There was a time in my life when I thought that my suffering meant that God didn't care about me. I thought that if our all-powerful, all-knowing God was okay with the fear and abuse I lived with while growing up then it must mean I wasn't worthy of anything better. That will mess with your sense of self-worth, let me tell you.
As I grew in wisdom and maturity, and most importantly, my relationship with Jesus, the tension between those two realities grew stronger: 1. God loves me. 2. God didn't protect me. It was impossible for me to reconcile. It ultimately led to a true crisis of faith. Some call it “the Dark Night of the Soul”.
Though I have never questioned the reality of God, I did come to question His love for me. Could I devote my life to a God who stood by and did nothing while I was abused as a child? Did my life matter to Him? Was the measure of evil in my life the inverse measure of my worth to Him? The anguish literally drove me to my knees. Why God? What does this mean about me? If that was the childhood you had in mind for me it would have been more loving to not let me be born at all!
At this point in my life I was a full-time minister on staff at a large church. It was literally my job to help others connect and grow with God. How could I continue to do that if I couldn't resolve this complete breakdown? How could I convince anyone that God loved them if I couldn't convince myself that He loved me?
I had heard many sermons in my life about how God loves and protects those who belong to Him. Each time I sat through one I left the church completely bereft. Why didn't You protect me, God? Am I not one of Your own? Was there some sort of personal protection policy I was supposed to sign up for when I became a Christian? Was I somehow not worthy of being spared?
It was in that dark moment of absolute despair when He spoke to me. In the stillness of that night, where the only audible sounds came from my broken heart and anguished sobs, He said, “Yet, who are you now? See how I can use you because of it.”
I don’t know how other people ‘hear’ God. For me, it’s always been thoughts that I knew weren’t my own. One or two simple things – even one or two simple words -- that instantly expand into my being to become a revelation that forever altered the way I saw myself and my life in Him. Knowledge that carried me higher and deeper and further than I’d ever been before. Knowledge that was sometimes as crushing as it was beautiful.
Did God know I’d be abused as a child? Did He care that I would grow up feeling afraid and lonely in my soul? Yes. He did. But He was also the One who sustained me through it all.It wasn't what He wanted for me. It wasn't what He had "planned" for me. He couldn't scrub my world clean of evil but He did His utmost to keep me from being destroyed by it.
He made Himself known to me when I was only 3 years old. Somehow I knew that I belonged to Him and my life mattered. Who I grew to be mattered. What I did with my life mattered. No matter how confused I was by the events that surrounded me, it was always my love for God that anchored me to the better way. Each time I made a wrong turn in my life it was never long before I felt the Holy Spirit drawing me back. Very much like the navigation unit in my car that tirelessly reroutes me so that I will reach my intended destination no matter how many times I turn in the wrong direction.
I thought about how many people I’d been able to comfort because I understood their suffering. I knew how they felt. I understood the complexities of a child raised in a violent home by parents too wounded themselves to protect or nurture their children adequately. I understand the layers of pain and shame associated with physical and sexual abuse. Neglect. Unmet hunger of every kind. I even knew the pain of losing my own child. Who better to comfort others than one who truly knows their suffering?
Why does the Bible say so much about suffering? Because there is so much suffering in this life. This isn’t heaven, this is earth. This is the world infected by sin. For now. We are in a time where sin and darkness have the upper hand in the physical realm.
God IS always present. He IS always leading us to salvation. God is always providing a way through our suffering. He brings people and circumstances together to intervene on our behalf. It's the friend who showed up at just the right time. The money that came out of the blue. The rescue that came from a place you'd have never thought to look. The comfort and understanding of a someone you could trust... when you thought there was no one.A soft place to land in a life filled with sharp edges.
He will never waste our tears. He will redeem each and every one of them. We will all be repaid good for evil. Either in this life of the next. But we have to hold on to Him to get through it and sometimes that's the hardest part of all. We have to hold on to Him. We have to choose His Way or go our own. By His grace alone, I did.
I shake my head in wonder when I think of it. Half of my eight siblings are dead already. All far too young for the grave. All four, instead of turning to God, turned to something destructive to assuage their pain. How I wish I could have convinced them that Jesus was their only salvation before it was too late. Believe me when I say I tried. I grieve not only because they suffered, but so much more so because their suffering was for nothing. Their pain was never healed or redeemed or transformed into something beautiful to light the way for others. They deserved so much more than what they received.
Yes, I’ve suffered. But it hasn’t been for nothing.
Back in that room, on that dark night of my soul, where I wept before God, He lovingly received my tears and showed me how I could see my life in a different way. As my mind played back a hundred moments when God used me to reach, or teach or comfort others, I heard Him ask me if I would have it any other way. No. I wouldn’t. I'm eternally grateful for the ways God has healed me and used me in the lives of others. I can't count how many times my experiences (especially the painful ones) have encouraged and given others hope... because I stand victorious on the other side of the pain. I wouldn’t trade any of it. I never thought I would be able to say that but I can now. I don’t think I’d have had the courage to have volunteered for any of the awful things that happened to me, but they happened. And by the Grace of God they didn't destroy me as the enemy hoped it would.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20
In this life there will be suffering. Sadly, none of us escapes unscathed. But our suffering doesn't have to be for nothing. When we allow God to heal us He can transform our scars into something beautiful that can light the way for others.
Our lives can either be a testimony to His healing and grace or they can be monuments of unrelenting pain and sorrow. Both are on display for the world to see. Which one do you want your life to be?
Bread corn is bruised but not crushed. Only until it can be made into bread for others. Isaiah 28:28