Some of us are inclined to look at the world and see only what’s wrong. DeWitt Jones is a National Geographic photographer who has used his profession to celebrate what’s right about the world. He waits and watches until a shaft of light or turn of perspective suddenly reveals a wonder that had been there all along. He uses his camera to find beauty in the most common faces of people and nature.
If anyone had reason to focus on the wrongs of the world, Job did. After losing all that had given him joy, even his friends became his accusers. Together their voices taunted him for not admitting that he was suffering for sins he was hiding. When Job cried out to the heavens for help, God remained silent.
Finally, from within the chaos of a whirlwind and the darkness of a storm, God asked Job to consider wonders of nature that reflect a wisdom and power far beyond our own (Job 38:2–4).
Would He now ask us? What about something as natural as the ways of a dog, cat, fluttering leaf, or blade of grass? Could a shaft of light, or a turn of perspective, reveal —even in our pain—the mind and heart of a Creator who has been with us and for us all along?
While shopping for a humidifier, I noticed an older woman walking back and forth down the aisle. Wondering if she was shopping for humidifiers also, I moved aside to allow her to draw near. Soon we chatted about a flu virus in our area, one that left her with a lingering cough and headache.
A few minutes later, she launched into a bitter tirade, expressing her theory about the origin of the virus. I listened, unsure what to do. She soon left the store, still angry and frustrated. Though she had expressed her frustration, I couldn’t do anything to take away that pain.
David, Israel’s second king, wrote psalms to express his anger and frustration to God. But David knew that God not only listened, He could also do something about his pain. In Psalm 61, he writes, “I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (v. 1). God was his “refuge” (v. 3)—the “rock” to which David ran.
When we’re in pain, or come in contact with someone in pain, David’s example is a good one to follow. We can head to “the rock that is higher” or lead someone there. I wish I had mentioned God to the woman at the store. While God may not take away all our pain, we can rest in the peace He provides and the assurance that He hears our cry.
“Patient is combative,” the nurse’s notes read.
What she didn’t realize until later was that I was having an allergic reaction as I awakened after a complicated open-heart surgery. I was a mess, with a tube down my throat. My body began shaking violently, straining against the straps on my arms, which were there to keep me from suddenly pulling out my breathing tube. It was a frightening and painful episode. At one point, a nurse’s assistant to the right side of my bed reached down and simply held my hand. It was an unexpected move, and it struck me as especially gentle. I began to relax, which caused my body to stop shaking so badly.
Having experienced this with other patients, the nurse’s assistant knew that a hand of comfort could minister to me as well. It was a vivid example of how God uses comfort when His children suffer.
Comfort is a powerful and memorable tool for any caregiver, and Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 it’s an important part of God’s toolbox. Not only that, but God also multiplies the impact of His comfort by calling us to use the memory of the comfort He gives us to comfort others in similar situations (vv. 4–6). It is but another sign of His great love; and one we can share with others—sometimes in the simplest of gestures.
Kelly’s pregnancy brought complications, and doctors were concerned. During her long labor, they decided to whisk her away for a cesarean section. But despite the ordeal, Kelly quickly forgot her pain when she held her newborn son. Joy had replaced anguish.
Scripture affirms this truth: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world” (John 16:21). Jesus used this illustration with His disciples to emphasize that though they would grieve because He would be leaving soon, that grief would turn to joy when they saw Him again (vv. 20–22).
Jesus was referring to His death and resurrection—and what followed. After His resurrection, to the disciples’ joy, Jesus spent another 40 days walking with and teaching them before ascending and leaving them once again (Acts 1:3). Yet Jesus did not leave them grief-stricken. The Holy Spirit would fill them with joy (John 16:7–15; Acts 13:52).
Though we have never seen Jesus face-to-face, as believers we have the assurance that one day we will. In that day, the anguish we face in this earth will be forgotten. But until then, the Lord has not left us without joy—He has given us His Spirit (Rom. 15:13; 1 Peter 1:8–9).
As we exited the parking lot, my husband slowed the car to wait for a young woman riding her bike. When Tom nodded to indicate she could go first, she smiled, waved, and rode on. Moments later, the driver from a parked SUV threw his door open, knocking the young bicyclist to the pavement. Her legs bloodied, she cried as she examined her bent-up bike.
Later, we reflected on the accident: If only we had made her wait . . . If only the driver had looked before opening his door. If only . . . Difficulties catch us up in a cycle of second-guessing ourselves. If only I had known my child was with teens who were drinking . . . If only we had found the cancer earlier . . .
When unexpected trouble comes, we sometimes question the goodness of God. We may even feel the despair that Martha and Mary experienced when their brother died. Oh, if Jesus had only come when He first found out that Lazarus was sick! (John 11:21, 32).
Like Martha and Mary, we don’t always understand why hard things happen to us. But we can rest in the knowledge that God is working out His purposes for a greater good. In every circumstance, we can trust the wisdom of our faithful and loving God.
Does having a friend nearby make pain more bearable? Researchers at the University of Virginia conducted a fascinating study to answer that question. They wanted to see how the brain reacted to the prospect of pain, and whether it behaved differently if a person faced the threat of pain alone, holding a stranger’s hand, or holding the hand of a close friend.
Researchers ran the test on dozens of pairs, and found consistent results. When a person was alone or holding a stranger's hand while anticipating a shock, the regions of the brain that process danger lit up. But when holding the hand of a trusted person, the brain relaxed. The comfort of a friend’s presence made the pain seem more bearable.
Jesus needed comfort as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what He was about to face: betrayal, arrest, and death. He asked His closest friends to stay and pray with Him, telling them that His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow” (Matt. 26:38). But Peter, James, and John kept falling asleep.
Jesus faced the agony of the garden without the comfort of a hand to hold. But because He bore that pain, we can be confident that God will never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Jesus suffered so that we will never have to experience separation from the love of God (Rom. 8:39). His companionship makes anything we endure more bearable.
When a friend betrayed me, I knew I would need to forgive her, but I wasn’t sure that I could. Her words pierced deeply inside me, and I felt stunned with pain and anger. Although we talked about it and I told her I forgave her, for a long time whenever I’d see her I felt tinges of hurt, so I knew I still clung to some resentment. One day, however, God answered my prayers and gave me the ability to let go completely. I was finally free.
Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith, with our Savior extending forgiveness even when He was dying on the cross. Jesus loved those who had nailed Him there, uttering a prayer asking His Father to forgive them. He didn’t hang on to bitterness or anger, but showed grace and love to those who had wronged Him.
This is a fitting time to consider before the Lord any people we might need to forgive as we follow Jesus’s example in extending His love to those who hurt us. When we ask God through His Spirit to help us forgive, He will come to our aid, even if we take what we think is a long time to forgive. When we do, we are freed from the prison of unforgiveness.
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.
Some young children have trouble falling asleep at night. While there may be many reasons for this, my daughter explained one of them as I turned to leave her bedroom one evening. “I’m afraid of the dark,” she said. I tried to relieve her fear, but I left a nightlight on so she could be sure that her room was monster-free.
I didn’t think much more about my daughter’s fear until a few weeks later when my husband went on an overnight business trip. After I settled into bed, the dark seemed to press in around me. I heard a tiny noise and jumped up to investigate. It turned out to be nothing but I finally understood my daughter’s fear when I experienced it myself.
Jesus understands our fears and problems because He lived on the earth as a human and endured the same types of trouble we face. “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isa. 53:3). When we describe our struggles to Him, He doesn’t brush us aside, minimize our feelings, or tell us to snap out of it—He relates to our distress. Somehow, knowing that He understands can dispel the loneliness that often accompanies suffering. In our darkest times, He is our light and our salvation.