Each year as I follow the rhythms of the Church Year something new and fresh is revealed. I experience the seasons differently every year and with more depth. This year I have found my inner and outer life embodying the themes of key seasons, as if I'm physically walking through the changing seasons, bringing it alive for me.
In Advent I found myself in a season of restlessness and waiting, weary and feeling ministry was a little more laborious and the long-awaited results were still just too far out of reach. I felt the discontent and lament that can be associated with waiting and found that I needed to remind myself of what I believed in and the vision the Lord had set before us. I felt, in my own way, the weariness of a broken world waiting on the hope of Christ.
And now, in Lent, a bittersweet season acknowledging the grace and mercy we receive as a result of the suffering of our Savior, I've found myself walking a journey of my own suffering and in need of God's mercy and grace. In this season I found myself pregnant, which is both terrifying and exciting, and embarking on a journey I had not known would be so emotionally and physically taxing.
The discovery that I was pregnant came alongside a series of symptoms that were difficult and concerning, making us fear the loss of of another pregnancy. With each symptom we worried and called the doctor and went in for tests that reassured us, only to turn around and start the process again. After weeks of the emotional yo-yoing we were exhausted. Some days I didn't know if I could take one more worrisome symptom. I thought, if things are going to go badly, I'd rather it just happen already and end the constant ups and downs. In and around the worry and tears I spent most of the day in bed or throwing up.
Just when we thought we couldn't take another scare, the troubling symptoms subsided and left in their wake only my continued and unrelenting nausea. The morning sickness would wave over me every morning, knocking me off my feet for hours, subside briefly midday, only to regain momentum and crash over me every single night. All the normal anti-nausea medications were not working...one even sending me to the ER with uncontrollable tongue, jaw, and facial spasms. That was fun...and attractive.
I was so thankful for a flexible ministry schedule, as I was rendered useless for several months. I was also thankful for a husband and son who joyfully picked up all of my slack, but it didn't make the physical suffering much easier. Most days I was a zombie and most nights I closed out the day throwing up and crying pitifully in a ball of misery in my bed.
When you're in the middle of suffering, whether physical or emotional, whether life altering or just a long and challenging season, it seems to swallow you whole and it's hard not to let it define your entire being. A dear sister in Christ shared something with me during this season that gave me both hope and perspective. She said that in her own difficult journey she had found that God never wastes our suffering. She wrote it to me in a text message but the profoundness of its truth kept me coming back to that text over and over again during these months.
The question we ask while deep in suffering tends to be why?, which makes it seem like God is far away and spiteful. But this perspective made God seem close and compassionate...which is, of course, the nature of God.
Our world is broken and dying and we suffer the consequences of that daily, sometimes more intensely than others. God doesn't always take away our suffering, but He always intervenes on our behalf. He walks with us through the suffering if we will welcome Him. He looks intimately at us and our circumstances, working and redeeming every moment for His glory and our spiritual benefit, letting no suffering go without purpose if we turn to Him. He cherishes it all, holding it close to Himself, as He did the suffering of His own Son.
It is only because Christ walked the journey of purposeful suffering before us that we can also suffer with purpose, experiencing both the bitter and sweet that comes with suffering. The bitterness in our suffering is easy to pick out, but to find the sweetness we have to look to Jesus, knowing He sees each moment of our suffering, and ask Him to show us where He is working for His glory in us and those around us.
I wish I was better at this approach to suffering. I wish, even in these last months, I had applied these truths more thoroughly, but I do know that each time I have experienced suffering in my life, when I turn to Christ in its midst, even imperfectly, I experience new truths about who He is and in that there is such sweetness.