If I were to ask you if I could give you suffering, my guess is your response might be, "Thank you for thinking of me, but at this time, I'll pass on that!”
Suffering is a gift most of us would prefer to never receive. How, then, does this "gift" enter into our lives and homes? Sometimes it comes because of our own decisions and actions. We ALL sin, and when we ignore God's loving conviction of that area, by choosing to continue on the sinful path we are on, suffering may arrive. In this instance, suffering can be felt not just by the one choosing the wrong, but also by those nearest to them. Possibly you have experienced suffering from your own actions or you have suffered deeply due to someone else's choices. In our human understanding, one appears justified, while the other seems totally unjust. Regardless, both sides will walk through the difficulty and pain of suffering.
At other times, suffering can come from normal life occurrences, as well as the darkness of this world. Things like moving/relocation, loss of a job/provision, serious illness or disability, the death of a loved one, rejection, evil, crime, hatred... These and more open the possibility for us to receive the gift of suffering.
What do we do when suffering comes? We can act as if we aren't really suffering, pretending we are fine. We can be angry and avoid people that love us and the God that created us, turning to sins and addictions of all kinds. The world offers us numerous choices, which can cover the pain of suffering for a time, but only for a time.
Or, we can accept this mysterious gift of suffering. What does acceptance mean? For me personally, it means Habakkuk. I recently read that the Hebrew meaning of Habakkuk is both to wrestle and to embrace. While these seem contradictory, how well they can work together! Over the years, wrestling for me has included being angry with God for what I viewed as unjust suffering, which lead to questions, doubts, periods (sometimes lengthy) of feeling like God had forgotten me and His promises to me. It has caused me to feel as if God has been silent towards me, as well as silencing my voice.
From the wrestling has come the sweet side of this mysterious gift of suffering. It has caused me to seek after God more than I ever have. It has changed my understanding of God from being what I thought He should be into being who and what His Word says He is. This gift has allowed me to experience God in greater depths than I ever could have without suffering: Comforter, Provider, Counselor, Husband, Father, Faithful Friend. Because of the gift of suffering, I have been forced to rest from being and doing.
While resting does not come easily for me, that period of rest brought healing and strength. Suffering can be a confusing time of wrestling, embracing, wrestling, embracing, wrestling, etc, and that is ok. How good it is to wrestle with God when it leads to a tighter embrace of Him!
Suffering has made me more aware and compassionate to the sufferings and needs of those around me. I don't have answers or fixes for them, but I can encourage them toward healthier thinking and actions in difficult times.
God has a purpose for our lives, and that includes times of suffering. There are days when I can forget the blessed side of suffering and only focus on the pain. Those days come when I have taken my eyes off my trust in Him and placed them on only what can be seen around me. Just like Jesus, we must look past the present to the things above (Colossians 3:2), realizing that our present sufferings have eternal value.
If I could turn back time, I, probably like you, would most likely not ask for the gift of suffering in my life. I can truthfully say, though, that it has been a treasured gift and one I would never want to return!
Paula Davis has been a christian for over 35 years, working in Church Ministry for 15 years. Her best job is being a mom to her daughter, Beka. A series of losses impacting her life caused her to walk through several years of suffering and pain. Today, Paula still works in Church Ministry and has a heart for hurting women, with a special focus on mentoring and serving widows.