieve, whether it’s a death, the loss of your childhood innocence, broken relationships, the effects of chronic pain, etc. Seek counseling if you need someone to help you navigate and process the grief.
  • Grasp firmly to the truth that God is good, even when your circumstances are not good. Stay rooted in His Word, and guard your heart against unforgiveness, bitterness, and pride.
  • Remember you are living in the tension between “already” and “not yet”, meaning we are already taking part in the Kingdom of God, but His Kingdom has not yet reached its full expression. So although sin and death have already been defeated through Jesus, its final defeat has not yet happened in this life and in our bodies. But one day it will. So, live out your faith in the direction of that promise.
  • Don’t forget that even when you’re in a physical battle, you’re also always in a SPIRITUAL battle. Be mindful of Satan’s strategies against you and use spiritual weapons, like prayer and Scripture.

Grace to endure

My dear sisters, we cannot avoid dealing with pain and suffering, but your pain does not have to own you. While it may be part of your story, it isn’t the main character. When the pain feels unending and God seems absent, remember that his grace doesn’t always mean rescuing us from our circumstances; sometimes his grace is found in our power to endure and to persevere. “The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). Keep running the race set before you. Pain is part of life, but God won’t waste it. He can use it as part of your discipleship and your sanctification if you keep walking with Him through the valley of pain and suffering. So, remember – God will continue to be on his throne, and your pain will not have the final word.