Post #1 in the miniseries, Refuge from the Ruins
Who was I to speak about suffering?
This past fall, someone asked me to write a post about suffering. At the time, my friends and I were walking through the trenches of cancer with our sweet Katie.
You might think that would have been a great time for me to write about suffering. But honestly, I just couldn’t do it.
For one, Katie was battling something bigger than anything I could comprehend. Any suffering I had experienced throughout my life seemed trivial compared to what she was facing.
Secondly, no matter how hard it was for me to watch her suffer, I knew I couldn’t possibly understand how hard it was for her or her family. Yes, Katie was like a sister to me. But Katie also had real sisters and brothers who had never known life without her. She had a husband whose world revolved around taking care of her. She had a mother who had raised her into the remarkable woman I got to call my friend. Of course my heart was breaking. But what about their hearts? What about Katie’s?
Anything I could have come up with to say about suffering just seemed inadequate.
So as the months passed by, I sat quietly with that question about suffering in the back of my mind and I watched closely as Katie tackled the unthinkable. It was during those months of sitting by her bed, listening to her talk about her cancer and doing life alongside Katie that she taught me a valuable lesson about suffering.
Nothing Is Wasted
Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, Katie decided to get the following tattoo of the lyrics to one of her favorite songs (Nothing Is Wasted, by Elevation Worship):
If you look closely, you’ll see that her tattoo read:
“Nothing is wasted
You work all things for good
Your promise remains
Forever you reign”
(You can listen to the song by clicking on the YouTube video above)
This idea that nothing is wasted is how Katie approached her suffering. Katie had a rare gift – she had the ability to look beyond her immediate suffering and believe there was purpose in it all. Even though she couldn’t see all the ways her story would impact the lives of others and even though she didn’t know whether she would ever receive total healing here in this life, she firmly believed that God was (and still is) at work through her suffering and that he has a plan in it all.
Not only did she believe he has a plan, but Katie held steadfast to the belief that God is all-loving, that his plans are larger and more beautiful than anything we can fathom, and that even in our pain he continues to work all things for good. She understood that God can bring redemption and beauty out of the worst of circumstances, including her battle with cancer.
Katie’s suffering was not wasted, and neither is the grief that those of us who loved her so deeply are experiencing now.
Yes, it feels unjust to lose someone so precious and so young. Yes, there a million questions that run through our minds when a tragedy like this happens. Yes, it hurts more than anyone could ever put into words. But this time is not wasted.
Resisting the Urge to Numb Out & Press Fast-Forward
Suffering is a guaranteed part of life. No matter how much you try to avoid its path or attempt to protect yourself from its sting, I promise at some point in your life you will experience suffering—we’re talking about deep life-altering suffering that knocks you to your knees, strips away your breath and threatens to shatter the very hope that gets you through the day.
During those times of raw and bitter pain, it can be tempting to numb out and try to push a fast-forward or skip-to-the-next-happy-chapter button on life. This can take on a variety of forms for different people. Maybe for you it means you fill up every spare minute of your schedule so that time passes more quickly and you don’t have time to think or feel much of anything. On the other hand, maybe it means you become best friends with a bottle of sleeping pills so you’re never awake long enough to feel the weight of reality. For others of you it might mean resorting to disordered eating, substance abuse or self-harm. Or perhaps for some of you it just means you’re terrified to feel the emotions that flood your heart when you’re alone—so you constantly surround yourself with other people or jump into the arms of another person in pursuit of comfort, even if you know they aren’t the right person for you. The list goes on…We all have something. What is yours?
Whatever you run to when you’re afraid to confront the pain of your suffering, it’s not going to serve as anything more than a source of temporary relief. At the end of the day, the pain will still be there.
So what if we took Katie’s belief that nothing is wasted and let that inspire us to face our suffering head on? What if rather than seeing our suffering as an excuse to numb out from reality, we instead chose to be fully present, to face the discomfort and to search for deeper meaning in it all? What if instead of viewing our suffering as something to run from and ignore, we chose to view it as an opportunity for lessons to be learned, fears to be overcome, moments to be cherished and time to be held sacred?
Suffering is agonizing, but it is also powerful. It brings us to our knees and forces us to reexamine our priorities. It reminds us that life is frail, uncertain and brief. As anxiety producing as that realization can be, it can also wake us up and inspire us to start living our lives for what really matters.
After watching Katie face her trials, I would suggest that no matter how great our suffering might be at times, there truly is purpose in it all—even if we can’t see it or understand it right now. So hold on. Refuse to give up. And let the belief that nothing is wasted give you a little more hope to get through the day. Your story matters, even the parts you might rather skip or forget.