My husband, Robbie, and I are in the process of building a house, and we are considering naming it “Havilah,” which is a Hebrew word that has two meanings: “writhing in pain” and “to bring forth.”  You see, both of us were widowed when we met, and the suffering is what brought us on the path to each other.  So even though we carry lifelong pain of love lost, the very same suffering has brought forth a new life and new love together.

Perhaps you are reading this article because you also have been given a life you never wanted.  Bad things happen under the sovereignty of God.  But Jesus said, “I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  No matter how much you hurt, if you are born of the Spirit and covered by the blood of Jesus, then there is joy, peace, love, and mercy to be found even within the anguish.

There is a common assumption among many that if God is good, He will protect us from all suffering and only shower us with what we consider ideal circumstances.  But the Bible is clear that times of travail actually bring forth the good that we long for.  In order for a tree to grow and bear fruit, a seed must first die.  Only then can life begin, which also brings forth thousands more seeds.

In Matthew 4:7, Jesus calls those who mourn “blessed” because “they will be comforted.”  And in Romans 5:3-5, the apostle Paul tells us to 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.”

After my first husband, David, died I was so devastated because we had such a wonderful beautiful marriage, and I couldn’t understand why God would give him to me and then take him away in one brief moment.  “I know I don’t deserve to know why,” I said to God in a silent moment.  “You are the God of the universe and you are justified to do whatever you want to do.  But if you would be so gracious to show me why, I could bear it easier.”

God’s mercy is so great.  Not only did he show me many reasons why, but he went overboard.  There was a letter that David had written about the importance of the covenant of marriage that I posted on the Internet, and that little letter and the message of David’s character and the love he had for his wife went all across the country, to the point where four years later I was still getting stories from total strangers of how David’s story had changed their lives.  I know God doesn’t always reveal why, and I will never know all the reasons.  But I believe that God loves to bless His children, and what He chose to reveal to me was more than enough to bring healing to my bleeding heart.

A.W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”  There is a reason why you have lost your spouse or suffered major health problems or dealt with a prodigal child.  Nothing that happens in life is wasted, and God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). It’s not just for the sake of the common good, but for our individual enrichment and eternity.  Bill Bright said, “Affliction is the messenger of God’s deepest truths.” The pain actually brings us to the place where we can experience spiritual fruit, even while being grieved at the same time.  Some of the fruits that come to mind are:

  • Compassion for others. It’s amazing how grace and love grow when you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes. Second Corinthians 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Just imagine—we actually get to experience the comfort of God himself. There is no greater peace! And then we get the privilege of sharing that comfort with others who are struggling.
  • Greater appreciation of God’s love and mercy. It becomes so clear how much we need a savior to rescue us from the harsh reality of a world riddled with sin and death. How can we know healing without first sickness? How can we know peace without first turmoil?
  • Most importantly, focus on heaven—the perfection we long for. A painless life can tempt us to be satisfied with our trouble-free circumstances. When life is undisturbed, what reason is there to step out and work for Christ where we might be persecuted or offend someone? But when we have a clear reality check that this life is full of troubles and the only real hope is life in Christ, then there is more of an urgency to spread the gospel to others.

A new life after intense suffering offers great gifts!  I have told many people that I would not wish anyone to go through the pain of losing a spouse, but at the same time I wish everyone could experience it.  My new life is very different from the old one—some losses will be with me forever, yes.  Losing a loved one is like losing an arm—you will never hear an amputee say, “I’m so glad I don’t have my arm anymore!”  But you can learn to have a happy productive life despite your loss.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about a woman in her eighties.  As a young woman, she was married to a wonderful man and had two beautiful children.  While they were still young, her husband died.  She remarried, and she and her new husband enjoyed refurbishing houses together.  Eventually, he also died, and she turned their antique Victorian home into a boarding house for girls.  Eventually, she closed the house and volunteered at a local ministry.  One day, a young woman approached her and said, “Ms. Anne, you’ve had a wonderful life, haven’t you?” To which she replied, “Honey, I’ve had five wonderful lives!”  One of the keys to living abundantly is to understand that you’re suffering hasn’t ended your life; it has brought you to a new one.  Yes, we must take the time to grieve our losses, but we can cling to the hope that this is just another part of the journey to heaven.

Practical Tips to Living Abundantly

So the question becomes, how do we find the abundance in this new life?  Nothing in the world is going to make the pain go away immediately.  Nothing is going to make that arm grow back.  Remember, it’s through the suffering that brings about the blessing, not going around it.  But there are some very practical things you can do to find healing.

First, seek the face of God and relying on what you know to be true about him.  The Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  It’s not hypocritical to believe even when you can’t see or don’t feel like it.  It’s faith! But how do you have faith when it seems to be gone?  Romans 10:17 says, “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”  The short answer—read your Bible and pray!  Your mind will tell you it’s too much work.  Your feelings will tell you it’s hopeless and hypocritical because you are so mad at God.  Read anyway, and you will experience a washing of grace and mercy.  You will feel warm with its light.  For me, the best books were:

– the Gospel of John (emphasizes life)

– Philippians (emphasizes joy, purpose, and hope)

– Psalms (identifies with grief and sorrow)

– Job (the story of a man who endured great suffering and ultimately great blessing)

– the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis (another sufferer with a happy ending)

When I was reading and praying, I couldn’t always hear God or see him.  But looking back I see now how far he carried me through the darkness.  And I have learned so much from what he whispered to me when I thought I couldn’t hear him!

Second, wait for God.  We always want to get the answers from God right now, before it is time to reveal them.  But God is pleased when we wait for Him.  Lamentations 3:25 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” I wish there was space to provide all the scriptures that call God’s people to wait for Him.  I have wondered why God so desires our patience, and I think it has to do with faith and dependence—trusting God to fulfill his promises, no matter the circumstances.

The waiting certainly makes things sweeter.  Waiting on God is like digging a well.  You dig and dig, reading the scripture and crying out in prayer, not knowing how far down the spring is, but you keep digging until you reach the water.  Then suddenly it bursts forth and pours all over you, flowing streams of living water!  Sometimes it takes a long time, but the payoff is worth it.

Third, try new things.  I once read about a 114-year-old woman. Her 85-year-old son gave her an iPad for Christmas, and she created a FaceBook account to keep up with all her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Her son said, “She’s been curious about everything her whole life and continues to be curious about it.” I think of all the losses that someone 114 years old has endured in life, but she continues to press forward.  She has every excuse to let these new trends pass her by.  But instead, she tackles them for her present life.

Fourth, focus on serving others.  There are countless ministries and non-profit organizations born out of tragedy.  The now famous Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame started working with soldiers who had PTSD because of his own personal struggle.  Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Church ministers to thousands on the topic of grief after losing his son in a car accident.  A dear friend, Teresa Coelho, has a ministry called The Power of Modesty, that teaches young girls about their worth in Christ, a life changing lesson born from her tragic past of abuse and her journey through the modeling industry to find value.

It doesn’t matter how damaged you are.  It’s the brokenness that actually makes you useable.  Nothing, even tragedy, is ever wasted with God.  He uses it all for his purposes.  One of the verses that comforted me was Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Whatever has happened in your life, it did not come as a shock to God.  He knew about the valley, and there’s a mountain on the other side.

Fifth, remember that this life is all about the life after.  Everything on this earth must be examined in light of eternity.  We have hope and a promise that all the work and pain and suffering have a payoff of eternal significance.  Our job here is not to get comfortable and mind our own business.  No! We have a clear directive to build the kingdom and to take as many with us to that wonderful place as possible.  This life is not the end.  Why do we keep living that way?

I Still Get Sad Sometimes

Getting through the new life is hard, even when you use these five guidelines.  I still get sad sometimes knowing that my “normal” life is over.  It will never be the way it was.  But the life of Jesus’ mother, Mary, has been an inspiration to me.  When she was with her baby at the manger, shepherds and angels   worshipping, the Bible says she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  And when she took the baby to the temple for dedication, Simeon prophesized to her, “a sword will pierce even your own soul.”  That prophesy was fulfilled at the cross when her old life with her son was over. It would never be the same.

But she treasured all those things in her heart.

I will always treasure in my heart the memory of my life with David.  But my new life with Robbie is precious to me, too.  And my three years as a single mom hold many of the most hope-saturated and faith-filled moments of my life.  It was so hard at the time, but I look back at the grace, the deepened friendships, and the utter dependence upon God.  I see how every stage of my life has made me who I am, and how God has used it to draw me and many others closer to Him.

There are so many treasures in the dark caves of sorrow.  Let the pain push you toward the pickaxe of God’s word, prayer, and seeking purpose and dig out those gems.  You will not be disappointed as you begin to experience the peace that surpasses understanding, leading you to live abundantly in the life you never wanted.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Sabrina McDonald