To say we need a new outlook on suffering may seem like I am advocating for us to just “look on the bright side,” in times of trouble. However, what I’d like to say is we can recognize the tremendous good that God brings to us through our suffering. In a way, He is shepherding us to something better, Himself. To better explain, let me share a story of a recent experience I had while driving.
I vividly remember feeling my blood boiling with impatience and my eyes rolling up my head I loudly proclaimed “Oh come on!” I could not believe the white pickup truck driving in front of me had the audacity to drive the exact speed limit instead of the normal 5 to 10 above that all non-psychopathic people drove, or so I thought at the time. For what seemed like an eternity, we crawled down the two-lane North Georgia road with the two yellow lines down the middle that kept me trapped in what seemed to be my excruciating, long winded, and slow death.
It was when I got to the point of tears forming in my eyes from the agony I was experiencing that I saw the police cruiser parked on the side of the road up ahead. I thought back to the many times in my life when I had been given a speeding ticket for my poor driving choices. I thought about the amount of trouble I would be in with my supportive, yet fiscally determined wife if I had to inform her on this day that I had received a speeding ticket. I thought about my own frustration that I would endure for having to fork over my hard-earned money for something as silly as driving too fast.
It was after all this thinking that I began to become eternally grateful for this slow-moving pick-up truck and its snail-like pace. I called down blessings upon the driver and his family that they would always know God’s favor in repayment for what moments before I had thought to curse. Moments before I had misunderstood. I had seen what caused me pain and suffering as an unnecessary burden.
I think back to the many other times that I have suffered in my life, in particular the real sufferings that I had been through that had serious effects on my life: my near-death car accident, sicknesses, rejections, losses, the periods of prolonged waiting that in this instant gratification culture seemed like death sentences themselves. How many times have I misjudged sufferings as arbitrary burdens and failed to see the good that came from them?
These sufferings were not sent by God but were allowed by Him so I may benefit. Each of them was a cross I was meant to carry, not for my loss or defeat, but for mine and others’ gain and triumph. Every cross I have carried in my life has ultimately been for my own good. Every cross has been for my salvation.
There have been many times when I have questioned God and His goodness during suffering. I could not understand why he would allow something so painful to happen to me or to my loved ones. However, it has always been through the gift of hindsight, after the dust has settled, that I have been able to see how God was with me through the waiting, hurting, and the questioning. In fact, I need to remind myself when new trials come about that God has continued time and time again to reveal His love as I look back at my tough times through this lens.
I recently met someone who, like me, had a near-death experience. I was in a severe car accident at 17 and spent 12 days in a coma. Doctors weren’t sure if I would survive.
Once I came out of my coma, I remember getting my feeding tube removed, learning to walk and talk again, and struggling to lift 5 pound weights in the gym. I hoped to vastly improve so that I could return to high school and graduate on time with my class. It was a tough year, but in the end, so much good came from it.
While I was in my coma, my parents were sharing my story with everyone they knew. Before “going viral”’was a thing, my dad’s emails went around the world requesting prayers for his son. Even to this day, I still have people come up to me to let me know that they were praying for me during that time. I am absolutely convinced that those prayers played a role in my recovery and eventual conversion.
This experience of outpouring love from people across three different continents is a beautiful ray of the light of God that broke through the terrible evil of this car wreck. You don’t just have that many people praying for you without profound impact.
God also brought forth the love and care I experienced through the doctors, nurses, and staff members during my hospitalization. Throughout my hospitalization, many kind and selfless individuals showed me tremendous care I will never forget. Whether they intended it or not, they allowed me to encounter God’s love for me through their actions, which is a beautiful example of how we should treat other humans.
Furthermore, the friends and family who visited throughout my hospital stay left a meaningful impression. I still have a book filled with kind notes many of the visitors had written. Even people I had not seen since my elementary school days stopped in to share with me how much I meant to them. What a beautiful experience!
This car accident changed me more than any event in my life. As a teen, I was honestly selfish and kind of a jerk. I was not purposely rude to others, but I just wanted to have fun, even if it caused others to worry or be annoyed.
After the accident, I was less of a loudmouth and more cognizant of how I treated others. I would, of course, still go on to make many poor choices, but I still tried to be nicer to people than I had been in the past. I do not know whether this was a direct result of the prayers that were said for me, but I do believe that it helped with the foundation that paved the way for my conversion.
This experience would also lay the seeds for my eventual conversion as I discovered that I had someone else watching over my life. This was the foundation that made me begin taking Jesus more seriously.
All this to say the events of our lives are a lot deeper and more meaningful than we think. The good and the bad have a purpose in leading us to our destiny, to change our minds the way I did and discover the truth, that God is real and loves us profoundly.
The suffering that we experience in life is hard, and difficult to bear at times. If we try to bear it without God, we make it even harder on ourselves. However, God helps us to see He is leading us to through it. He shepherds us to good things through our suffering.
Like a driver missing out on a speeding ticket after being forced to go the speed limit by a slow car. God is not called savior because that is what He told us to call Him. He is our Savior because He is always saving us. And sometimes He saves us through our suffering.