I’ve struggled a lot with this concept lately. I had reached the chapter in my devotional The One Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie on “The School of Suffering.” As I read through verses saying “we are called to suffer,” I became quite frustrated with the terminology. If we are indeed called to suffer and to rejoice in suffering, does it then follow that we are to ask for suffering? Knowing full well the possible ways I can suffer I do not have any desire to ask God for more suffering, or to welcome it in my life.
Slowly through my struggle to understand what God wants of me, he has started pointing out truths that were missing in my initial reaction to this topic. Here is my attempt to share those truths with you. They have come to me over a series of weeks and in different circumstances. I am quite sure I have still more to learn on this topic and that my understanding is still flawed, but hopefully it is becoming clearer.
1. Surely God wouldn’t ask of me to request the suffering of giving up a child. It goes against the very grain of motherhood and it would in effect be asking for the suffering of others as well as myself. This may seem obvious, but I did have to reach this point in my thinking on my own. With this realization I was able to pray the following prayer: “Lord, help me to be open to whatever road you have planned for me. Help me to accept any trials that come my way.”
2. What God asks of me may not be as bad as I imagine. I should know that by now, seeing how his strength has walked me through so much, but the truth of that had gotten lost somewhere in my worrying over the future. As I rode home one day in the car, I again started up a conversation with God, struggling with my confusion and unwillingness to accept any suffering ahead. “Miriam,” I felt God say. “Do you remember walking through post-partum depression and all that I taught you as a result of it?” “Oh yes, God,” I answered. “I do. Post-partum depression! Is that all you ask of me? I would gladly walk through that again if it is in order to learn more of you, as long as you walk beside me as you did before.” I know this may not be “all” that God asks of me, but why do I continually burden myself with worry about the worst possible things that could happen instead of just accepting what God asks of me–to walk one step at a time holding onto His hand.
3. God expects us to be honest with him. We learned this in Sunday School as we looked at the psalms of David in which he pours out incredible anger and frustration and is apparently not reproved for it. This makes it alright for me to tell God how I am feeling. To tell him that I am scared and hesitant over what he may ask of me, even if it is just post-partum depression. I can explain to him how I dread the long, lonely, dark nights ahead after the baby comes. I can pour out my sadness to him as I work on the funeral pages in Emma’s scrapbook, and adamantly say to him that I never want to do that again–experience the funeral of my child. Through this honesty, I can be comforted by God himself, which I have been.
4. I do not have to ask for suffering, in fact it is not wrong for me to ask that I do not suffer in certain ways. (Although the answer may not be yes.) As I sat listening to Pastor Dave’s sermon on suffering last Sunday I learned this profound fact. I found comfort in the story of Job and the teaching that God chooses some people to suffer because they can be trusted in it. Can I be trusted by God? I hope so. And I also found satisfaction in Pastor’s reminder that suffering is not about us, it is about God. Something I profoundly believe. I got a little hung up on the blessings of Job afterwards, because I find it strange that no one ever mentions the fact that God did not replace all that Job had lost. Sure, wealth and livestock and material possessions can be replaced. But children, as anyone who has lost a child will tell you, can not be replaced. Would you willingly accept a replacement from God for any of your children, even if that replacement were more beautiful and spiritual than the one you would be giving up? I find that I am in fact in a better place than Job was, for I have the assurance of being reunited with my daughter, and I am not convinced that Job’s first children will be in heaven. I’m not sure where all those thoughts will eventually get me, but as the service moved on to communion, it was a natural progression to think of suffering in light of the cross. And it struck me that as Jesus anticipated the crucifixion ahead, he must have really struggled with it. In fact we know he did, as God so graciously allowed us to see a glimpse of this struggle as Jesus sobbed before his father and asked that “this cup be taken from me.” I know that my anticipation of possible post-partum depression is very small in comparison to what he was struggling with, but surely it can not be wrong for me to follow his example and say: “God, please take this away from me.”