Friday, June 7, 2013

From my heart: Suffering

Although this blog has really just been a visual diary for my family I am doing something different today and writing from my heart.

The topic of suffering in the Christian life has been very much on my mind over the last couple of months. I have two dear friends who are going through a tremendously hard time and so I have been asking the Lord to help me understand how I can encourage them and what He teachers in His word about these times of terrible trial.

What makes these two situations similar is that the trials are not something they are suffering themselves - but rather their dear sons. The one friend's son (let's call her Sally and him Tim) was born just 1 month before Asher and had major heart problems. Tim did really well in his first few weeks (better than expected really) and spent more than a month at home with his older sister (who is just older than Hezekiah). As his oxygen levels then got dangerously low he had to go into hospital for the first of many operations. He spent a hard month in hospital fighting for his life but at 3 months old he died.  Sally was devastated with his death and told me that even as she held him while he was dying she could not believe it was happening. There were so many people all over the world praying for Tim and she was so sure that he would survive.

My other friend, Liezel, has a son, Jayden, who was born with very severe Cerebral Palsy and was only given 3 months to live. Liezel was told he'd be a vegetable. Liezel says Jayden didn't get the memo! He is now 8 years old and although he can not do anything for himself (even holding his head up is something he has learnt to do and can only do for a short period at a time) Liezel and Jayden have an amazing relationship and they communicate wonderfully with each other. There are many photos of Jayden with a huge smile on his face and lately Liezel has heard him saying "love you". As with Sally though, Liezel believes that Jayden will be fully healed. She believes that once she has enough faith - Jayden will be healed.

Both these situations make me very sad. Not only do these dear ladies have a huge trial to go through - but they have the added burden of feeling as though they have not done enough. That Sally was not able to save her little boy. That Liezel does not have enough faith to heal her son. I do not believe this is right.

I happen to have an adult friend, Debbie, who has CP and although not as bad as with Jayden - it has affected her life in so many ways. It took her many years to learn to walk and even now walking is not easy for her. Over the years she has struggled terribly with a weakened immune system - getting sick often and as with most CP cases - struggles with terrible muscle spasm which is very painful as well as the horrible migraines she often gets because of those tight muscles.

I know that when Debbie was in high school she went to a number of healing services and many times she believed with all her heart that the Lord would heal her. It was devastating for her when He didn't. So I was very interested in talking to Debbie about her experiences with this disappointment and I asked her what some of the key issues are.

The first thing she mentioned was contentment. Yes, we can pray for the healing - but we need to be fully content in where the Lord has us right now.  She went on to talk to me about how, in living with CP, she has a daily need to trust in the Lord. She said for people like herself - their need to have Christ as their focus every single day is so very real. A necessity. Every day when she gets up she needs the Lord's help to get herself dressed or to even make a cup of coffee. She relies on Him so much. If she was healed - in time all those things would just be taken for granted and she feels she would not have as close a walk with the Lord as she does now.

I have really been asking the Lord to help me understand this all more and have been doing a lot of reading on this topic. I happened to get a free kindle copy of Joni Eareckson Tada's new book "A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the mysteries of suffering, pain and God's sovereignty". Although I have not finished reading it yet - it has already taught me so much and re-affirmed much of what I learnt in my first years of being a Christian when I read Jerry Bridge's book "Trusting God, even when life hurts." (If you would like to do a detailed study on this topic yourself - please get these books. They will give you a lot of biblical instruction on this topic.)

And this is where things turn to me. Over the last 5 or 6 weeks I have been struggling with frustrations in my Christian walk. Two months ago things were settling into such a nice pattern. I was getting up before Asher and Hezekiah and getting to have a wonderful time of quiet with my Lord every morning. My prayer life was improving wonderfully and I felt so close to the Lord. I was getting to all the little things in the home and for my family that I know are priorities but don't always around to (even simple things like playing with the children and reading to them). Things just felt so good. I felt the Lord was strengthening me in my walk with Him and I was learning and growing.

And then things just started to get hard. Brendon's Dad got very ill and spent time in hospital before he died. The emotional drain of that must have weakened my immune system as I then got a bad case of mastitis (a breast infection where you honestly feel so bad you feel like you have been "hit by a bus") and ended up on antibiotics for almost 2 weeks. This in turn upset Asher's tummy really badly and she went from having a solid 6 to 7 hours at night to just 4. I was amazed at how much strain that extra night feed was putting on me physically. Now I was having to sleep in as long as I could. Having to get up when Asher finally woke up (and every morning longing that she would just sleep a little longer). No longer was I getting to all those extra things but I was just surviving each day.

Eventually I motivated myself to start getting back to those things that I wanted to get to every day - trying to tell myself to not expect too much but just take it one step at a time. Starting with at least getting time in the Scriptures every day and trying to meditate on what I was reading. Things definitely improved but the nights were still hard and I found myself often saying "I just want things back the way they were a month ago". Added to the mix was Hezekiah teething again and waking crying at night. I remember talking to Brendon about it and saying that it is never just one thing that seems to "go wrong" but there seems to always be a number of trials on top of each other. It seems to have happened many times in the past that I get to a point of feeling like things are just ticking over nicely. I have wonderful habits forming and life is just feeling good and I am growing closer to my Lord. And then things hit that just throw everything out.

Last night after bible study Steve stayed for a cuppa and Brendon, Steve and I sat chatting for over an hour. During this time of sharing and encouraging I realized that all of this studying about suffering was something that I had to learn about for my own life too. Yes, my troubles are just tiny in comparison to Sally and Liezel and Debbie. I had to realize though that the Lord was teaching me similar things. What I realized last night was that I always think that I am closest to the Lord when life is easy and the days go well. When I get my time in Scripture and prayer and it's easier to resist sin and I "feel" like I am becoming a better person.

I realized what Debbie had tried to tell me when talking about that daily reliance on the Lord. The Lord will never give me more than I can handle. So if He has given me these trials (even though they feel so small) and they make it harder to get time in the Word and prayer as I would like - I must not judge my closeness to God by those things. Yes, I will put an effort in to get that time with my Father - but I will not allow myself to judge my relationship with him based on external things. I will not again refer to myself as having "gone backwards" in my walk with Him. He has shown me through the encouragement of other Christians who also struggle - that even in those terribly hard times (and perhaps especially in those terribly hard times) we can be the closest to the Lord. Relying on Him every day. Perhaps more aware of our sin and failures - but then also going to Him so much more often for His forgiveness.

Although it was mentioned last night - Debbie reminded me of this scripture again today (and it was good to see it in print).
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

I think back over my Christian walk and know that every time things got hard I started getting burdened under guilt of not living in the way that I wanted to. Times of seeing my sin so clearly and hating it so much that I would get so despondent as I struggled and felt like I was not overcoming the sin. What the Lord has made so clear for me now is that when I do that - I am focused on myself and not HIM. He has allowed every one of these harder times and He has promised to work every one of those times for my good. Romans 8:28 "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

And this is the comfort we all have - no matter what the struggle is. In all my reading about suffering I had not seen my own struggles as sufferings too. We all have different challenges but they all have the same purpose - to get us more dependent on our Lord and saviour - Jesus Christ. And what is perhaps important for myself and my two friends is to be ever mindful of is Romans 8:1 "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." With my struggle with my sin, with Sally's struggle of wondering if she did enough for her son, with Liezel's longing for her son to be healed. In all these things the Lord does not want us to have guilt and to be living under condemnation. He wants us to be trusting HIM. Daily.

For me that seems to mean not looking at that "to do list" and judging my relationship with the Lord based on how many "good things" I get done each day. For Sally this might mean not looking back and questioning why Tim died but daily trusting that the Lord had every day of Tim's life in His hands. For Liezel this might mean she needs to stop putting Jayden's healing as her own responsibility and trust that each day God has a perfect plan for Jayden's life. For each one of us we have to take Debbie's advice and learn to be content. Really content with what God has decided for us - for today. No looking back. No looking forward. Just trusting today. Using today to love God more and to trust Him fully.

Does this mean that I will stop struggling with sin? No. Does this mean that the heartache that Sally feels over Tim's death with disappear? No. Does this mean that life will be easy for Liezel as she cares for Jayden with all his struggles? No. We can however hold onto all the promises that God has made in His Word for the times of trial and hardship. We can take comfort in the fact that God's "grace is sufficient" for us. It is only in these times of trial and difficulties that we learn even more about God's grace and care and love.

Through these times we need to keep our eyes fixed on heaven. The joy of being in heaven with no sin or sickness or death. These times of sadness and struggling only make heaven all the more sweet. Philippians 3:20-21 "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory."

I thank the Lord for His word and that He has given us so much to hold onto through times of trial. May we all keep our eyes fixed on Him.

PS: I sent a copy of this post (before publishing it) to both of the friends I mentioned as they were the first reason I started writing this post. I wanted to write to them privately to encourage then but decided to rather share it with all those who read my blog.

I want to share some of what Sally wrote to me so that we can praise the Lord together for His faithfulness:
"I have total peace in my heart at the moment and that Tim's place will always be in my heart and he will always be my brave, handsome little boy but I trust fully that God knew and know now what was best not only for him but also for us....  Never in my life have I been tested like the past year and never before in my life have I felt so close to God, not only do I love Him but I feel I know Him.. a wonderful feeling.."

I also praise the Lord for the reply that I got from Liezel. I thank the Lord that in sharing my heart I could encourage her. Some of what she wrote is this:
"I guess I got back into works in trying too hard from my side, instead of just believing and trusting God and His timing."

May we all learn to trust him more and may He give us all His wonderful peace.


Liz said...

What a great post. So beautifully written and filled with truth.

Riana said...

Thanks Belinda, for this very encouraging post.