Last week I wrote about the blessings that come along with suffering. Particularly I mentioned how, in my bouts with severe anxiety, the Lord has humbled me (showing me just how much I do not have it all together); and also how He’s given me, through my own months in the dungeon, a much deeper compassion for those who are mentally and emotionally perplexed.
Today I want to mention two more gifts the Lord has poured out on my life through the thunderstorm of suffering.
One is simply the gift of real Christian friendship. In my days of trial, many of God’s people were praying for me, and rallying around me. My dad drove all the way from Nashville at one point, just to be with me in my darkness. My church family, pastor friends, college friends, sisters, parents, and in-laws were all of tremendous help. And, O, what a blessing it was to see both my family and the body of Christ – both local and more widespread – uplifting the broken one.
Let me mention one friendship in particular. My friend, Anthony, knows (far more than I do) what it is to suffer. And he knows the Lord’s comfort, too. And, I think, out of “the comfort with which [he himself is] comforted by God,” he was able to comfort me – which is precisely the biblical pattern (2 Corinthians 1.3-4)! For some time, he called me more than once a week, just to check on me, and to find out how he could pray for me. One particular Saturday afternoon, Tobey called him and asked him to pray (because things were particularly bleak). And he not only prayed, but drove 300-plus miles, through the night, to be here with me the following morning, to preach in my place, and to spend the afternoon with me before driving all the way back to Virginia. Truly “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18.24). His name is Jesus, of course. But He is mirrored also in the people who, in His name, also “stick closer than a brother.” And sometimes it takes suffering before we realize just what good friends the Lord has given to us. “A brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17.17). Make sure you are that kind of brother or sister to someone in need.
Secondly, let me also mention that my trials have helped me better to realize that this world is not my home, and given me a longing for eternity. We all want to go to heaven, don’t we? But sometimes not quite yet. Because life seems pretty good here. Things are going, in many ways, the way we wanted them to go. And, while we know (Philippians 1.23) that “to depart and be with Christ … is very much better,” we don’t always truly long to do so. We’re distracted by and caught up in the stuff of this temporary world. And I am still very much that way, I admit. But not quite as much so as before. While in my dungeon of despair, I got a much more realistic look into the curse that is upon this world (including the brokenness and ugliness that is in my own soul). And it won’t all be made well until Jesus finally returns and makes “all things new.” And having seen how old and tattered things really are, I long just a little more for that day – and, I hope, for Him who will bring it with Him when He comes. And, while I hope I never, ever have to revisit the darkness of last spring and summer – if it has made me long, just a little bit more, for the light of eternity … well then, it was a good gift from a good heavenly Father.