I don't mean to beat a dead horse. But the topic of suffering keeps coming up in my life right now. And not because I am suffering, but because I am studying 1 Peter. Phew! It's definitely not the most "feel good" book of the Bible. Yet...the underlying message is actually the greatest news we could ever hear, especially in the midst of suffering. Why? It offers hope. It promises a future where there will be NO suffering, no hurt, no loss. But until then, we will have hard times. It's the plain, unsugar-coated truth.
What's funny is that as I study 1 Peter, I actually feel like I'm in one of the best spots of my life. Well, I mean, in the sense of being happy and content. I'm loving life. I'm loving being a wife and a mom. I'm loving our neighborhood, where I am surrounded by good friends who know me and love me well. I'm loving that I get to stay at home and do things like attend a weekly women's Bible study on Wednesday mornings to refresh my soul. It's a good place to be.
But as I study 1 Peter 4 and learn that we should not "be surprised at the painful trial we are suffering, as though something strange were happening to us," I am reminded that we WILL suffer. That it is a normal part of life. That we should EXPECT it. Because this world is sinful and broken, there will be suffering.
And I admit, that scares me to death. Every time I read that, I think, "Oh, Lord, what are you going to send my way? And will I be able to handle it?"
What I fear more than anything is losing someone close to me, like my husband, my son, or my mom. In a freak accident. Where they are just suddenly gone. With no warning. And beyond that, I'm afraid of how I will handle it if it happens. What if I become a total basketcase? What if I lose my faith, and just completely fall apart, for everyone to see?
That's when I have to remember that "God does not give us more than we can handle." That in the midst of suffering, He will be there. To comfort us. To love us. To remind us that He is good. He will even send people our way who know just how to encourage us, maybe people who've gone through the very thing we're going through.
In my Wednesday morning Bible study today, we discussed suffering and shared some of our own trials. I was shocked as I heard personal stories from the women in the room. Each one had her own share of suffering. Infertility. Losing a grandson in a car accident. Having a brother that was severely burned in a fire. Losing a baby in utero. A family member battling cancer. Everyone had a story.
As I listened, I felt that same, familiar fear creep up within me, challenging me, saying "Could YOU really handle one of those trials?"
But I realize I already have. In my case, I lost my father in a plane crash. I was four years old, my brother was two. I have very few memories of him and even those I confuse with pictures and stories people have told me. I know that loss has a direct impact on the fear I have today of losing those closest to me.
But even through that, God has been faithful. He has even used that loss, that suffering for good. For one, not having an earthly father for many years actually helped me to turn to my "heavenly father" at a young age. I drew near to God because of that fatherly absence in my life. Later, when my mom remarried, we were blessed with a father figure in our lives who is a godly man and wonderful influence on all of us. So yes, God was able to use that suffering for good.
The verse that ministered most to me through the 1 Peter 4 passage was verse 19, which says, "So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good."
There are many truths to glean from that insight, but here are just a few:
1) Suffering is God's will - as hard as that is to swallow, God allows suffering in this world. He is truly in control. He is not an evil ogre who wants to cause pain, yet He ALLOWS suffering in our sinful, broken world not only as a consequence for sin, but also as a way to refine our faith. As a form of discipline. Not because He is a mean, evil God. But like a father, He disciplines us, because He loves us.
2) We are called to "commit ourselves to our faithful Creator" - that verb "commit" is the same verb that Jesus uses when He is dying on the cross and says, "Father, unto thee I commit my spirit." It is a whole-hearted giving of ourselves. Even in the midst of suffering. We have to come to a point to fully surrender, to fully give of ourselves.
3) God is faithful. He is our Creator. He knows how many hairs we have on our head. He knows when the tiniest sparrow falls to the ground and dies. He knows all things. Therefore, we can TRUST him. He is faithful. He will use our suffering for good. He loves us. He will be there for us, no matter what we have to go through.
4) We are to continue to do good, even in the midst of suffering. This is hard to swallow, especially since suffering often causes us to isolate ourselves, to withdraw, to wallow in our grief. But we are to continue to do good. To serve. To step out, to share our story. And by doing so, by being faithful, perhaps God has hidden blessings in store.
While I am not in a hard, suffering spot in my life right now, I know this is a good lesson for me to ponder. Perhaps God is having me study 1 Peter and the topic of suffering right now to prepare me for the future. But I don't want to fear what is to come. Instead, my prayer is, "Lord, help me, when suffering comes my way, to accept it as your will, to commit myself to You as my Faithful Creator, and to continue do good."