"In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.' "
This is a term many of us are all-too familiar with: deep, dark, gut-wrenching, heavy, confusing, mind-numbing anguish that shakes the soul and tests our foundation. The first mystery that we as humans in such situations are inevitably determined to solve is: "why?". When hit with suffering, there is such a blow to our senses that we forget what God has emphasized time and time again throughout His word. He knows that for all the duration of mankind's existence, as captives to our emotions, we will need extra encouragement and teachings on the subject of discipline through suffering and how that equates to His love for us.
The scripture cited above is a prime example of the encouragement which God yearns for us to understand that hard times do NOT mean an abandonment of God and do NOT mean that God hates you. The quotation within the quotation is taken from Proverbs, used in the book of Hebrews to then reiterate this important lesson. Because God needs us to realize, at the very least, that He is allowing us to endure hardships so that we may gain endurANCE.
This past year, I had gone through one of the worst, if not the worst, tests of faith and trust in God yet. I will spare the details for privacy and the attempt at keeping the example as uncomplicated as possible, because the 'meat' of the issue was that I dearly wanted something to happen and prayed for God to grant it. I prayed for it ad nauseam. It was what I thought to be a very selfless wish, and therefore did not understand why days upon weeks upon months of intense prayer did not grant me what I longed for. In fact, things got worse!
I broke down. A lot. I begged. A lot. I plead for mercy. I plead for answers.... Nothing.
As I was beginning to lose hope - my faith and resolve bloodied and beaten on the floor of my spirit - God began to redirect my path. Praise the Lord for His mercy in these hours of darkness, because instead of giving up on me, whom had begun giving up on Him, he gave me hints. As long as I kept searching for meaning in this situation, hints were more than enough.
The first sign came one evening, as tears welled up and I began to pray. My prayer was simple: "Lord, why are you allowing me to go through this?" And the strangest yet most amazing thing happened - almost before I could even finish uttering this question, one word came to me. A single word spoken into my mind: "Patience." It was so dissociated from my own thoughts and I was taken aback by the abruptness of it. I knew that God had delivered the answer to my prayer, instantly.
I was shocked. However, somehow it didn't relieve me much - I was still dealing with the problem at hand and God's answer to me meant that this was a complicated issue to which I better figure another way around, other than God simply whisking it away - poof! So I needed to learn more patience, and fast. So I worked at it. And worked and worked and worked, always in prayer. Nothing changed.
The second sign came when after some time had passed and I was not noticing any fruits of my diligent prayerful requests and practice of patience. Now at this point in time I was broken. If any human can even come close to tangibly feeling a rip in their soul, I felt it. The pain felt real and was numbing, always. Allow me to preface what I am about to attest to by explaining that God has been extremely gracious to me throughout my life that when I have been in dire need of answers or encouragement, so long as I had been seeking answers through Him, He would blatantly provide them. This could mean I would randomly open up my Bible and the first thing I read would be an answer to what was troubling my heart at that moment in time, or attending church and the sermon was written as if speaking directly to me in that very specific situation at that moment in time. And I'm not referring to how sometimes some lessons can be applied to a multitude of situations - I am referring to specifics. That is exactly what happened for this second sign that ultimately was the one to wake me up and redirect my path to where God wanted to lead me the whole time.
During these days, it was always a struggle to get my husband, baby and I to church on time. I was just terrible with trying to coordinate an unpredictably sleepy/hungry/sometimes fussy newborn with driving 30 minutes to get to church on time early on Sunday mornings. So needless to say, in those early days we weren't able to make it happen much. Well one Sunday, we actually made it happen. We all got to church, and the sermon was a message directly to me again. The pastor began preaching about hardships in our lives and why we can pray and pray and pray and nothing seems to come of it. He began to explain that perhaps our focal point is off; perhaps we aren't praying for the right thing. We get so caught up in praying for God to take away our plights that we don't stop wishing away our problems long enough to realize that we are experiencing them for a life-altering purpose. He preached that God doesn't want our situation to change, He wants us to change. He wants us.
It was as if a light bulb went on in my head; of course! It made so much sense! While I was busy trying to emulate some astronomical amount of patience that I felt God required of me for this situation, while praying for it to be corrected, I was missing the point that oftentimes we are not capable of enduring and growing from hardships using our own strength without God's help.
That night I spoke to God and lay bare my soul, submitting to the fact that I don't have the answer for why this is happening - but I will trust in you, Lord, that for a test on my faith and spirit so rigorous, it must be extremely important. So I prayed again - not for an answer and not a plea to put an end to this plight, but instead for the strength, patience, understanding, compassion, perseverance and love to uphold me and mold me through this dark time. I confessed that I didn't know why He was choosing to allow what was going on, but that I was going to trust Him that it is only for good, even though I could not fathom what that good may have been....
"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
And it worked.
Not right away - not like some magic trick, no. But once I gave the Lord permission into my heart again, He began to shape and mold me into a much better version of me. In time, He even took away my burden and blessed me what seems to be tenfold.
We are loved. Plain and simple. We are not meant to needlessly suffer - ever. When we find ourselves weighted down by troubles that don't seem to go away, we need to not only pray but re-examine ourselves and what exactly we are praying for. Try to understand why God may be allowing you to endure this test, and when our human understanding fails - just trust. Trust that there is very good reason for which you suffer. Cultivate something positive from it. Don't let it destroy you and whittle you down to a frail toothpick of a soul - let it carve beautiful and intricate impressions in your surface that tell the world who you are and where you've been and that you are a much better version of yourself for it.
Hebrews goes on to say,
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed."
- Hebrews 12:11-13
Our character really shines in how we choose to react to tough situations. We can choose to let it cripple, corrupt, and deteriorate who we are, or allow these "life" experiences to enrich, develop, and deepen our integrity of good character.
"My child, do not reject the Lord's discipline,
and don't get angry when he corrects you.
The Lord corrects those he loves,
just as parents correct the child they delight in."
- Proverbs 3:11-12
I'll leave it at that for now. It's late and I'm starting to go cross-eyed from sleepiness :)!
Good night all. Be well and God bless.