Category  |  Suffering & Tragedy

When Yes Means No

I thanked God for the privilege of serving as my mom’s live-in caregiver during her battle against leukemia. When medicines began to hurt more than help, she decided to stop treatment. “I don’t want to suffer anymore,” she said. “I want to enjoy my last days with family. God knows I’m ready to go home.”

I pleaded with our loving heavenly Father—the Great Physician—confident He could work miracles. But to say yes to my mom’s prayers, He would have to say no to mine. Sobbing, I surrendered, “Your will be done, Lord.”

Soon after, Jesus welcomed my mama into a pain-free eternity.

In this fallen world, we’ll experience suffering until Jesus returns (Rom. 8:22–25). Our sinful nature, limited vision, and fear of pain can distort our ability to pray. Thankfully, “the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (v. 27). He reminds us that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him (v. 28), even when His yes to someone else means a heartbreaking no for us.

When we accept our small part in His greater purpose, we can echo my mom’s watchword: “God is good, and that’s all there is to it. Whatever He decides, I’m at peace.” With confidence in the Lord’s goodness, we can trust Him to answer every prayer according to His will and for His glory.

Trial by Fire

Last winter while visiting a natural history museum in Colorado, I learned some remarkable facts about the aspen tree. An entire grove of slender, white-trunked aspens can grow from a single seed and share the same root system. These root systems can exist for thousands of years whether or not they produce trees. They sleep underground, waiting for fire, flood, or avalanche to clear a space for them in the shady forest. After a natural disaster has cleared the land, aspen roots can sense the sun at last. The roots send up saplings, which become trees.

For aspens, new growth is made possible by the devastation of a natural disaster. James writes that our growth in faith is also made possible by difficulties. “Consider it pure joy,” he writes, “whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4).

It’s difficult to be joyful during trials, but we can take hope from the fact that God will use difficult circumstances to help us reach maturity. Like aspen trees, faith can grow in times of trial when difficulty clears space in our hearts for the light of God to touch us.

Cradled in Comfort

My friend entrusted me with the privilege of holding her precious, four-day-old daughter. Not long after I took the baby into my arms, she started to fuss. I hugged her closer, my cheek pressed against her head, and began to sway and hum in a gentle rhythm to soothe her. Despite these earnest attempts, and my decade and a half of parenting experience, I couldn’t pacify her. She became increasingly upset until I placed her back into the crook of her mother’s eager arm. Peace washed over her almost instantaneously; her cries subsided and her newborn frame relaxed into the safety she already trusted. My friend knew precisely how to hold and pat her daughter to alleviate her distress.

God extends comfort to His children like a mother: tender, trustworthy, and diligent in her efforts to calm her child. When we are weary or upset, He carries us affectionately in His arms. As our Father and Creator, He knows us intimately. He “will keep in perfect peace all who trust in [him], all whose thoughts are fixed on [him]” (Isa. 26:3 nlt).

When the troubles of this world weigh heavy on our hearts, we can find comfort in the knowledge that He protects and fights for us, His children, as a loving parent. Kirsten Holmberg

Lord, help me to look to You for my comfort in times of distress.

For help in finding God’s comfort, read The Lord Is My Shepherd: Rest and Renewal from Psalm 23 at discoveryseries.org/hp952.

God’s comfort soothes us perfectly.  

Something's Wrong

The morning after our son, Allen, was born, the doctor sat down in a chair near the foot of my bed and said, “Something’s wrong.” Our son, so perfect on the outside, had a life-threatening birth defect and needed to be flown to a hospital 700 miles away for immediate surgery.

         When the doctor tells you something is wrong with your child, your life changes. Fear of what lies ahead can crush your spirit and you stumble along, desperate for a God who will strengthen you so you can support your child.

         Would a loving God allow this? you wonder. Does He care about my child? Is He there? These and other thoughts shook my faith that morning.

         Then my husband, Hiram, arrived and heard the news. After the doctor left, Hiram said, “Jolene, let’s pray.” I nodded and he took my hand. “Thank You, Father, for giving Allen to us. He’s Yours, God, not ours. You loved him before we knew him, and he belongs to You. Be with him when we can’t. Amen.”

         Hiram has always been a man of few words. He struggles to speak his thoughts and often doesn’t try, knowing that I have enough words to fill any silence. But on a day when my heart was broken, my spirit crushed, and my faith gone, God gave Hiram strength to speak the words I couldn’t say. And clinging to my husband’s hand, in deep silence and through many tears, I sensed that God was very near.

Mayday!

The international distress signal “Mayday” is always repeated three times in a row—“mayday-mayday-mayday”—so the situation will be clearly understood as a life-threatening emergency. The word was created in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford, a senior radio officer at London’s Croydon Airport. That now-closed facility once had many flights to and from Le Bourget Airport in Paris. According to The National Maritime Museum, Mockford coined Mayday from the French word m’aidez, which means, “help me.”

Throughout King David’s life, he faced life-threatening situations for which there seemed to be no way out. Yet, we read in Psalm 86 that during his darkest hours, David’s confidence was in the Lord. “Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.  When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me” (Ps. 86:6-7).

David also saw beyond the immediate danger by asking God to lead his steps.  “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (v. 11). When the crisis was past, he wanted to keep walking with God.

The most difficult situations we face can become doorways to a deeper relationship with our Lord. This begins when we call on Him to help us in our trouble, and also to lead us each day in His way. 

The Lighthouse

By its very existence, a ministry center in Rwanda called the “Lighthouse” symbolizes redemption. It sits on land where during the genocide in 1994 the country’s president owned a grand home. This new structure, however, has been erected by Christians as a beacon of light and hope. Housed there is a Bible institute to raise up a new generation of Christian leaders, along with a hotel, restaurant, and other services for the community. Out of the ashes has come new life.

Those who built the Lighthouse look to Jesus as their source of hope and redemption. When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath, He read from the book of Isaiah and announced that He was the Anointed One to proclaim the Lord’s favor (see Luke 4:14–21). He was the One who came to bind up the brokenhearted and offer redemption and forgiveness. In Jesus we see beauty coming from the ashes (Isa. 61:3).

We find the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, when inter-tribal fighting cost more than a half-million lives, mind-boggling and harrowing, and we hardly know what to say about them. And yet we know that the Lord can redeem the atrocities—either here on earth or in heaven. He who bestows the oil of joy instead of mourning gives us hope even in the midst of the darkest of situations.

Tried and Purified

During an interview, singer and songwriter Meredith Andrews spoke about being overwhelmed as she tried to balance outreach, creative work, marital issues, and motherhood. Reflecting on her distress, she said, "I felt like God was taking me through a refining season, almost through a crushing process.”

Job was overwhelmed after losing his livelihood, his health, and his family. Worse still, although Job had been a daily worshiper of God, he felt that the Lord was ignoring his pleas for help. God seemed absent from the landscape of his life. Job claimed he could not see God whether he looked to the north, south, east, or west (Job 23:2–9).

In the middle of his despair, Job had a moment of clarity. His faith flickered to life like a candle in a dark room. He said, “[God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (v. 10). Christians are tried and purified when God uses difficulty to burn away our self-reliance, pride, and earthly wisdom. If it seems as if God is silent during this process and He is not answering our cries for help, He may be giving us an opportunity to grow stronger in our faith.

Pain and problems can produce the shining, rock-solid character that comes from trusting God when life is hard.

In All Circumstances

In our suburb we complain about the constant power outages. They can hit three times in a week and last up to twenty-four hours, plunging the neighborhood into darkness. The inconvenience is hard to bear when we cannot use basic household appliances.

Our Christian neighbor often asks, “Is this also something to thank God for?” She is referring to 1 Thessalonians 5:18:  “Give thanks in all circumstances, for that is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We always say, “Yes, of course, we thank God in all things.” But the half-hearted manner in which we say it is contradicted by our grumbling every time the power goes off.

One day, however, our belief in thanking God in all circumstances took on new meaning. I returned from work to find our neighbor visibly shaken as she cried, “Thank Jesus the power was off. My house would have burned down, and my family and I would have perished!”

A refuse-collection truck had hit the electricity pole in front of her house and brought down the high-tension cables right over several houses. Had there been power in the cables, fatalities would have been likely.

The difficult circumstances we face can make it hard to say, “Thanks, Lord.” We can be thankful to our God who sees in every situation an opportunity for us to trust Him—whether or not we see His purpose. 

God's Face

Much of my career as a writer has revolved around the problem of pain. I return again and again to the same questions, as if fingering an old wound that never quite heals. I hear from readers of my books, and their anguished stories give human faces to my doubts. I remember a youth pastor calling me after he had learned that his wife and baby daughter were dying of AIDS because of a tainted blood transfusion. “How can I talk to my youth group about a loving God?” he asked.

I have learned to not even attempt an answer to these “why” questions. Why did the youth pastor’s wife happen to get the one tainted bottle of blood? Why does a tornado hit one town and skip over another? Why do prayers for physical healing go unanswered?

One question, however, no longer gnaws at me as it once did: “Does God care?” I know of only one way to answer that question, and the answer is Jesus. In Jesus, God gave us a face. If you wonder how God feels about the suffering on this groaning planet, look at that face.

“Does God care?” His Son’s death on our behalf, which will ultimately destroy all pain, sorrow, suffering, and death for eternity, answers that question. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).