I sat with my friend at the hospital this week while her son underwent a battery of tests. Thankfully, the tests did not reveal anything life threatening, but this is not my friend’s first time in the hospital at Christmastime—over the past few years she has lost her husband, her mother, and her sister, all around the holidays. Life is full of hardship and sadness and it doesn’t take time out for Christmas. In fact, the holidays usually throw our sadness into stark relief, making this a painful time for many.
How do we deal with grief and sadness at Christmastime? How do we celebrate when we feel only pain or fear? Our emotions feel trapped in a kind of no-mans-land where neither sadness nor happiness feel at home.
And yet as Christians living in a fallen world, we can learn what Peter means by “rejoicing in suffering” (2 Cor. 6:10).
These are, as Tim Keller points out, “two present tenses:”
Peter does not pit these things against each other. He does not say that we can either rejoice in Christ or wail and cry out in pain, but that we can do both. No, not only can we do both, we must do both if we are to grow through our suffering rather than be wrecked by it.
To ‘rejoice’ in God means to dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who we are, and what he has done for us. Sometimes our emotions respond and follow when we do this, and sometimes they do not. But therefore we must not define rejoicing as something that precludes feelings of grief, or doubt, weakness, and pain. Rejoicing in suffering happens within sorrow.
Rejoicing at Christmastime is not to deny the pain we feel, but to choose to remember, in the midst of the pain, what Christ has done for us. God sent his son into a pain-filled world to redeem us from our sins.
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them a light has shone…
For unto us a child is born,
To us a son is given…”
(Isaiah 9:2, 6)
Amidst the revelry of the season, we may be full of sorrow; and within our sorrow, we can rejoice.
“In the darkness we have a choice that is not really there in better times. We can choose to serve God just because he is God. In the darkest moments we feel we are getting absolutely nothing out of God or out of our relationship to him. But what if then—when it does not seem to be paying or benefiting you at all—you continue to obey, pray to, and seek God, as well as continue to do your duties of love to others? If we do that—we are finally learning to love God for himself, and not for his benefits.” ~Tim Keller
“Things put into the furnace properly can be shaped, refined, purified, and even beautified. This is a remarkable view of suffering, that if faced and endured with faith, it can in the end only make us better, stronger, and more filled with greatness and joy.” ~Timothy Keller
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Pet. 1:6-7
Last week we talked about helping husbands and happy marriages. But what if a husband doesn’t help, even when you ask? What if you try to make your husband happy but your marriage is miserable?
A difficult marriage is a severe trial for many women, with pain that is ever present and deeply personal. We know that a single blog post cannot reach into the heart of a hurting marriage and untangle all of the unresolved conflicts or hurtful comments.
But there is hope and help for your marriage; and it is closer than you might think. As it says in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
Remember that God sees and that he cares. As we wrote in our hopeful Valentine’s posts, God is with you and he is for you. He is near. You can have hope in God, even when your husband has utterly failed you. God is using this trial to draw you close to himself and to lead you to put your hope in him, where it can never be disappointed again. You will be able to say, with Charles Spurgeon: “I thank my God for every storm that has wrecked me on the Rock, Jesus Christ.”
Seek help from your local church. The church is the best hospital for a suffering marriage. It is where God has told us to go when we need spiritual and relational care. If you are in a gospel-preaching church, avail yourself of the biblical counsel of your pastor or godly saints, for yourself and also for your husband if he is willing. Be prepared: the church’s help may be slower than you want or the process messier than you expect. But if the counsel comes from Scripture, you can have hope that the Great Counselor is present and at work.
Read good books on suffering.In the intensity of marriage trials, you need consistent nourishment for your soul. Books by sufferers for sufferers are a vital means of perspective, encouragement, faith, and strength. Three of our favorites on suffering that we’ve read and re-read and handed out by the arm full are Beside Still Waters by Charles Spurgeon, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller (begin reading in section three), and A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper. Read little bits at a time. Read whenever you can.
May God grant you sustaining grace and may you experience joy, even in the midst of pain, as you look to the Savior who daily bears you up (Ps. 68:19).
“Let us mark well this lesson. If we are true Christians, we must not expect everything smooth in our journey to heaven. We must count it no strange thing, if we have to endure sicknesses, losses, bereavements, and disappointments, just like other men. Free pardon and full forgiveness, grace by the way and glory at the end—all this our Savior has promised to give. But he has never promised that we shall have no afflictions. He loves us too well to promise that. By affliction he teaches us many precious lessons, which without it we should never learn. By affliction he shows us our emptiness and weakness, draws us to the throne of grace, purifies our affections, weans us from this world, makes us long for heaven. In the resurrection morning we shall say, ‘it is good for me that I was afflicted.’ We shall thank God for every storm.”
I love Scripture’s honesty. I love how the biblical authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, don’t hold back about despair, weakness, doubt, or fear. They don’t step gingerly around topics of pain or temptation or trouble. They are frank about the fact that life is hard.
So when the biblical writers speak to us of hope and joy and peace, we know these are real too. And in our depths of despair, we can take their hand and follow them out of the pit.
Take for example, the words of Jeremiah in Lamentations 3 that we are all so familiar with: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (v. 22-23). These words are spoken from the heights, a spectacular panorama. But how do we get there when we feel crippled by the trials of life?
The same way Jeremiah did.
Only a few verses earlier he writes from the deepest valley: ”...my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’” (v. 17-18).
Can you relate? Hope, gone. Peace, gone. Happiness, so far gone, you can’t even remember what it feels like. What do we say to someone who confesses this? Do we recoil at their lack of faith? And yet here is Jeremiah, prophet of God, confessing that in his trouble he feels bereft of all of the blessings of the people of God.
Then Jeremiah shows us how he gets from the depths to the heights:“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” (v. 21).
His soul, which had taken its last breath of hope, was resuscitated by calling to mind who God is and what He does. He is faithful. He shows mercy, He does love. He does not forget. He sent His only Son who endured the agony of the cross, in our place and for our sins, and rose again, victorious. This I call to mind.
Notice that Jeremiah’s trial was unchanged. He didn’t get a phone call that the cancer was gone. He didn’t find his enemies on his front porch asking for forgiveness. He didn’t get hired. His child didn’t become a Christian. But he had something better.
He had hope. Hope that one day, even if it wasn’t until heaven, he would know happiness again.
The four of us were talking yesterday about several friends, and friends of friends, who are walking through sudden and significant trials right now. We are praying for them and asking God to bring comfort and strength. And we are mindful that many of you are experiencing difficulties today, some of them extremely painful.
In God’s kindness, Jerry Bridges was the guest speaker at our church yesterday and gave a soul-strengthening sermon on “Trusting God.” He opened with these words from our Savior, and some comments:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31
“The fact is, sparrows do fall to the ground. Jesus is not saying that they never fall. Jesus is not saying that we do not have difficulties or even pain. But what he is saying is that no difficulty, no pain, occurs in our lives apart from the will of God. God is absolutely sovereign in our lives. So Jesus makes the application here: fear not. Don’t be afraid. Because you are worth more than many many sparrows.”
Whether you are merely having a difficult day or experiencing a crushing trial, listen to this message, and may your soul be comforted and encouraged by the truth of God’s Word.