Updated: Jul 17, 2020
Feeling good…who doesn’t love it and pursue it? Good food on a sunny day, over shared laughs with good friends. You’d think that to be happy you’d just need to fill your days with those things. But I’ve come to understand something else. Warm sunny days on their own are good. But throw in a long, cold, dark winter and those dreamy summer days get elevated to new heights. The good stuff feels best after you’ve felt some of the bad stuff.
Another example: You’ll laugh. I went on vacation this last winter with my husband and 4 kids. As is the tradition, we stocked up on groceries at Costco on the way to the condo. To this day I will never know how on earth we ended up with so many apples and so much peanut butter! After the first week of constantly pushing apples on everyone, my husband and 3 of the kids, one by one, trickled home to go back to work and school. That left me and my oldest daughter and a fridge full of apples and peanut butter and 5 days left of vacation. I looked at the apples. I did the math. If I ate 2 apples with peanut butter everyday for both breakfast and lunch I’d be able to use all 20 apples. (Yes, I fit the “frugal Mennonite” stereotype!) And if I could accomplish that, I’d reward us both with a dinner out on our last night in paradise. By that last night, finally faced with an empty fridge, we set off for our long awaited and well deserved dinner. I ordered a salad and I honestly have no idea if it was as good as I thought it was but when the server asked how our meal was I was almost giddy when I told her it was absolutely heavenly!
I think it took a little suffering to make me appreciate how good, good could be.
I’ve long thought of how pain and joy are related: two sides of one coin, really. Inseparable. The richness of life comes from fully walking through both. That idea first occurred to me on a sunny Saturday in June 2014. The calendar said we’d be going a wedding that day. The celebration was for the great romance and love between our niece and the man who would become her devoted husband. They were a gorgeous couple. Young, beautiful, and so in love. Both his family from Wales and her family from here were delighted to celebrate all that this wedding day meant. The joining of them as a couple and the joining of the two extended families. All of it would be taking place in the sunshine on a perfect June day in the Rocky Mountains.
But I couldn’t be there. Instead of being at the wedding, I’d be at the bedside of my oldest daughter in the hospital. Just 5 days earlier, she’d had brain surgery to remove a tangled mess of fast growing brain cancer in her 16 year old body. To say that our world had been turned upside down would be an understatement. A week before we were buying wedding gifts and planning what we’d all wear to the wedding. Instead, that day I wrote in my journal how I’d cried more that day than all the previous 5 days. I watched her helplessly experience more pain than morphine could make a dent in. I watched her fear and confusion over why she couldn’t speak or swallow. I watched the docs struggle to understand as well. Something unexplainable was preventing her from speaking and preventing them from getting a feeding tube in. Their attempts at inserting the tube were agonizing to watch. And the feeling of dread about the pending report from oncologists set for two days later filled me with fear and sorrow.
I wrote earlier that sometimes it takes a little suffering to appreciate the good… the bible says it with different words: "We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." (Romans 5:3-4 )
Hope grows out of suffering. It’s the gospel message: light out of darkness. I also love the part in 2 Corinthians 4 where it says: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. All of this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
It reminds me that my suffering is valuable and that great things can come of it. But even more importantly it reminds me that this “all surpassing power is from God and not from myself” and it’s given to show God’s glory.
The purpose of my suffering is to display God’s glory. As hard as it was that day in the hospital, God used it to show his all-surpassing power to change me. He brought light into my darkness when he showed me that weddings and hospitals are two sides of the coin called love. Love shows through the joy of the wedding celebrations and love shows through the pain of watching a loved one struggle. Each one beautifully full of love. Love rises up and saturates both. Love tears away the grey.
We all suffer. Before COVID we did, during it, and undoubtedly also after it’s a distant memory. Happiness comes not from your circumstances. It comes when God’s all-surpassing power renews us and transforms our sufferings into hope. And all of it is a beautiful picture that illuminates his glory for all to see.
My prayer for us is that we open our hearts, our hands, and our minds every single day to his all-surpassing power to do the work in us of changing dark into light so that we can rejoice in our sufferings and allow him to grow some good stuff out of seemingly bad stuff. The photo is a gift courtesy of my dear friend, Tannis. It’s a perfect metaphor of the power of God to turn pain into beauty; beauty for his glory and our pleasure.