The Classroom of Suffering

– written by Katy, edited by Anna and Elisabeth

This journey has lasted much longer than I had hoped or expected. I think most trials in life do. While I can now take a few small steps with a cane or walker, I’m no where near my former life of mobility and independence. In fact, when I try to resume “normal” activities, I can experience paralyzing frustration and disappointment. A real tension exists between what was and what is. I long for the mobility I had before, while also seeking to accept the challenges of where I am today. I work and wait in hope while trying to embrace the process.

Unexpected crises leave us suspended between what was and what now is. After the crisis passes we are left assessing the damages and finding a new normal. Though at times I feel stuck in this in-between season, I am finding that “new normal” – a new way of doing life with more limitations.

The word crisis means turning point. I am told that in Chinese the word crisis is made up of two characters, one that means danger and the other opportunity. So while crisis can threaten to take us out, it also provides an opportunity for change – revealing areas in our lives where it is desperately needed. Learning lessons, and growing through hard times, makes us feel better about them, giving our pain some meaning and purpose. Regardless of my motivation for learning and changing through this, I know that I have and pray that I will not miss this opportunity.

Allow me to share with you some of the things that I have learned.

  1. No matter how bad things are, there is always someone suffering worse. In some of my worst moments of pain, I drew strength from remembering persecuted Christians around the world, or remembering the mothers of the Nigerian girls who were abducted from school, and not yet rescued. My eyes have been opened in new ways to the pain of others. For example, for the first time I SEE the needs of the disabled in a more tangible way. I now see someone sitting in a wheelchair or using a walker as someone who needs a smile, a greeting, and sometimes a hand. It helps to see more of God’s purpose in the hard things that happen to us. I am hopeful I will never be the same person I was, even if my mobility and independence are restored.
  2. Never take for granted how intricately and wonderfully made we are – everything fitting together for our good. Yet we live in a fallen broken world and in a moment’s notice the balance can be broken, systems can fail, and things can stop working like they were meant to. I understand better the reality that God not only created all things, including me, but He holds it all together (Col.1:17). So when it stops working like it’s supposed to, our Hope is ultimately in Him to heal and save us. (We look to him even though we accept all the help we can get from modern medicine.)
  3. Independence is an illusion. We will end in the way we began, dependent on another for life. We are not ultimately dependent on doctors, medications, presidential candidates, government benefits, etc.; we are dependent on Him for life. I have learned I am far more dependent than I ever knew and would do well to humbly acknowledge from where my strength and help really come (Psalm 121)!
  4. Although God may allow hard things to pass through His hands, there are far more good gifts from His hands than bad. So I can say with Job:”Shall I receive good from Him and not bad” (Job 2:10)?
  5. We are not born or reborn with character. Instead, these things come from above and are produced through suffering (James 1:17). This is one reason I can thank God in my suffering and even embrace the pain, since it may help produce much needed character in me (Rom. 5:3; James 1:3).
  6. I don’t have what it takes to cope with life’s crises or its daily routines. After months of being in recovery, I realize I have fewer resources than I ever imagined to cope with the discipline of recovery. I need more patience, endurance, peace of mind, and stamina of soul and body than I possess naturally. I need supernatural help to finish this race. I need the fruits of the Spirit – which are the signs of His life in me. It makes me wonder how many gifts He has given me, or wanted to give, that I have not received. There is a song that says,”My heart is a cup; your love is an ocean. You fill me up to overflowing.” Sometimes I fail to receive what He wants to give. The problem is not with Him but rather with me.
  7. My eyes have been opened to the extent to which God goes to provide in advance what we will need. I have seen again and again how God had made provision for me, even years before this need arose in my life – just the right nurse or technician or aide or doctor, therapist or caregiver to give the needed care and encouragement to take the next step forward. It has been a true testimony of His love and mercy and has opened my eyes to see how serious He is about watching over us.
  8. I am more aware that at the heart of real love is sacrifice. Self sacrifice can engender life and hope in someone else. Mothers and nurses do this all the time, but we can do it too. Paul describes it this way,”death is at work in us that life may be at work in you.” As I say goodbye to my oldest daughter Anna, as she returns to her life in Germany after being my major caregiver for the last 8 months, the measure of love I have experienced from her is a love that is life giving, as it is self giving. She laid down her life that I might pick up mine. I am blessed beyond words. I’m well aware some people live and die without knowing such self-giving love.
  9. We are not born or reborn with compassion – it’s a gift often bestowed through suffering. Suffering awakens us to the suffering of others. Because of this, I can thank God for my suffering because it produces compassion for others in a way nothing else can. As we choose to receive compassion from God,we become more like Him, willing to enter into other’s pain.
  10. Humility is the cornerstone of healing and learning. Many times along this journey I found myself looking up toward heaven and asking,”God, does this journey have to be so humbling? Really?!?” I can’t help but feel His answer is, “That’s the point.” If we miss being humbled, we can’t learn what suffering is intended to teach. Oh make me humble, dear Lord, remembering how great my need is and how insufficient my resources are to meet it.