One day last summer on Antelope Range in the Nevada Desert, my family and I witnessed a column of rain so dense it appeared solid. My husband captured on camera the architectural event which perfectly illustrates the old adage: “When it rains, it pours.”
“When it rains…” is a metaphor commonly used to describe times in our lives when many things go wrong simultaneously. Sometimes those things are resolved by the end of the day, sometimes by the end of the week. But when troubles pour upon us relentlessly, the result is a “season,” a prolonged period during which God poses for us more problems than usual and which often results in our suffering. That suffering might prod us to focus on spiritual life. It might test our faith. Or it might be prepare us to serve God in some yet unrevealed capacity that will benefit His kingdom. If the latter is true, perhaps we will recognize the moment when the purpose of our suffering is fulfilled; perhaps not. Surrendering to God’s will and the mystery with which He moves is one of the most challanging responsibilities that we as humans have, confronted as we are by the issues of the “real” world.
My husband and I recently suffered a season in which, one by one, doors that had been open to us, closed. God systematically deprived us of health, work, money, education, food, essential medical resources, physical energy, mental energy and creativity. At first the removal of those resources was incomprehensible in its synergy but eventually its culmination stunned us. We tried everything we could think of to change our circumstances: things that had worked in the past, things we had never tried before, things that people whose advice we sought thought we should try. Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing worked.
The core of our experience was suffering and upon reflection, I was moved to ask: How do I suffer? Do I suffer with an open heart? Do I suffer with grace? Do I receive suffering as a blessing?
My careful self-evaluation revealed that I endured the suffering without losing faith or rebelling against God, yet found myself at a certain point becoming numb. So I was moved to ask: How can I learn anything if I am numb? And does numbness in response to suffering demonstrate a certain resistence–if not an overt lack of courage and strength?
Quite serendipitously one night while re-reading Proverbs in the Bible with my husband, I found my answer:
A man who hardens his neck after much reproof
Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy. – Proverbs 29:1
In that passage it seems clear that it is God’s will that we open ourselves to the suffering He inflicts, in order to receive its benefit. If we trust in God, we know that His “reproof” is a demonstration of His love for us. His “reproof” might come in response to a specific offense on our part, a spiritual apathy, or to encourage a spiritual bloom that would not otherwise occur, much as the gardener forces a bloom on the rose.
In the context of this knowledge I reflected on the pinnacle of my specific suffering, which arrived when my husband and I were dazed, hungry and weak. I called our assistant pastor who sent food and offered counsel. I have never before received charity. It was humbling, not because I am proud but because, since my husband’s health began to fail, I have been preoccupied with our problems and perhaps too quick to overlook the troubles of others that I might have helped to ease. Suffering has made me aware of my myopia, my human frailty, my responsibility to extend generousity to others even when I am feeling pressed, distressed or grieved.
As for my husband and I, God has begun to intermittently restore our resources. We are eating regular meals. I am back in school. My husband is regaining his strength and stamina. At times we still find ourselves reeling, feeling vulnerable, uncertain whether our trials have ended; yet we are willing to examine how we suffer if indeed it continues to rain.