I didn’t want to have my quiet time this morning. I wanted to drink another cup of coffee, watch some more ESPN, and enjoy the time in between bouts of baby fussiness. It was clear to me that I needed to be in God’s Word today, though, mostly because I so badly wanted to ignore it.
The first chapter of 2 Corinthians was the last part of my reading (I’m currently using the ESV Plan on YouVersion–love it!), and Paul was telling the people of Corinth about how deeply he and Timothy had suffered. They “despaired of life itself” the eighth verse says. Can’t we all–any of us who have grieved, who have suffered depression, who have believed that hope has fled–identify with that? But Paul uses the first part of his letter to explain some of the great advantages of suffering, and that’s what God spoke to me about this morning.
Let me start by saying this: I don’t like to think about suffering and how it’s a certainty in all our lives. I made it many years convincing myself I could escape it and even being superstitious about pursuing knowledge related to it. If I never focused on it, maybe it would stay away? Suffering, in one form or another, will come down on each of us, though. Sometimes it’s acute and other times it’s chronic, but we will not escape it. And that’s a good thing, as Paul tells us.
1. We suffer so that we can experience God’s comfort.
Verse 5: “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
When we are desperate and broken, God can really show off. There have been times in my marriage, my work, and my parenting when I have realized that I cannot fix it, save it, or change it, and with that usually comes a very dark emotional experience. I’m a sobber; I can really, really cry. Cry until my head pounds and my eyes stay swollen for a day or two. When I reach that point, I know only God can comfort me. Only He can pull me out of the pit, calm my heart, clear my mind, and help me walk through the circumstances. When I suffer, I experience God’s incomparable comfort.
2. We suffer so that we can comfort others.
Verses 3-4: “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.”
I just love this. The more difficult experiences life brings, the more I realize how important this is. We need other people. God’s grace is so often poured out through those around us. When we are hurting, how we want someone to come up beside and say, “I know. I know. You’re not alone. Others have gone before you in this.” The process breaks down when we can’t bring ourselves to be honest about our own suffering, though. When we act like our marriages have always been great, our mothering experiences have always been blissful, and our walks with the Lord have always been right, we shortchange those God has placed in our lives. It’s scary to be honest about our hurts. I know. But someone needs to know that you’re just like them. And if you have experienced the comfort and healing of God in your suffering, they especially need to know that. It’s one of the reasons He allows his beloved children to suffer in the first place.
3. We suffer so that we learn to rely on God and not on ourselves.
Verse 9: “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
In the first point, I talked about relying on God to comfort us emotionally. We also suffer so that we learn to rely on God to take care of the problem. He will do it. He will not only help you survive emotionally, but He will take care of the situation. He may not “fix” it the way we think it should be fixed, and He may address it on a different timetable than we desire, but He is in control, and He is good, and He will take care of it. He will, He will, He will. Sometimes I just have to repeat it to myself. He is good. He will take care of it.
Now, I’m going to be honest. I have been walking–stumbling–through a season of suffering. New motherhood is a blessing, one that I prayed for earnestly, but it has led me into a difficult emotional place. Baby blues, postpartum depression, adjustment problems….I don’t really know how to label it at this point in time. I just know that it’s one of the hardest things I have lived, and it’s made even harder by the fact that I feel I should be so happy at this time. Of all the things I’m doing to address it, what helps the most is knowing that 1) God loves me, 2) God allowed this season of suffering, and 3) God has a great purpose for this experience.