Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
I love the above verse but at times it seems to befuddle me. I do not know anyone who rejoices in sufferings while they are suffering. This may just be semantics but I do know it is possible to rejoice WHILE suffering but not IN suffering.
When I add Romans 8:28 to the above verse it makes a little more sense.
“For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.”
Almost seven years ago my husband died and I was the one to find him. The following is an excerpt from my journal:
I lay on a stretcher wrapped in a blanket. I do not know how long I had been outside barefoot and no coat. I was shaking from cold and fear and death and uncertainty. I was shaking to the very core of me.
I could physically feel and spiritually sense the presence of all that was to come: as if grief, anger, despair, anxiety, loneliness, and regret, all at levels I had never encountered, were floating above but had not yet pounced. They were swirling, circling, waiting to attack viciously. Indeed, they were eager to devour me. I felt strangely peaceful that they would wait. Instead, I looked at the young woman who was part of the response team.
“Do you read the Bible?” I asked.
“Yes, I am a woman of faith,” she answered.
I whispered with my eyes closed, “How is God possibly going to bring good out of this? My husband is dead. The father of my children is dead.” When I finished my question I looked up at her as if saying “my husband is dead” was safer if said with my eyes closed.
Tears began to roll down her eyes.
“It is all right to be angry with God and tell Him you are angry,” she responded.
“I am not angry with Him,” I said, “I cannot face this without Him.”
My spirit made a decision when my mind could not. My brain and heart had suffered an injury of cataclysmic proportion yet my spirit knew that I would not survive except by clinging to my Father’s robe. I was the woman in the crowd. I was not pushing through people but I would push through anger, fear, doubt, loneliness, excruciating pain, to reach the hem of my Savior. I would stop at nothing to touch Him. I knew my faith would heal me.
Looking back on that moment, at times as if it was yesterday, and re-reading Romans 5, I can offer this: while there was absolutely no part of my being that rejoiced in that suffering I do understand how suffering can and will produce endurance. It is even written into the very definition of endurance given by Merriam Webster: 1. the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially : the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity 2: the act or an instance of enduring or suffering
Suffering produces endurance because the only way to be released from it’s powerful grasp is to endure it. When we try to run from it we prolong the inevitable – that it will catch up with us and more than likely with gained momentum. When we try to divert from it, usually in unhealthy ways, we merely inflict a new layer of suffering.
I wonder if sometimes it takes the patience to endure and waiting in order for hope to appear apparent enough for us to recognize it. I know that during my time in the ambulance on that day and for a long time after, hope was only a momentary, fleeting notion. There was never enough of it to which I could hold. Grief and suffering can be so overwhelming that initially all one can do is attempt to survive.
Then hope emerges.
It may have been dormant and it may seem like it took an agonizingly long time to emerge but it comes. Because of my belief in a good God despite what was happening to me I could hold tightly to the promise that He would bring good out of the impossibly horrific. I could cling to the assurance that if I endured then hope would come. I also knew I would have to wait and during the waiting it was imperative for me to work harder than I ever have. I would fight for the patience to endure. I would battle anger, grief, abandonment, loneliness, and even doubt. I would wrestle with unanswered questions and the relentless “what ifs”. I would have to clear enough space in my heart so that hope and love and new dreams could grow. He faithfully gave me the tools I needed in order to be victorious. It was not easy yet I had hope. And it did not put me to shame.
He has and He will.