Friday, June 1, 2012

On Suffering

Today, my friend Amy linked to a podcast of our pastor's wife, Lauren Chandler, sharing her thoughts on God in the midst of suffering. Our pastor, Matt Chandler, was diagnosed with a brain tumor three years ago, and Lauren relays how prior experiences (miscarriages, in particular) prepared her heart for hardship and helped her personally and intimately know how she could rely on God during the storm.

I've often thought the same thing -- how our season of deep suffering prepared us for our current struggles. Dealing with terminal illness and being in "the valley of the shadow of death" is difficult still, to be sure, but I'm not afraid because I know -- I really, really know -- that God is with me, comforting me (Psalm 23). Actively, presently, right here by my side comforting me. How? Through His Word -- particularly His promises, chronicles of His character, stories of other saints that He's carried through dark and difficult times -- through personal prayer and worship, and by the loving actions and prayers of those walking this road with us.

The cancer in my mom's body is seemingly unyielding, but in Matt and Lauren's situation, the cancer is gone. Author Jeannie Allen interviewing Lauren asked, "How do you not live in fear [that is will come back]? What does it look like for you to take every thought captive and not go to the worst place?" Lauren replied, "[By] just being grateful for today, being focused on today, and realizing that the Lord has given me grace for today. Not getting ahead of myself, and not getting years down the road or coming up with a Plan B, but just trusting Him for each day because who knows what tomorrow is going to hold for any of us. We make plans like we did before and we just hold them very loosely."

Again, I relate to much of this. Though Mom's cancer is still present, though it seems to be moving to the point of chemo-resistance, and though hospice care is on the horizon, I have what I need, the grace I need, to get through right now and all of each day. When my sweet little Gracie collapsed on me recently, crying, asking why our lives couldn't be "normal," this was my response to her. This is our normal, and God is present here, giving us manna for this day and this day alone. When we get to tomorrow or to a month from now or to that dark night of the soul, there He'll be with what we need for that time, too.

I'm not saying that this journey isn't hard because God is with me. I'm sure Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego felt the heat of the flames they were in, though the Lord was present with them (Daniel 3). I've felt the pressure of being sandwiched between many children and a dying mother. I've been sad and weary, I've felt frustrated, I've lost my cool, I've shed plenty of tears, and I've applied thirty pounds of chocolate straight to my waistline over these last fifteen months. I'm absolutely, 100% not some kind of spiritual giant who has it all together, but though I'm human and I've faltered and struggled, "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [me] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

Lauren continued by discussing God's sovereignty even in suffering. Though we may not understand why we're suffering, she reiterates the fact that there is such a peace in understanding that God is in control of all things, even the suffering we're experiencing (Job 1). She personally recognizes the limits of her understanding, of all of our understanding, and focuses on the character of God, reiterating that He is good (Psalm 136:1) and does what's best.

This is where our rest is -- knowing God the Father, really knowing Him. Looking to His word to know who He is and what He's all about rather than relying on what the world would say about Him. Looking to Jesus specifically to know the Father (John 10:22-30), understanding His character and mannerisms to understand the Father. No matter what we're facing, God is a kind and loving Father, present with us always. No matter what we're facing, "let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

Forever Reign by Hillsong

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to listen to Lauren's thoughts on suffering.

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