For the past few years I’ve poured many hours into the topic of suffering. This is because I am a pastor at heart and I care for the concerns and pains of those around me. However, there is also a personal reason and that is that I too suffer.
In October 2013 I woke up one morning with a severe migraine that would not shift, I had never suffered from one before so it was quite uncomfortable. As the days went on this migraine became worse and worse to the point of it being unbearable. I could not sleep, I was blacking out and fainting and I was drained of all energy.
What followed were months and months of doctors appointments, scans and tests to eliminate the scariest of possibilities for the cause of my suffering. Thankfully, those tests came back clear. For a long time after that came a series of more intense tests and medication trials, in an attempt to shift this pain that bears down on my head. But all to no avail.
I have a chronic illness called ‘new daily persistent headache’ meaning that I suffer from a 24/7/365 mind splitting migraine that makes me sensitive to light and noise, makes sleep all but a distant memory and makes my 27 year old body feel like that of a 90 year old man. No pain killers give any relief, not even morphine.
I had just gotten married in the May of 2013, just started Bible College in the August of 2013 and suddenly I was faced with the prospect of not being able to do anything as the doctors told me that they couldn’t do anything for me. They said that I needed to learn to live with it because they couldn’t help. I had two options; 1) I could get angry at God for allowing me to suffer, or 2) I could force my suffering to make me run into the arms of my wonderful and sustaining Saviour. I wish I could say that I did the second, but for the first 6 months to a year I was angry. I questioned the reason behind my suffering; I questioned the need for my first years of marriage to be clouded by pain and suffering; and I questioned why, having just given my life to the task of ministry, would God do this to me. I wrestled, I vented, I cried and I shouted. I was taken to the end of myself and to the end of my strength.
It was in that moment, at the end of myself, that I was able to find the ability to see beyond my pain and suffering and to gaze at the marvellous majesty of Jesus Christ.
My suffering has not gotten better, in fact it has gotten worse with other health complications as a result of the pain and stress my body is constantly under. But do you know what has changed? My heart, my perspective and my understanding of the suffering that I saw as a horrible, unbearable inconvenience. I’ve spent many an hour searching for answers in Scripture, pouring over books of suffering and spent many hours in prayer for healing. Whilst this has not taken away my pain, it has taught me about my Saviour.
I’ve looked at stories like Job, how a man lost everything was taken to his end and yet did not curse God but continued to trust. I’ve felt, and continue to daily, that as humans we are but weak vessels and jars of clay that bear a wonderful message. Everyday I feel the words ring true in my ears that my body is outwardly wasting away my inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
People often ask me ‘do you want your pain to be taken away?’ My response is always an absolute yes! But I always follow it up with this ‘Yes, I would like to be pain free and to be rid of my suffering. But I would not change the past, nor the lessons that this illness has taught me’. My illness as hard as it is, and not many people know the extent to which I struggle, has taught me to rely on God, to run to Him in my hour of need and to cry to Him from the valley of despair.
My illness has given me insight into suffering which has been so valuable to help me pastor people, it’s given me more time to invest in God’s Word and it’s given me time to read many great books and write this blog. Sure, I would love to be made whole again, but that is not promised to me in Scripture, instead I am called to live a faithful life of service; to take up my cross and follow Jesus.
My suffering is nothing compared to other people’s in this world, but more importantly my suffering is nothing compared to the suffering that Christ went through on the cross which means I can now be called a child of God. His suffering brought about redemption. His suffering brought about a glorious inheritance that I cannot begin to imagine. His suffering bore the wrath of God so that sinners like you and me don’t have to. Therefore, my suffering is a joy because it is making me lean on, trust in and depend on His grace and sustaining power.
I am not an example of what it means to suffer well, I always fail and slip up. I am nothing special nor am I important, but I am a child of the living God and I am called to live obediently and sacrificially even in my suffering. Therefore, I will rejoice in my story of suffering because it draws me nearer to Christ and points out that whilst I am weak and struggling, He is mighty and powerful.
We serve a wonderful Saviour, remember that both on the mountain top and in the valley moments. Suffering doesn’t mean that God has left you, but it could be an invitation to draw nearer to Him.