Un-Wasted Suffering

I have had two sweet friends this Spring lose babies due to miscarriage.  I say due to miscarriage because that is the medical name given when the baby dies in utero.  But is that really what is the cause?  Every once in a while my kids ask why our third child died in miscarriage. How do you answer that as a parent? Certainly there is something wrong with the baby, or maybe the mother’s body is not producing a welcoming environment for thriving…but…

But truly the heart of the question is:  why does this happen in the first place?  In our world of modern technology, with all that we know about the human body and reproduction, how does miscarraige still happen?  And the deeper question we all ask is why does God allow this to happen?  Why does he allow suffering? That last question is the heart of the matter, isn’t it?

This past winter I led my Bible study women through the book of Genesis.  Did you know that one third of the book of Genesis is dedicated to the life of Joseph?  Truly, there must be something special about his life which God wants us to see and learn from.  Joseph was a young man, a seemingly arrogant teenage boy, when he had his prophetic dreams of being exalted above his brothers.  Their jealousy over him led them to strip, beat, abuse, and abandon him.  Does anyone’s arrogance deserve that kind of mistreatment and abuse?  His brothers then sold him into slavery and lived a lie before their father for many years to come (claiming that Joseph was killed by a wild animal). 

Joseph surely endured great hardship and suffering.  Beaten, abandoned, sold into slavery, a life of servitude, then thrown into a jail cell as an innocent man.  His feelings of despair and abandonment must have been crippling and overwhelming at times. Had God abandoned him?  What was God’s plan for his life? 

Moses, the writer of Genesis, must have known we would ask the same questions.  In fact, Moses was writing this book of Genesis for the Israelite people who had been wandering in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt.  They too were experiencing suffering, discomfort, and exhaustion in an unknown territory and unexpected life…and wondering if God really was good. 

Throughout Joseph’s story, Moses writes that “God was with him” – over and over and over.  It is, in fact, a resounding theme of Joseph’s story.  When the Bible repeats phrases or words multiple times, it is like the flashing signs on a highway sign to “Pay attention!  This is important!”  God wants us to wake up and really pay attention!  Moses purposefully records that God was with Joseph in the most trying times of his life.  And not only that, but God’s presence became a tangible truth to Joseph, one that would give him strength, courage and resiliency to endure.

Why does God want us to hear this message of his presence?  Why is it important, and even life-changing, to know that God is indeed with us?  To Moses’ audience, the Israelites who suddenly found themselves stuck in the desert after living for generations in the lush land of Egypt, this would have brought great comfort, encouragement, and a sense of grounding.  Comfort that God was with them in the unknown, the desert, the place of uncomfortability.  Encouragement that their faith was being placed in a God who not only created the heavens and the earth, but also wanted a relationship with his people.  And grounding: God is grounding them into the truth of his goodness, purpose and plan, through Joseph’s story, which is their story.  Which is also our story.

Today, we can find great comfort, insight and grounding in Joseph’s story.  We see that Joseph’s suffering was not in vain. It was not wasted.  Joseph ended up being hand picked by Pharaoh to be his second in command.  And through Joseph’s power and position, he was able to provide food and shelter for thousands of people, including his own family, in a seven year famine. 

God does not waste suffering in those he loves.  He works in our suffering to reveal his most amazing grace.  A rescuing grace, a redeeming grace.  A grace of transcendent strength in  the face of our earthly weakness.  Psalm 105:17 records that God had great purpose in Joseph’s suffering – that God sent Joseph to Egypt, to save and preserve Joseph’s family in the famine to come.  Joseph would be the conduit of salvation for God’s people, through his position and power in Egypt.  Joseph knew that God sent him to Egypt through the hands of his brothers.  He saw the big picture. 

“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,

to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Gen. 50:20. 

Joseph found comfort in knowing that God is sovereign over all things, and had a plan that was greater than himself and his circumstances.  And he did not waste his suffering.

When we are in the deep dark recesses of suffering, can we see the bigger picture?  Can we see that God is with us and has a plan greater than our circumstances?  Can we allow him to use our suffering for the good of another?

How do we allow God to use our suffering for good?  This may be the hardest part of our suffering! Sitting in the pain, in the darkness, feeling the discomfort, and waiting.  Waiting is so hard.  At least for me it is.  I want to do, fix, solve.  Waiting requires being still and sitting in all the feelings.  There is so much to learn in the waiting.  Did you know that Joseph was wrongfully imprisoned in Egypt for approximately 10 years before he became Pharaoh’s right hand man?  That is a lot of waiting.

In the waiting we can find perspective and gain insight about our suffering.  Waiting does not have to be passive.  It is an action of turning our thoughts toward God, and creating space to feel all the feelings.  It is praying and listening.  It is binding ourselves to God, leaning into him in our pain and sorrow.  It is asking God to show us himself, to reveal his grace and love and presence.  And friends, he will speak to us.  In our suffering, God is not silent.  It may seem like he is silent and very far away from us at times, I admit.   And in those times of doubt and silence we are to dig deeper into his Word and cry out for him to answer.  And he will.  And he does. It is in this time of waiting and crying out where God meets us.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1). 

My mother-in-law texted me this verse when our son was removed from our home two years ago for a mental health crisis.  In the darkest time in my life, where nothing made sense and my heart was broken in a million pieces, God’s word met me.  His Word became alive and true.  And honestly, in the midst of the greatest chasm of unknown I have ever faced, I needed grounding in something I knew to be true.  God includes words like Psalm 46:1 in the Bible so that we can see our true reality.  Not with human-limited blinders, but with God’s eyes.  In our weakness, he is strong.  In our darkest moments we are not alone.  He is with us, speaking to us and offering comfort.  He is a strong tower where we can run to and find shelter and protection.  He is our heavenly Father who opens his arms wide to receive us.  We need only to run to him, lean into him and burrow into his strength. 

Joseph’s life shows us that God is with us in our pain, suffering and sorrow.  Even when our circumstances are inexplicable and life-changing, God never changes and he is steady and constant.  In the loss of a child or loved one, God is with us and will comfort us.  When we lose our job, our marriage, our possessions-God is with us and is at work.

In Joseph’s life, we see that God is at work in our circumstances and that he can in fact use our suffering not only to draw us closer to him, but to also help and comfort another.  Joseph’s suffering was not wasted.  It changed him, grew him, and had a tremendous impact in the lives of others.

Have you seen this in your own life?  How have you been changed in your experience of suffering?  How has God used your suffering?  Has God used a circumstance of pain in your life to bring help, wisdom, insight, or a listening ear to another? 

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