Category  |  Suffering & Tragedy

A Safe Place

My brothers and I grew up on a wooded hillside in West Virginia that provided a fertile landscape for our imaginations. Whether swinging from grapevines like Tarzan or building tree houses like the Swiss Family Robinson, we played out the scenarios we found in the stories we read and movies we watched. One of our favorites was building forts and then pretending we were safe from attack. Years later, my kids built forts out of blankets, sheets, and pillows—constructing their own “safe place” against imaginary enemies. It seems almost instinctive to want a hiding place where you can feel safe and secure.

When David, the singer-poet of Israel, sought a safe place, he looked no further than God. Psalm 46:1–2 asserts, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” When you consider the Old Testament record of David’s life and the almost constant threats he faced, these words reveal an amazing level of confidence in the Lord. In spite of those threats, he was convinced his true safety was found in God.

We can know that same confidence. The God who promises to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) is the One we trust with our lives every day. Although we live in a dangerous world, our God gives us peace and assurance—both now and forever. He is our safe place.

Confident Hope

Dr. William Wallace was serving as a missionary surgeon in Wuzhou, China, in the 1940s when Japan attacked China. Wallace, who was in charge of Stout Memorial Hospital at the time, ordered the hospital to load his equipment on barges and continue to function as a hospital while floating up and down rivers to avoid infantry attacks. 

During dangerous times, Philippians 1:21—one of Wallace’s favorite verses—reminded him that if he lived, he had work to do for the Savior; but if he died, he had the promise of eternity with Christ. The verse took on special poignancy when he died while falsely imprisoned in 1951.

Paul’s writing reflects a deep devotion we can aspire to as followers of Jesus; enabling us to face trials and even danger for His sake. It is devotion enabled by the Holy Spirit and the prayers of those closest to us (v. 19). It’s also a promise. Even when we surrender ourselves to continued service under difficult circumstances, it is with this reminder: when our life and work end here, we still have the joy of eternity with Christ ahead of us.

In our hardest moments, with hearts committed to walking with Christ now, and with our eyes firmly fixed on the promise of eternity with Him, may our days and our acts bless others with the love of God. 

Dad at the Dentist

I didn’t expect a profound lesson about the Father’s heart at the dentist’s office—but I got one. I was there with my ten-year-old son. He had an adult tooth coming in under a baby tooth that hadn’t fallen out yet. It had to come out. There was no other way.

My son, in tears, pleaded with me: “Dad, isn’t there another way? Can’t we just wait and see? Please, Dad, I don’t want to have this tooth pulled!” It just about broke my heart, but I told him, “Son, it’s got to come out. I’m sorry. There’s no other way.” And I held his hand as he wriggled and writhed while the dentist removed that stubborn molar, tears in my eyes, too. I couldn’t take his pain away; the best I could offer was to be present with him in it.

In that moment, I remembered Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, asking His Father for a different way. How it must have broken the Father’s heart to see His beloved Son in such agony!  Yet there was no other way to save His people.

In our lives, we sometimes face unavoidable yet painful moments—just like my son did. But because of Jesus’s work for us, through His Spirit, even in our darkest moments our loving heavenly Father is always present with us (Matthew 28:20)—just as I was present and holding my son’s hand that hard day.

Compassion Fatigue

Anne Frank is well known for her diary describing her family’s years of hiding during World War II. When she was later imprisoned in a Nazi death camp, those with her said “her tears [for them] never ran dry,” making her “a blessed presence for all who knew her.” Because of this, scholar Kenneth Bailey concluded that Anne never displayed “compassion fatigue.”

 Compassion fatigue can be one of the results of living in a badly broken world. The sheer volume of human suffering can numb even the best intentioned among us. Compassion fatigue, however, was not in Jesus’s makeup. Matthew 9:35–36 says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Our world suffers not only from physical needs but also from spiritual brokenness. Jesus came to meet that need and challenged His followers to join Him in this work (vv. 37–38). He prayed that the Father would raise up workers to respond to the needs all around us—people who struggle with loneliness, sin, and illness. May the Father give us a heart for others that mirrors His heart. In the strength of His Spirit, we can express His compassionate concern to those who are suffering.

Finding the Way Home

Sometimes this journey through life can be so difficult that we’re simply overwhelmed, and it seems there is no end to the darkness. During such a time in our own family’s life, my wife emerged one morning from her quiet time with a new lesson learned. “I think God wants us not to forget in the light what we’re learning in this darkness.

Paul writes this same thought to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1), after describing the terrible difficulties he and his team endured in Asia. Paul wants the Corinthians to understand how God can redeem even our darkest moments. We are comforted, he says, so we may learn how to comfort others (v. 4). Paul and his team were learning things from God during their trials that they could use to comfort and advise the Corinthians when they faced similar difficulties. And God does that for us as well, if we’re willing to listen. He will redeem our trials by teaching us how to use what we’ve learned in them to minister to others.

Are you in the darkness now? Be encouraged by Paul’s words and experience. Trust that God is right now directing your steps and that He’s also stamping His truths on your heart so you can share them with others who are in similar circumstances. You’ve been there before, and you know the way home.

Strength for Your Journey

Hinds Feet on High Places, a classic allegory of the Christian life, is based on Habakkuk 3:19. The story follows the character Much-Afraid as she goes on a journey with the Shepherd. But, Much-Afraid is scared so she asks the Shepherd to carry her.

The Shepherd kindly replies, “I could carry you all the way up to the High Places myself, instead of leaving you to climb there. But if I did, you would never be able to develop hinds’ feet, and become my companion and go where I go.”

Much-Afraid echoes the questions of the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk (and if I’m honest, my questions too): “Why must I experience suffering?” “Why is my journey difficult?”

Habakkuk lived in Judah in late seventh century bc before the Israelites were taken into exile. The prophet found himself in a society that overlooked social injustice and was immobilized by the fear of imminent invasion by the Babylonians (Habakkuk 1:2–11). He asked the Lord to intervene and remove suffering (1:13). God replied that He would act justly but in His timing (2:3).

In faith, Habakkuk chose to trust the Lord. Even if the suffering did not end, Habakkuk believed that God would continue to be his strength.

We too can take comfort that the Lord is our strength to help us endure suffering and will also use the most challenging of life’s journeys to deepen our fellowship with Christ.

A Hopeful Lament

To visit Clifton Heritage National Park in Nassau, Bahamas, is to revisit a tragic era in history. Where the land meets the water, stone steps lead up a cliff. Slaves brought to the Bahamas by ship in the eighteenth century would ascend these steps, often leaving family behind and entering a life of inhumane treatment. At the top, there is a memorial to those slaves. Cedar trees have been carved into the shapes of women looking out to sea toward the homeland and family members they’ve lost. Each sculpture is scarred with marks of the slave captain’s whip.

These sculptures of women mourning what they’ve lost remind me of the importance of recognizing the injustices and broken systems in the world, and lamenting them. Lamenting does not mean that we are without hope; rather, it’s a way of being honest with God. It should be a familiar posture for Christians; about 40 percent of the Psalms are psalms of lament, and in the book of Lamentations, God’s people cry out to Him after their city has been destroyed by invaders (3:55).

Lament is a legitimate response to the reality of suffering, and it engages God in the context of pain and trouble. Ultimately, lament is hopeful: when we lament what is not right, we call ourselves and others to be active in seeking change.

And that’s why the sculpture garden in Nassau has been named “Genesis”—the place of lament is recognized as the place of new beginnings.

A Friend’s Comfort

I read about a mom who was surprised to see her daughter muddy from the waist down when she walked in the door after school. Her daughter explained that a friend had slipped and fallen into a mud puddle. While another classmate ran to get help, the little girl felt sorry for her friend sitting by herself and holding her hurt leg. So, the daughter went over and sat in the mud puddle with her friend until a teacher arrived.

When Job experienced the devastating loss of his children and became afflicted with painful sores on his entire body, his suffering was overwhelming. The Bible tells us that three of his friends wanted to comfort him. When they found Job, “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12–13)

Job’s friends initially showed remarkable understanding. They sensed that Job simply needed someone to sit and mourn with him. The three men will begin to speak in the next few chapters. The irony is that when the friends do begin to speak, they end up giving Job poor advice (16:1–4).

Often the best thing we can do when comforting a hurting friend is being willing to sit with them in their suffering.

Persevering with Peace

As I continue trusting God through my struggles with chronic pain, even the simplest setback can feel like a fierce enemy attacker. Problem One jabs me from the right. Problem Two shoves me from behind. Problem Three punches me square in the nose. During these times, when my strength wanes and immediate relief evades me, running and hiding can seem like a good idea. But since I can’t escape my pain, change my circumstances, or ignore my emotions, I’m learning slowly to rely on God to carry me through.

When I need encouragement, comfort, and courage, I prayerfully read through the songs of the psalmists, who honestly bring their situations to God. In one of my favorite psalms, King David flees from Absalom, his son who wanted to kill him and take his kingdom. Though David lamented his painful situation (Psalm 3:1–2), he trusted God’s protection and expected Him to answer his prayers (vv. 3–4). The king didn’t lose sleep worrying or fearing what could happen, because he trusted God to sustain and save him (vv. 5–8).

Physical and emotional pain can often feel like aggressive adversaries. We may be tempted to give up or wish we could escape when we’re weary and can’t see the end of our current battle. But, like David, we can learn to trust that God will hold us up and help us rest in His constant and loving presence.

We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, by continuing to use this site you agree to this. Find out more on how we use cookies and how to disable them.