It is by those who have suffered that the world has been advanced.—Leo Tolstoy
Philip Yancey, in his book Where Is God When it Hurts, says that without pain we would never truly appreciate joy and pleasure. When we are in the midst of suffering or experiencing triggers from our trauma, this is not our first thought. Suffering can cause the strongest atheist to cry out to God to make it stop, and cause those with stalwart faith to question God’s character and become angry with him.
I have carried some deep-seated disappointment towards God lately over the depth of suffering that has marked my life. It often feels like he has abandoned me, just like my earthly father did. Questions like, “How can a loving father allow his child to suffer like this?” and, “When will this end?” hijack my heart daily. I have tried to negotiate with God to get out of my exhausting and uncomfortable situation, but no matter what questions I ask, how hard I beg, or how angry I get at God, the situation does not change.
The final straw for me recently was when my therapist told my husband that I needed to do specific things to find rest for my physical and mental well-being, or I would most likely collapse. My body is starting to lose the ability to keep going, yet the suffering continues. How can God see this and not intervene? After that appointment I went home and knew I had to make some changes.
I could stay angry with God and not speak to him, or I could try to find some way to live in it with peace—perhaps even joy, at times.
Opening my Bible felt impossible. Instead, I picked up an old Philip Yancey book and began to read, in hopes that it would offer some small shred of peace, having no idea that it would completely turn my internal world upside-down. God’s Spirit began to speak to me through those pages and bring understanding to my weary soul. God gently showed me how my pain and trauma have changed me for the better and allowed me to impact so much of the world around me. Choosing to break the cycle of eating disorders and abuse in my family allowed me to offer true understanding and compassion to those who were hurting, instead of judgment and recrimination. He showed me how he has used me to bring comfort to those who are hurting, and helped me develop a passion for justice against abusers because of the harm I have suffered and continue to suffer.
Then he reminded me of past harm from those who had not suffered, or possibly not allowed their pain to change them. Pastors who couldn’t understand trauma or pain said things that caused further harm because they hadn’t processed their own life stories. People in leadership caused harm to children by calling emotional responses toxic and demanding obedience despite the need for kindness and compassion.
That could have been me. I was raised in a fundamentalist, legalistic home. I was taught that if harm came to you, you probably were in sin. Without processing my suffering, I might be causing the same level of harm as those men. It took a long road of suffering to break those beliefs in me.
Joni Eareckson Tada called the accident that left her paralyzed a “glorious intruder” and that, without it, she would have lived a boring middle-class life with no purpose, with maybe even a couple of divorces under her belt. Reading her story in Yancey’s book changed my thinking towards my pain. Suffering comes to all of us at different levels and it is what we do with it that makes the difference.
I would not want to be the same person I was 20 years ago. I was a woman who thought that you get what you deserve, bitter about my own upbringing. While I am still exhausted at times, I can truly say that changing my thinking about suffering has offered me a lifeline to get through each day. I am beginning to see the good that has come out of suffering and will continue. I live one day at a time, changing thought patterns one step at a time. I believe that God hasn’t abandoned me.
There are still hard days when I fall back into despair, but they are less frequent. I truly want to be a beacon of light, kindness, and hope to those around me, and if suffering is the road to being that person, I will dare to stay in it and trust God’s goodness to complete his work in me.
Christy Barber lives in Monument, Colorado, with her adventuresome husband and two children. She pursues her heart by writing music and poems and creating whenever time allows. She wants to inspire hope through her own stories of struggle and journey with Jesus.