Recently, I’ve had occasion to ponder suffering in a deeper way than ever before. I say this not because the situation I’m in is worse than it has ever been (my family have by now become hardened veterans of this private war), but because I’ve become more familiar with the true character of suffering. It isn’t about circumstances. Not really.
As pro-life author Stephanie Gray Connors explained in our recent conversation on Upstream, suffering is the gulf between what we desperately want and what we actually have—between (for instance) the healing for which we pour out our hearts in prayer night after night and the apparent silence that answers from Heaven. My family’s return to this familiar and dreaded gulf occasions suffering precisely because it is so familiar—precisely because our best-laid plans failed to prevent it. We thought we’d learned the lessons God intended to teach us by this. How much more gold could He possibly refine out of us?
No, I’ve realized that suffering isn’t about circumstances. It’s about the fear that your circumstances are meaningless—that God has abandoned you.
I’ve always thought that anyone could suffer indefinitely if they clearly understood and believed in the purpose they were accomplishing. But what if there is no purpose?
What if you’ve learned every conceivable lesson and undergone every imaginable sanctification and the drumbeat of sorrow continues, with no end in sight? What do you do when the spiritual shepherds who assured you God was preparing a weight of glory through your momentary affliction stammer and look away, no longer able to meet your questions after the affliction returns for the fourth time in five years?