“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
Justin told us once in a sermon that we must find joy in suffering.
I sat in the second row, second seat in (because that’s where I always sat) and thought to myself, “Has this guy lost his mind?”
Does he even know what suffering feels like? Maybe he’s never experienced real suffering? Maybe he’s just crazy.
I thought about it a lot.
And over time and as I sat in the pit of the valley, I knew he was right.
My son was taken away from me for a year and a half. My ex-husband had me deemed unfit to care for my child. My child. He called me names, shamed me and told me I was worthless.
Where am I to find joy in all that?
I stopped talking to God for three days. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t mad, I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t anything towards God. I just was silent. And I remember thinking, will I look back and see joy in this?
Romans says “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame. ”
Endurance is a word that sounds exhausting to me. Endurance sounds like a race with no end. Endurance feels heavy. On the days when I could not get out of bed to the nights when I tried to numb the pain with copious amounts of wine, I was just enduring…without hope. But God.
I remember lying on my bed in the child’s pose. (If you know yoga, you’ll know what I mean.) I was crying out to God…never asking why, but rather asking, “Where is my hope in this? What are you trying to teach me by taking away one of my own flesh and blood? Protect my baby, hold
him close, make him deaf to his words and blind to his actions.”
I actually pray that every time I drop my baby off with him. Not only did he take my child away from me, he continued to use his words as daggers hoping to pierce my heart, shake my soul and drag me down into the pit in which he sits. But God.
God did not answer right away. But he was there.
God Was Present in The Chaos
I started to see birds that didn’t belong in our area. Bright colored birds that would tap on my window while I worked from home. Birds that would fly by in at that dark moment when I blamed myself for this tragedy. I found myself saying, “Ok, God, I see you.” God knew where to find me and how to reach me, even when I didn’t want to be found.
Hiding in your suffering is so comforting. While you sit in your suffering, you feel like you’re enduring well. You’re bearing the pain, the weight and the burden that comes with hardship and trials…but all you’re doing is sinking. Deeper and deeper into the depth of shame and sadness where despair creeps in and becomes your best friend. Then one day, God shines a light of hope on you (sometimes in the form of a little yellow bird) and as you squint to see, you come face to face with the only one who can pull you from the depths you feel so lost in.
“Endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
God didn’t ask me if I wanted to expand my character. In fact, if he did, I would have said, “Thanks, God, but I’m good.” But God had bigger plans for me.
God Taught Me to Trust Him
My daily wails became prayers and my prayers became a foundation of trust in him that I feel to my core. Every day I prayed for veils to be removed from those who made earthly decisions when it came to my son. Every day, I sat in that child’s pose and cried out to God to make everyone see the truth…even me.
I saw it. The truth that was unveiled to me was complete and utter dependence on Jesus. I was stripped of everything I held close to my chest. Everyone now knew everything about me, read every email and text message that I had sent and reviewed psych tests that I had taken and drew their own conclusions. I was literally an open book…and oh, the shame. But God.
My family lives in Tennessee. They did not come to comfort me, they did not come to see me, they did not come to cry with me, and they did not come to support me in court as I sat shaking on the inside. I don’t fault them for not coming. They prayed. My church family came to comfort me, fed Dylan and I, cried with me and showed up to court. I never ever felt alone, not because my church family was there for me, but because God was.
I find solace in song. To be able to sing at the top of my lungs to my Father gives me great joy. (See—there’s one part of joy I discovered on this journey.) There’s a great Lauren Daigle song, “Trust In You,” that has a lyric I love: “There’s not a place where I’ll go, you’ve not already stood.”
I found comfort in those words. Much like today, as we sit in the unknown, we can find comfort that God knows exactly how this all ends up. I believe this is when we truly see Jesus and the joy he brings amidst it. It’s like when you get to the end of that book when all the pieces start to come together. You start to see all the times that God stood beside you, shielded you from the blows, and wrapped his loving arms around you and called you his daughter. All shame is lifted and you are able to stand tall because only God can call you worthy—no earthly man can take that from you.
The day I walked into that final court hearing where the decision for permanent custody would be made, I was trembling. Physically shaking in fear that I would lose my son forever to a mad man.
As I prayed, my family prayed, my church prayed, I was overcome with an overwhelming calm. A calm so strange that my shaking ceased, my heart no longer raced and I felt as if a gentle hand was laid upon my shoulder.
In Romans 8:18, Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
God’s hand was all over this. And God would be glorified through this in a way I would never understand.
The hearing went on for what felt like forever. Towards the end of the day, the judge said, “Closing remarks please.” What? I didn’t get a chance to speak my truth. I didn’t get a chance to answer more evasive questions. A slight nod from my attorney told me we were ok. The judge left and the silence fell hard. I bowed my head and just prayed…”Ok, Lord. Let your will be done. Take care of him no matter what.”
At that moment, the judge returned. As he sat down, a bright light began to shine down through the skylight in the courtroom. The light filled the room and provided a glare as I looked up and heard the judge say my most favorite words ever spoken by man, “Custody will be returned to the mother.” The light dimmed. Joy filled my heart. Tears filled my eyes. I knew God was there. In a year and a half, he never left. His glory shone into that courtroom that day and left me in a perpetual state of awe.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10
Blessed restoration is now my prayer. My family is still so broken. Some days are harder than others. My boys have suffered from the effects of sin. I have suffered from being sinned against.
We are still in desperate need of Jesus. And every day, I continue to sit in that child’s pose and cry out to the Lord for forgiveness and restoration in tandem with my cries of praise for all of the blessings he has bestowed upon us, and I feel joy.
Looking back at it all, it feels foreign to me. The feelings of despair and shame were taken from me and replaced with strength, courage and faith. When I prayed for truth and the purpose of it all, I realized now that God had answered me all along. I just wasn’t listening.
When I stopped to hear his wisdom, I learned that even in my silence, God was with me. I learned that I was a beloved daughter of a King. I learned that I am worthy. I learned that I am a good steward of the blessings God has given to me. I learned that though my family is far away, I am not alone. I learned that no matter how many times I may stumble, trip or fall, God will never, ever let me fall back into that dark pit of sadness, shame and despair.
I think of the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, “I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” I may not have seen the coming of the Lord, but I have sure seen his glory on display. He is with us. He gave us his own flesh and blood to save us from an eternity of living in that pit, so that we can spend forever in his presence whole, free and filled with peace. (I’ll admit, I long for that day.)
Remember that. Hold him close. Because at the end of the day, he is and always will be there. And resting in that absolute truth is where you will find the joy in suffering.
To end, I quote my favorite song….
“My God did not fail
It’s the story I’ll tell
I know it is well
It’s the story I’ll tell.”
If you’re struggling to see God in your life, especially amid your suffering, don’t miss this podcast episode: How to Handle Real-Life Struggles That Challenge Your Faith – 112