Training Ground of Suffering



Two children. Two surgeries. One summer. Major surgery was not the summer headliner I had hoped for my teenager and tween. For three years we have asked for answers as to why our children’s stamina decreased as they participated in sports and day-to-day play. It took a while, but the answers eventually came.


We took them to doctors, adjusted their diet, and while some things helped, nothing relieved their increasing distress. Heart checks and lung checks showed healthy systems. We were honest in our prayers and frustrated at the silence. God, why don’t you answer? Yet I am reminded that God's timing is perfect.


Two years ago, a chance encounter with a young man, ironically with a similar build to my children, revealed a possible reason for their symptoms. He, too, felt his heart racing at the age of fifteen, and decreased stamina even though he was a healthy swimmer. He got called lazy or was told to put forth more effort. He was fully grown before the doctors diagnosed the problem. I called the meeting a divine appointment, and we shared with others the hope now claimed for a way to help our children.


A year ago, the doctor determined that my children’s chest walls put pressure on their hearts and lungs, which made each work harder. Tests confirmed the severity of their problem. Finally I had received the much sought-after answer, but I slammed my trust into reverse. I changed from wanting an answer from God...from the doctors to demanding a different explanation, altogether.


The surgeon's plan was set. They would make several incisions in their chests. Then, put two metal bars through their chest to create a brace for the proper formation of their rib cages. These would remain in place until they were fully grown. I was petrified at the thought of causing my children further suffering. For their part, they were grateful for an answer and solution, and they committed to facing the surgeries together. They made plans for their recovery, while I questioned the wisdom of God. Despite the doubt, God reminded me that He uniquely formed my kids and will inspire the best possible outcome for them.


God lined up many hands to physically, mentally, and spiritually care for our family amid the surgeries in July. I live across the river from one of the best team of doctors for this particular surgery. They have even added a pain management structure that has decreased the hospital stay and improved at-home care that they did not start using until this year. This past year, multiple parents crossed my path who shared their children’s positive outcomes from the same surgery. Each had a word from God and encouragement:

  • “The doctor prays with her patients.”

  • “They have apps to aid in administering meds.”

  • “I was able to return to the sports I love.”

  • “I never realized how limited I was in taking a full breath until moments after the surgery.”

As each word of encouragement reached my ears, I grew in my faith. The Holy Spirit led me to scriptures of trust and hope such as Romans 8. I have just finished memorizing all of Romans 8, and I find comfort in knowing that God is working these surgeries to my children’s good. As a result of seeing God's faithfulness over and over, I have begun to take my thoughts captive and submit to God’s will for my children.


Yes, the surgery requires extensive recovery, but my children’s quality of life will greatly improve. I don't avoid suffering through disobedience. To avoid the surgery would likely cause my children further suffering. And, as they grow, without the surgery, the chest wall would add more restriction to the heart and lungs. This helps me move forward with the same confidence my children have.


I am learning to keep my eyes fixed upon Jesus. After all, He knows the design of my children’s bodies better than I. Knows the best course of action for them, and the support needed for us to keep trusting the concrete evidence of His provision in our suffering.


According to scripture, suffering in this life is not optional. "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32 NIV). “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV). I can endure anything this world throws at me because suffering is not the final answer. Eternal life with Jesus is the final answer!


In this current trial, I am learning that God gives comfort, all scripture is valuable, and it trains me to glorify God, even in the suffering. My daughter shared, “I keep my eyes fixed on the outcome. I know the surgery is hard, but I look forward to the relief it will bring me.” I am coming to realize that some suffering gives God glory and is to our benefit. Two surgeries. Two children. And one summer of learning how God is faithful in our suffering.


FOR FURTHER THOUGHT

What is supposed to be our response to suffering? In this life, it is pretty much a guarantee that we will suffer loss, calamity, and death. God's promises--especially the one He made through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--to show that His will results in abundant lives.

Jesus set the example. "Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God" (1 Peter 4:2-3 ESV). Just as Jesus committed to enduring the cross in exchange for God's will, we can choose God's will over our own.


My children's upcoming surgery revealed my sinful nature. Knowing on paper that God won't let my children down did not keep me from searching for other options and anxiously fretting about the outcome. I self-medicated with food, escaped through TV shows where everything works out in the end, and avoided speaking to God. Only when I submitted mind, body, and spirit to God's will have I found the peace I needed: that the surgery will work to my children's good.


Despite my running away, God has continued to offer comfort, guidance, and reassurance that our suffering would not be in vain. Suffering is the training ground for obedience to a God who will not let us down. He may not do things the way we perceive as best, but His way surpasses anything we could ever dream up.


I have been surprised and delighted again and again by decisions to follow God over my own will. His will led to an end to self-harm at age twenty, meeting my husband at twenty-seven, a published book to help those suffering depression, and a confidence in myself that I had not ever possessed.


God is never insecure about the outcome of His will in our lives. Maturity in our faith comes through the training ground of suffering because once and for all, Jesus died so that we may have abundant lives. There are no caveats. God offers hope for our suffering. The more we practice keeping our eyes fixed on the will of God, the better we can get to the place that we: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 2-4 ESV). Maturity in our faith comes through the training ground of suffering because once and for all, Jesus died so that we may have abundant lives.


PRAYER

Lord, I can’t always help that I am shaken by the wind rocking my boat, but as I listen and take steps forward, I learn to trust that You have the best in mind for me, even as I experience suffering. Amen


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