Suffering. Just writing the word makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. No one likes to suffer. But we have all been through it in one way or another. The question is not if you will suffer, but when. I don’t say this to be a “Debbie downer,” but rather to encourage and help equip you. I know you may be scratching your head thinking “Well she has a funny way of doing that!”. But bear with me as I explain.
You see, we can’t avoid suffering. It’s part of the package deal that was handed to us when Adam and Eve decided to go rogue. Perfection broke the day sin entered the world, and suffering entered in with it. But the beautiful part is, is that it doesn’t have to end there. There can be good in suffering, but that all depends on us.
We have a choice when faced with adversity. We can allow it to consume and devastate us, or we can fix our eyes on Jesus and allow Him to work it for good. How do I know this? Well, I’ve walked both paths, and let me tell you, there is a significant difference between the two!
Suffering has disguised itself as many different things in my life. But the most impactful one was a potentially fatal cancer diagnosis. That’s life-altering y’all. No ifs, ands, major buts about that. I was told at the age of 16 that might only have five years to live. And if by some chance I lived past that- I would never have children because of the drugs given to me to attempt to kill the beast, so to speak. That’s heavy, no matter what age you are. But God, in His incredible mercy, had something else in mind.
That diagnosis was 16 years ago, and I am the mama to 3 sweet kiddos (all of whom I carried and birthed). God is so gracious, but let me tell you, the road was not easy. You see, even though God broke down every barrier given to me by the medical field, my battle has not been quick or easy. Cancer has returned time and time again over the last 16 years. It’s only been the last seven that I have been cancer free. Through all of these years, though, the war that has waged, not only physically but spiritually and emotionally as well, has been very real. But the road that was given to me is one that, in all honesty, I wouldn’t change for anything. Y’all, I have SEEN God in ways that I never would have had I not walked through this. THAT is worth every tear shed, every ounce of pain, and every dark moment that I have experienced.
Finding Purpose in the Pain
I love Paul. I always picture him kind of like my high school chemistry teacher. My teacher, God bless him, was the stereotypical image of the absent-minded professor. But he was brilliant and focused. He would often come to class disheveled and sometimes wearing the same clothes from the day before. But when he got up front to talk about chemistry (what he loved), you could see the passion ignite. Although I don’t share in his love for chemistry, I understand the passion that came from truly loving something. Paul loved Jesus literally more than anything else- even life itself.
Ironically, he was one of the biggest enemies of Christians, murdering and torturing those who proclaimed to know Christ. But he encountered Jesus in the most incredible way and was forever changed because of it. God blinded him and allowed him to suffer for several days like that. Paul didn’t renounce God after that- He surrendered completely to Him. Paul’s life was nothing but hardship and suffering after that Damascus Road encounter. Everywhere this man turned, he was met with suffering. But his focus remained on Christ because he knew He was worth anything he would encounter here on this earth. Christ sustained him through the dark moments- just as He sustains us in ours.
I love the portion of Scripture in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul addresses a “thorn in his flesh.” Even though he doesn’t say what it is he battled, he says that he begged God to remove it. The response of God here is one of my favorite verses (vs. 9): “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Did you hear that? His power is made perfect in weakness. So even through our suffering, He can be glorified through it: purpose!
I could have allowed the cancer battle to consume me, and honestly, sometimes it did. When I took my eyes off of the cross and placed them on my circumstances, it was devastating. I even begged God to take me home at one point. But He assured me that He wasn’t done with me yet and helped me put my focus back on where it should have remained – Him.
You see, it boils down to perspective. If we focus on our circumstances, it will be devastating. But if we keep our focus on our Savior (sometimes we may have to force ourselves!) we can walk through whatever life brings. Allow Him to use the darkness for good. He will. Do that and not only will you experience God in ways you would never have otherwise, but you will see Him move and use your journey for His glory. And friends, there is nothing more satisfying than doing what we were created for- bringing glory to Him. Joy, peace, comfort, and rest are found there. So whatever mountain you’re facing, keep your eyes on Christ and rest in His grace and grip. There’s no safer place to be.
About the Author
Heather Olson is married to her best friend of 11 years and is the mama to 3 amazing kiddos. They live on their family farm where she homeschools all three kids. She loves all things “fall,” music, decorating her home, channeling her inner “Fixer Upper” to do different DIY projects and to teach and share with other women about Jesus. Heather is a cancer survivor who has felt God calling her to share her story and what He’s done in her life publicly. She’s excited to see what God has in store and hopes and prays that He will be glorified through it! She’d love for you to connect with her on the blog, Umbrellas of Grace or via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.