It was December 1975. We had recently moved to Throckmorton, Texas, a small town jokingly referred to as “seventy miles out of your way on the way to anywhere,” to work with a ministry there. Mitch and I were deeply in love, and about eighteen months earlier God had graciously given us our first child, a precious little girl we had named Teresa. As I watched our daughter toddle around the room, my heart was full and the future looked bright.
On this cold day in December, Mitch’s boss had asked him to run an errand for him. Using his boss’s truck, he was to go to Fort Worth to pick up some carpet for a house they were remodeling. Mitch decided to make it a family outing and take Teresa and me along. We had some dear friends in Fort Worth, and our plan was to pick up the carpet then visit these friends for a few hours before driving back home.
But we never made it to Fort Worth. On the way there, outside the town of Mineral Wells, Texas, we were hit head-on by an alcohol impaired driver. Teresa was hurt so badly that she did not survive. She died on December 18th, two days after the accident.
Mitch had some cracked ribs, a cut and cracked bone in his knee, and the impact from the accident pushed him against the steering wheel with such force that his chin was gashed and the steering wheel broken in half. But his injuries weren’t anywhere near as serious as mine.
At first, I was in intensive care and the doctors weren’t sure I would live. I had 27 fractures and Mitch was told if I survived, I would probably never walk again and might not be able to even sit up in bed for an extended time. My doctors were wrong, and I left the hospital walking with the assistance of crutches. As I returned home a couple months later, I was a different person. Suffering had touched my life, and I was forever changed.
Suffering of some sort touches almost all of us sometime during our lives . It may not be the kind or intensity of suffering my family has faced, but it is certain. Jesus clearly said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b NKJV). Trials are inevitable, so it’s really important to know how to navigate our way through them when they come. The accident that took the life of our daughter and left me with chronic pain and debilitating illness taught me some important truths about walking with wisdom through suffering.
1. God is not the cause of most of the difficult things we experience in our lives, but He works through them to accomplish His purposes.
Everything God allows in the valley is with purpose. Every situation is permitted so that we might grow in faith and be conformed to the image of Jesus.
2. God’s grace is given in proportion to the circumstances He asks us to walk through, but we have the choice or receiving or rejecting it.
“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (Ephesians 4:7 NIV)
“God shields us from most of the things we fear, but when He chooses not to shield us, He unfailingly allots grace in the measure needed. It is for us to choose to receive or refuse it. Our joy or our misery will depend on that choice.” – Elisabeth Elliot
3. Suffering can make us bitter or better.
Oswald Chambers said, “We all know people who have been made much meaner and more irritable and more intolerable to live with by suffering: it’s not right to say that all suffering perfects. It only perfects one type of person… the one who accepts the call of God in Jesus Christ.”
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)
4. If we sense bitterness in our hearts because of suffering, either against God or against someone who hurt us, we need to confess that to the Lord and ask His cleansing.
“For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:17-18 NIV).
5. Understand that God controls the depth and length of our valley experiences.
One of the best Scriptures concerning God’s control over the timing of our suffering is found in Psalms:
“He (God) called for a famine on the land of Canaan, cutting off its food supply. Then he sent someone to Egypt ahead of them— Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They bruised his feet with fetters and placed his neck in an iron collar. Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the LORD tested Joseph’s character.” (Psalms 105:16-19 NLT)
6. Our responsibility is to trust in the Lord with our whole heart and to run to Him instead of away from Him when suffering touches our lives.
“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.” (Psalm 37:3-6 NIV)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)
When we decide to trust in the Lord with our whole heart, He will make our paths straight and direct, keeping us from going astray when we face difficult circumstances.
7. Walking faithfully through difficult circumstances isn’t something we can do in our own strength.
Responding correctly to suffering is not all up to us. If it were, I wouldn’t be here today. It is the work of God in us that enables us to be faithful in the hard times.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV)
Suffering is a part of our earthly lives. But remember, we are only in our present bodies for a short time. Paul exhorted us in Roman 8:18 to consider our present suffering as not worth comparing with the glory that awaits us for eternity.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NIV)