I’ve been reading through Philip Yancey’s Grace Notes as well as studying Acts in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). The last couple entries in Yancey’s book have dealt with the topic of pain and suffering. Coincidentally, it is a topic that came up in BSF as well. As uncomfortable as I am with thinking about this problematic issue, I can’t ignore the significance of its abrupt emergence.
I think I may know the reason why. It’s embarrassing to admit. Shameful even. When I get together with my friends who are mothers, it’s not something we discuss. In fact, I don’t know anyone who discusses these types of things. When I say being a stay at home mother sometimes feels hard, I mean sometimes it feels like suffering. It’s difficult to admit because it doesn’t feel like it’s a legitimate feeling that a mother is allowed to have. Our children are a gift and I’m lucky to have them in my life. I do believe these things to be true, but it doesn’t diminish the pains of loneliness, pains of weariness, or pains of continually doing the mundane tasks necessary to get through the day. Now don’t get me wrong. This kind of suffering is nowhere near what I know many people experience on a daily basis. I’m not suffering a disease that is ravaging my body. I’m not starving. I don’t fear for my well-being on a regular basis. All in all, I live a very blessed life. I’m also not suffering the same way the disciples experienced during the birth of the new early church. I’m not being persecuted because of my faith. There isn’t any one who is threatening my life because I claim Jesus to be my Lord.
But to pretend that there’s nothing wrong, that it’s easy to be a SAHM, would be a disservice to other mothers who do the same day in and day out and perhaps, have some of the same experiences. It would also be a disservice to my children because I’ve realized continually pushing those feelings down can be very detrimental. One way or another, those feelings come out as resentment, anger and frustration. And as much as I thought I was doing a good job of hiding these things, my two and half year old, Minnie, could see it seeping through. She saw how easily I’d get frustrated with her while I was potty training her, or trying to coax her to eat her meals, or cleaning up after her. With that being said, I hope that God will transform my weaknesses and redeem them.
The Bible consistently changes the questions we bring to the problem of pain. It rarely, or ambiguously, answers the backward-looking question ‘Why?’ Instead, it raises the forward-looking question, ‘To what end?’ We are not put on earth merely to satisfy our desires, to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. We are here to be changed, to be made more like God in order to prepare us for a lifetime with God. And that process may be served by the mysterious pattern of all creation: pleasure sometimes emerges against a background of pain, evil may be transformed into good, and suffering may produce something of value.
Is God speaking to us through our sufferings? It is dangerous and perhaps even unscriptural to torture ourselves by looking for God’s message in a specific throb of pain, a specific instance of suffering. The message may simply be that we live in a world with fixed laws, like everyone else. But from the larger view, from the view of all history, yes, God speaks to us through suffering–or perhaps in spite of suffering.
From Philip Yancey’s Where is God When It Hurts? (94-95)
This issue of pain and suffering also came up in BSF this week. “Read Acts 12. What do you learn about God in this passage that encourages you to trust Him?” At first when I read this question, I assumed that the answer they wanted me to give was to extol the wonderful story of Peter and the amazing miracle of his release in prison. That indeed is true, but the beginning of Acts 12 also mentions the death of James, one of the brothers of Zebedee. Not to mention, towards the end of this account it mentions how King Herod ordered the execution of the guards who were to keep watch over Peter while he was imprisoned. Peter’s escape played a part in their deaths. How can I trust in a God who allowed James and these soldiers to die but work to free Peter? Why? The question is challenging because the assumption is that it would build trust. That’s why, for me, reading the question and the passage through the lens of the Yancey passage was meaningful for me because it reminded me of the bigger picture.
I hear so many people who come by a passage like this and seemingly dismiss it with the overarching quaint saying, “God is sovereign” without giving much thought to what that simple sentence truly means. Simply saying, “God is sovereign” and leaving it at that, feels dismissive. It seems to dismiss the fact that most of us would be asking the question, “Why?” in a situation like this. I believe Yancey addresses this by stating that, of course, we would wonder why. In the end, based on his research and experience he explains in his book, Where is God when it hurts?, that it isn’t helpful to dwell on this question, because there are no answers on this side of heaven that will satisfy. He suggests that the question that should be asked is, “To what end?” because really, that is the question that has the power to ultimately bring joy, healing and hope.
That isn’t easy. Even as children, when we get hurt or someone says something mean, we automatically respond by wanting to know why. However, in the case of Acts 12 I think it does require a leap of faith to believe that God is who He says He is, that He is good, He is working everything together for the good of those who love him. I think that means that he won’t make life easier for us, he won’t make life easier even for those who believe in him as James can attest, but He is able to transform those things in life that cause suffering and pain to further the kingdom of heaven here on earth and to prepare us for a lifetime with Him. That is good news indeed.
So as a mother, what does that mean? It means acknowledging that it can sometimes be painful. You often hear the term mother with sacrifice. There’s a reason for that. But I think the key, that I’m learning, is that I can’t dwell on the pain. When I do, it eats away at me and takes away my ability to love my children as well as I could be or they deserve to be. However, when I think about, “To what end?” it gives me hope.
It reminds me that the pain isn’t forever. It gives me hope that the pain can be transformed into an investment in my children and that hopefully, one day it might lead them to know Jesus as their personal Savior. It gives me hope that the pain can be transformed in me, to make me more like Jesus so that I’ll be better prepared for my life with Him.