photo credit: Christopher Campbell
The Perfect Storm
It was the summer of 2010 when the storm hit. There was no way to prepare for the season of suffering that was to come.
I had just given birth to our third child, precious little Lucy, in January. And while I’d fallen in love with this sweet little crystal blue-eyed gal and adjusted very well up until this point, out of the blue, the darkness overshadowed me.
I remember the night.
The room was spinning around me, as raw emotion overtook my body. Curled in a ball on my bed, I wept, confused, heart racing. I had just come home from a final goodbye get-together with friends and neighbors, as the Army was sending us from the DC area to the middle of Kentucky.
I’d always taken military moves in stride, in anticipation for what God had for us next. Why was this move different? What on earth was happening to me?
Why was I even crying???
I didn’t know.
From that day on, I felt as though my body had been hijacked by hormones and I couldn’t find myself.
I wasn’t myself.
For the next year or so my happy-go-lucky, fairly confident and spunky little self had turned into a shell of insecurity, anxiety, fear and despair. The combination of Postpartum Depression and Adrenal Fatigue left me with days where I’d have heart palpitations and a continual adrenaline rush that I could only tame by running, followed by days of extreme fatigue, where my leaden body would drag itself through the day only to face yet another sleepless night. The insomnia was maddening, jolting awake nightly at 2am, blood sugar plummeting, heart racing and the inability to fall back asleep until hours later. The never-ending rollercoaster of anxiety and despair sucked away any hope of feeling like myself again.
At one point I remember reading Phil. 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”, and thinking, “Yes. And I just wanna die. I can’t do this anymore.”
And I was TERRIFIED…
….because “Sarah has it all together. Sarah doesn’t have those issues.”
But, in fact, I did. At least for a season, I did.
And I was miserable.
God’s purpose in my Suffering
One evening, feeling the dread of another sleepless night and desperate for encouragement, I opened up my old journal and read this verse I had recorded years before:
“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.” -Deuteronomy 8:2-5 ESV (emphasis mine).
Yes, these were the words God spoke to the Israelites as they were wandering in the wilderness as a result of their sin, but that day these verses meant more to me than just a reminder of God’s goodness.
In these verses I found hope.
Because if there was a purpose in their suffering, then there was a purpose in my suffering. And from that day on, I learned to rejoice in my suffering, because God was using it to bring about a good work in me, disciplining me as a loving Father does his daughter.
The following verses became my lifeline:
2 Cor. 12:9-10 “9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
God had broken my heart.
He had shattered my pride.
My mind was transformed.
My heart was softened.
My faith was renewed.
Suffering as a Grace
You see, before I got pregnant with Lucy, for years I had led ministries in various capacities and taught inductive bible studies. I had been passionate for Jesus and shared the gospel with many people.
But for some reason, just before I gave birth to Lucy, I began to feel different. I felt lukewarm in my faith. I couldn’t figure out why. And it bothered me. I wanted the passion back, but it just seemed to fizzle out. I had started to do ministry in my own strength. I just kinda went through the motions. I didn’t lean on Christ like I did in earlier years.
I look back and see the root of my lack of passion: pride and self-sufficiency. I had forgotten how much I needed Jesus.
And nothing is more humbling and causes you to see your desperate need for Jesus than suffering.
And as I look back on that most difficult season of life, I see God’s grace written all over it…
Because God loves me too much to allow me to be destroyed by my own pride. And I’d rather be humbled via suffering than God allow me to stay steeped in my own mucky pride and self-sufficiency.
And in that, I praise Jesus for allowing me to go through that season.
-I learned to trust in Jesus and not myself.
-I learned that when I am weak, God is my strength.
-I came to know God in a more intimate way than I ever had before.
-I saw God provide for me in miraculous ways, as He did for the Israelites in the wilderness.
-I repented of sin and idolatry, and found freedom and joy as a result.
-I fell in love with Jesus all over again…
And it was during this season that I felt an even clearer calling for me to encourage women through the teaching of His Word, through speaking, through writing and through relationships with the sweet women in my life.
And out of that season, I wrote and taught an unpublished inductive bible study on suffering, called “Wilderness”, which looks at the story of the exodus and wilderness wanderings and entrance into the promised land, and examines not only the biblical theology of the story, but how the story teaches us about God’s purpose and provision in times of suffering, how to worship and trust in God alone, and how to suffer well and live well to the glory of God.
Yes, God had redeemed my suffering and used for His glory, my ultimate good, and the good of others.
Yes, suffering is indeed a grace.
And I praise God for allowing me to go through that season, that I may grow closer to Him, that I may be rescued from my own sin and pride, and that I learn to lean on Him as if my very life depends on it…because it does.
How has God used suffering as a grace in your life? How can you use your times of suffering to glorify God and encourage others?
*During this season, I found this song to be so incredibly encouraging. I pray that it encourages you today.