It’s been a rough week. This year, our Thanksgiving found us at a hospital, visiting a close relative who had surgery for cancer. It’s strange how Thanksgiving has held many bittersweet flavors in my life.
I’ve been lost in nostalgia for several reasons.
- Eleven years ago on Thanksgiving Day we discovered my mother had died.
- Last week I spoke with another woman who had surgery for cancer the next day.
- Today marks the birthday of a longtime friend of ours who died from cancer several years ago.
That’s why, in part, when I asked you last week to tell me in one word what you’re thankful for, my one-word answer to that question was HOPE.
When we’re struggling or suffering, there’s one question we need to answer.
Today always amazes me. At ten o’clock on this holiday each April, sirens ring loud in Israel. People stop—wherever they are, whatever they are doing—and stand at attention for 120 seconds of silence.
Imagine that for a moment. Two minutes. Silence. Everywhere.
(Photo: Janusz Korczak Memorial at Yad Vashem honors one who sheltered Jewish children during the holocaust)
Then the sirens rang again, and life resumed—full-speed. This annual pause allows the nation to remember the six million Jews who were murdered simply because they were Jews.
Today’s date marks Yom Hashoah, known as Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, the Jewish holiday that remembers those who perished in the Holocaust.
Many times I have visited Jerusalem’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem.
It changes you.
Sometimes it seems no one understands what we’re going through. When people fail us, or forget us, or even forsake us, we’re left alone in the ashes of a reality we never expected or wanted.
In those intense moments of loneliness, confusion, and pain, we ask God for one thing more than anything else. Relief.
(Photo by Alexander Shustov via ooomf)
But when relief is denied, we begin the difficult journey of resisting the notion that God is a cruel sovereign who toys with our lives. After all, He could stop it all in moment.
After everything else but God gets stripped away from our lives, we begin realize that the Lord may want to give us something more—and much greater—than relief.
In those moments, God becomes more real to us than we ever would have known any other way.
I sat in the audience as Joni Eareckson Tada gave this talk to the 2013 National Religious Broadcasters.
Her words completely changed my perspective and mood that night. I walked in grumbling the hard week I experienced . . . and I left filled with gratitude for God.
Watch her video and you’ll understand why. Incredible.
God permits what He hates to accomplish that which He loves.
Just this week I finished reading Joni’s book, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty.
Believe me, if you’d like some encouragement in the midst of your pain, this book will show you how to view your struggles with the joy only God provides.
Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. —C. S. Lewis
Not long ago, my body gave me a little gift.
I awoke suddenly one night with a smarting pain in the body. No matter how I fidgeted and adjusted, the hurt in my lower back only intensified.
The best way I can describe the discomfort compares to having a doctor insert a three-inch hypodermic needle just to the left of the spine, exactly where the kidney sits. Occasionally, just for fun, the doc then twists the needle in a slow, clockwise motion.
The pain literally nauseated me.
Never before had I experienced such an inescapable ache.
The most frightful part was I had no idea what was happening.
Any woman who has experienced childbirth understands it. Any helpless man who has witnessed childbirth, like me (twice), understands it to a degree. That’s why the Bible uses the experience of childbirth as a metaphor of our lives.
The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves . . . groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. —Romans 8:22–23
We would all love to have an emotional epidural to where we didn’t feel the pain of life. But that won’t happen.
God doesn’t give us a way to avoid the hurt.
But He does tell us what to think so we can make it through the struggle.
Sometimes we need a good dose of hope and encouragement.
We can get so obsessed with the weight of our cross that we forget Jesus showed us what lies beyond it. Today’s hardships can distract us from tomorrow’s hope.
Jesus’ Transfiguration wasn’t some sideshow He did one day for fun. It came at a point when the disciples desperately needed some hope.
Scripture records it to offer us the same thing.
Some hope when we need it most.
Because God can stop our pain, we think He should.
So we pray. And pray. But nothing happens.
That’s what occurred with Mary and Martha. They sent a message to Jesus that their brother Lazarus lay sick. But instead of immediately traveling to Bethany, Jesus stayed right where He was beyond the Jordan River. When He finally did arrive, Lazarus had been dead four days.
In other words, Jesus had taken His sweet time showing up.
From what happened next, I see several lessons to help us reconcile pain and prayer with God’s love.
I have discovered that the most difficult battles in life simply mirror Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane. His words to the Father remain the most challenging words we could utter:
“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” —Luke 22:42
Surrendering your will to God in difficult times is often harder than the trial itself.
I have found that my greatest challenges come not from those circumstances that press in upon me, but from the internal struggle to surrender my will to God. I enter Gethsemane daily and have to drag my will to the Father in prayer.
(So do you.)