Dear sister in Christ, you may still be gasping from the shock of news you never imagined you would hear. Your heartache may be pulling your chest down with each breath. You may feel frost bitten with loss, or with waiting, or with doubt. Dear sister, I want to speak to you. I have been there.
There are many truths you need to hear right now. You need to hear that God is close to you in your humble brokenness (Ps. 34:18), and that He guides each weighted, weary step and gently lifts you up in His arms (Ps. 23:1-4; Is. 40:11). You need to hear that God will never leave your side (Deut. 31:6-8, Heb. 13:5, Is 43:2), and that the heart of God is to protect (Ps. 32:7), to heal (Ps. 147:3), and to restore (Ps. 71:20). You need to be reminded that this world was originally created without pain and that suffering was introduced when our forefather disobeyed God (Gen. 1-3), that Jesus cried when He saw those He loved weighed down with grief (Jn. 11:33-36), that our suffering somehow grows the character of God in us (Rom. 5:3-5), and that this sorrow that feels too heavy now will one day feel worth it all (Rom. 8:18, 2 Cor. 4:16-17).
Calm in the Chaos
Yet, there is something more grounding in the chaos, more calming in the panic, more comforting in the ache that you need to hear. Dear sister, we are not God’s counselors.
Read again the words that Paul erupts into in his letter to the Romans after he has spent two chapters trying to explain the mystery of God’s will for the Jewish people.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?”
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.
Dear sister, God has your life under control, even in this broken world. If there is pain, or suffering, or heartache, He has allowed it to be there. You cannot understand His judgment calls. You cannot trace out exactly how or why he works. You cannot understand His mind. And you are not His counselor. He owes you nothing. You came from Him. You exist through Him. You exist for Him. You need to understand that He is God and that you are not. You need to trust Him.
But I know, I know that my words may be empty to you now. What do I know of pain? May I sit down beside you, sister, and share my story with you?
What I Know of Pain
I was twenty-two when my husband and I were expecting our first child. We were giddy at the twenty-week ultrasound appointment where we expected to learn the gender of our baby, but we never expected to hear that she had a serious kidney condition. That news felt like the first taste of the bitter apple at the sunset of idyllic Eden. It was at that appointment that I first felt the weight of the exile, of the decay we have all fallen into. My innocent daughter Naomi would be born into suffering. It was then that my heart began to ache. As Naomi grew we learned more of her health challenges. We added to her diagnoses: liver disease, a heart murmur, a hernia, crossed eyes, endocrine disorders, and autism.
My second daughter was born healthy, but on Naomi’s third birthday I learned that my third daughter also showed signs of kidney disease on her twenty-week ultrasound. As Emma grew she was plagued by chronic ear infections, severe speech apraxia, developmental delays, liver disease, and endocrine disorders.
It wasn’t until Naomi was ten that we finally learned the name of the genetic syndrome that haunted them: Bardet-Biedl Syndrome. That day we learned that the girls were also losing their vision as their retinas were slowly dying. We learned that they would likely be blind within a decade.
My husband and I had to sit our daughters down that night and explain to them that on top of their certain upcoming need of kidney transplants and possible upcoming need of liver transplants, on top of their need for endless therapies and doctor’s appointments, on top of their heartbreaking social challenges, they were also losing their vision.
I have felt the pain of this fallen world.
And yet, we told our girls the one thing they needed to hear most: God has this under control. He is not taken by surprise. He saw this genetic mutation when they were still being formed in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16). He allowed it. He ordained it. He wrote each day of their lives down. This is one of the truths we need to hear most when this world feels out of control: we need to hear that God has it very much under control. That is the bedrock that grounds us in the chaos.
That is the truth that has grounded my family through job loss, through housing loss, through heartbreaking news, and through fearful days: God has this under control. He is the God who takes what Satan and evil people intend to cause us harm and turns it for good (Gen. 50:19-20, Job). He is the God who can allow suffering in order to display His authority to heal (Jn. 9:1-3, Jn. 11:4,14-15), to produce Christ-like character in us (Rom. 5:3-5, 8:17, Phil. 3:10, 2 Tim. 2:3-13), and to display His strength to those around us through our weakness (2 Cor. 4:7, 12:7-10).
God knows more than I do. He is infinitely wiser. He has promised an infinitely greater good from my pain, and I can rest there. That is the soothingly-cool stone floor that I can sink down to and lay on when this world has left me nauseated and faint. It is solid like nothing else in this decrepit world.
Sweet sister, the valley may still be hideously dark, but He is beside you. Your swollen heart may still feel like it smothers your very breath, but He is grieved with you. You may not feel able to lift a foot, but He directs each step, and He directs them for good right through the pain.
If you don’t know where else to go right now; if you don’t know what else to pray, you can pray what David learned to pray and wrote down in Psalm 131:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
Like a weaned child with its mother—do you remember that feeling? Do you remember when you didn’t concern yourself with bills, or housing, or groceries, or elections, or doctor’s reports—when you just knew that Mom and Dad would take care of you, and you rested?
Dear sister, some matters are too great, some things too wonderful for us. Quiet your soul. Put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore.