If we must suffer, suffer well

So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice and no one will take away your joy from you.

John 16:22

When things don’t go according to plan, my feelings tend to get involved. Whether it’s feeling restless, lack of peace, fear, hopeless, or helpless to change the facts. Our feelings are strong and can be impossible to ignore at times.

But in this verse from the Gospel of John, Jesus isn’t saying suffering is good or to be enjoyed. He’s telling us that HE is to be enjoyed in the midst of it. All he is, all he’s done for us, and the gift of hope he’s given us – is the reason we will rejoice in the end. So suffering is temporary and it is not the end of our story.

A few years ago I experienced a season of debilitating depression and constant panic attacks. I was always on the edge of either crying or hyperventilating in my seat at work. More than once, two of my managers drove me home in my own car in the middle of the day because I wasn’t okay to even drive. Some days I would drive all the way to church, or to a friend’s house for a party, and sit in my car, totally paralyzed with fear. No more than 15 minutes would pass before I was in reverse and on my way back home where it was safe.

I remember one time watching two of my friends laughing and thinking to myself how strange it was that they could be that happy and wondering if I would ever be happy like that. It was like I was a silent spectator and they were actors on a stage. I was not part of their world.

I can look back on it all today with perspective and peace. But when you’re in it, it feels like a dead end. No light at the end of the tunnel. No way out of the hole. You’re just stuck. This is the time when we tend to get a whole lot of well-meaning and unsolicited advice like, “You’re not trusting God enough” or “You’re being dramatic. Just snap out of it.”

One trusted mentor at the time told me that the reason I was still depressed was because I was being selfish and that I just needed to stop turning my attention inward. I was all manners of annoyed and hurt when I first heard that. But now with many years’ distance and perspective from what I took as a personal slight on my character, I realize the profundity of that statement (and I leave the insult in the past).

It feels counter intuitive to our flesh that leaning into God could possibly resolve our inner turmoil. The wisdom of the unbelieving world might call that “sticking your head in the sand” or “being in denial”. But I found from experience that getting out of my own head truly was the antidote to this inner turmoil.

By the help and discipleship of a few godly women I began anew to pursue God through his word. I bowed all my brokenness and expectations to Him and he met me exactly where I was, with no hidden agenda other than to love me. Slowly and surely, the depression and panic attacks subsided. I began to attend social events again. I trembled in prayer and earnestly jounaled as though I was leaving a precious and vital record of my last days on earth. And I guess I was, in a way.

Of course, the pain of different things wasn’t gone. I’m still working through some of it, but I realized that a good life isn’t actually the absence of suffering. Suffering is a given in the world, but God doesn’t change.

Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will recedive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

Now, I was living a dual reality where I simultaneously know suffering and the peace of God. I take comfort in the fact that in our frailty we aren’t able to or expected to resolve the thing. We just know that what is happening is the thing we were told would happen.

You will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Matthew 10:22

Jesus didn’t promise perfection in this life, but he gave us a way through it: hope. We hope for the day we take our room in the Father’s house (John 14:2). We hope for the day we are crowned with everlasting life (James 1:12). And we hope for the day that God is proven to be exactly who he says he is (John 4:23).

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