I'm welcoming Susan Black to the blog today to share her insights in our occasional series called In Her Shoes. Susan is a writer, teacher, counselor, and pastor's wife. She and her husband have three grown sons and one daughter-in-law. She is the author of Marriage is Hard: Truths I Wish I Had Understood Before I Got Married. I know you will be blessed by her words, just as I was.
Years ago, my husband Rob and I were having dinner with friends who were retired after decades in pastoral ministry. We were talking about the challenges of church planting and enjoying the wisdom we were able to glean from this experienced and godly couple.
The husband made a statement that I have never forgotten. He said that our prayers are often no more than a personal wish list for God, and that what we’re actually praying is this: “Please God, take away my trials so that I don’t have to need You or grow up.” We all laughed, but I knew immediately that his assessment was true, and that I was a culprit.
About 10 years ago, my youngest son was diagnosed with a seizure disorder (after 12 years of perfect health). Because he was initially misdiagnosed and given a medication for the wrong disorder, we faced many months of seizure activity – from tremors in his arms and legs to full-blown generalized seizures. He had ER visits, endless blood work, CT scans, sleep-deprived EEG’s, and scads of other treatments in our quest to end his troubling and exhausting symptoms.
It was during this time that I spent many nights pleading with God to take his seizures away. I have known no trial as great as watching my child suffer. During one particularly distressing night, I begged God to take my son’s seizures away and to give them to me. I didn’t think I could bear watching him suffer another night.
God spoke gently and firmly to my heart: “Susan, you have prayed since he was born for Philip to be a godly man. Do you want Me to take away the very instrument I am using to accomplish this purpose? Do you want a son with no seizures or do you want a son who loves Me with his whole heart?”
I got it! And I remembered the words of our pastor friend. My prayers for my son had been nothing more than, “Lord, please take this trial away from us so that we don’t have to suffer.”
Instead of answering my prayer, God taught us all lessons of grace: that His peace abides much deeper than our fears; that His will is eternal and purposeful; that His grace is sufficient, and that His strength is made powerful in our weakness; that this world is not our home, and that we shouldn’t cling to it so insistently.
I recently read this quote on a friend’s Facebook page: “The sufferings of Jesus show us that pain comes to us not as punishment, but rather as a testing ground for faith that transcends pain. In truth, pain redeemed impresses me more than pain removed.”
This was our experience. My son’s suffering was redeemed by a gracious God Who loves us too much to remove the suffering until it has accomplished His purposes. Difficult? Yes. Would we go back to who we were before the suffering? Never!
In A Path Through Suffering, author Elisabeth Elliot says: “Eternal life means knowing God. All our life on earth is designed to facilitate that. But knowing Him must include sharing His sufferings by reproducing the pattern of His death. Instead of seeking first for escape from suffering, the soul hungry to know Christ will seek in it the means to know Him better.”
Jesus taught us how to pray in the Garden: “Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.” It’s a tremendously difficult prayer to pray, but in response to this prayer, God is faithful to further His work of heart transformation in us, helping us to see Him more clearly and to experience a deeper and more steadfast peace as our will is surrendered more fully to His perfect and holy purposes.