Suffering: What Is the Point?
I’ve never been a fan of Winnie-the-Pooh. Or Tigger. Or Piglet. Tigger was always too spastic. Piglet too nervous. And Pooh, just too pooh. But Eeyore? He was my kind of guy with his tacked-on tail and gloomy outlook, “Why bother? What’s the point? It doesn’t matter anyway.”
As a kid, I had a little stuffed Eeyore. He was made of corduroy and filled with sawdust. (An appropriate stuffing for such a gloomy donkey, don’t you think?) He wasn’t plush like most stuffed animals are, but was solid as a rock and impossible to snuggle with. Still, I loved him. I think there was something about him that I saw in myself.
I eventually moved on to other favorite toys and my Eeyore was lost, but his attitude stayed with me. During difficult seasons, I think I might have been channeling him. People would say, “Pray!” I’d say, “Why bother?” They’d tell me, “Read Scripture!” I’d say in perfect Eeyore pitch, “What’s the point?”
Fighting off Eeyore’s pessimism has always been a battle for me, but the battle has intensified in recent years as my husband and I struggle to add children to our family. In addition to a seemingly endless international adoption process, we also suffered two miscarriages in 2008, one at 12 weeks and then another one at 10. Both times, my husband and I had seen the babies’ hearts beating on the ultrasound. We had gotten glimpses of what they might look like. We imagined our future with them, and then one day their hearts just stopped. The Lord had called them back to be with Him.
We still don’t have children, and it has been a tough, tough journey. But God has blessed us in unexpected ways as He asks us to walk down a road we never would have chosen on our own. As I’ve experienced God’s presence in our trials, I’ve been able to look at suffering from a different perspective. Rather than mumbling Eeyore’s defeated mantra, “What’s the point?” I’ve been able to ask, “What is the point?” By the grace of God, I have started to see that in suffering, there is a point.
A common experience that we all share is pain and suffering. My pain might be different than your pain, but one thing is certain: we will all experience pain at some point in our lives. We lose loved ones. We encounter health issues. Some of us struggle with marital problems or financial difficulties. Others battle loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, an unresolved hurt, or an unidentifiable ache that sneaks up and then won’t go away. While we are here on this earth, we can be sure that we will all experience pain. But we can also be sure that no matter what we’re going through, God can use it for good.
In 1 Samuel 1, we meet a woman named Hannah. Her heart is breaking. When the story opens, she and her husband Elkanah are making an annual pilgrimage to a place called Shiloh, where they’ll offer sacrifices to the Lord. Hannah and Elkanah are not alone. There is also a not-so-nice second wife named Peninnah. Peninnah has children. Hannah does not, but she longs for a baby. Knowing this, Penninah takes great joy in tormenting Hannah until she bursts into tears.
Hannah eventually reaches her breaking point and cries out in bitterness of soul, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life.” (v. 1:10) The Lord hears her. He remembers her and blesses her with Samuel. When Samuel is about three years old, Hannah fulfills her vow to dedicate him to the Lord. She brings him to live with Eli the priest so he can be trained in the work of the Lord. Samuel grows up to become a prophet and anoints the first two kings of Israel, making Hannah the proud mom of a pretty important guy.
That is Hannah’s story. God writes a different story for each one of us, and has an infinite number of reasons why we walk through trials in this life. Some of those reasons we’ll never know, but sometimes He does give us a glimpse of His purpose.
Just before Mother’s Day, I was having a very emotional morning. In addition to the pain of the upcoming celebration, I was also grieving a due date that never happened. Our second pregnancy would have been due the day before Mother’s Day. I remember sitting on my couch with my head back, praying like Hannah, “Father, look at me. Please!” I desperately wanted to hear something, but half expected to not hear anything. And then it popped into my head, “I am tenderizing your heart.”
I love to cook, but I tend to cook a lot of vegetarian dishes and had never tenderized meat. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I thought tenderizing meat involved rubbing it with a luxurious sea salt and then bathing it in a marinade until it became soft and relaxed. Kind of like a spa treatment for steaks.
When I heard God say, “I am tenderizing your heart,” I was confused because in that moment, it didn’t feel like my heart was being bathed in a soothing marinade. I googled “How to Tenderize a Steak”. If God was tenderizing my heart, I figured it would look a lot like how you tenderize a steak. I wanted to know what that looked like.
A 30-second video popped up. All it showed was a cheery woman standing in front of a raw steak, holding a small mallet that could have easily been a medieval torture device. One side was flat; the other side had rows and rows of spikes. She points out to make sure to use the side with lots of spikes, and then starts bashing the innocent steak in front of her. Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! That was it! The video stopped with her mid-swing, mallet held high in the air.
I played it again because I was sure it had gotten cut off. I was thinking, “What? That’s it! Where’s the salt rub? What about the bath? That’s tenderizing? Just take a spiky mallet and pound the living daylights out of it? That’s what God is doing to my heart? That’s so mean! Why would He do that?
And then it occurred to me.
Jesus knows about mallets.
Jesus knows about spikes.
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV)
Jesus suffered the most brutal tenderizing of all. He was beaten beyond recognition. Whipped to a bloody pulp. Killed so that we could live. Crucified so that he wouldn’t have to go a day without us, so that we could have eternal life and so much more: joy in the midst of pain, hope in the throes of despair, and even in the most trying circumstances, a peace that passes all understanding. His peace. Out of his mangled, pulverized, tenderized flesh, the Glory of God was released and we were given Life.
On a much smaller scale, something similar happens when He tenderizes our hearts. The pounding, the pulverizing, the pain. It hurts. But there is God-glorifying, Life-giving purpose in that pain. It gives us the opportunity to know Christ in a deeply intimate way. Paul calls it “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10, NIV).
Simply put, when we suffer we share a common experience with Jesus, a common bond, a fellowship. He knows all about suffering. Even though our experiences are a small measure of what He went through, God can still use it to change us, sanctify us, make us more holy so that we’re able to live more in the Spirit, rather than out of the flesh.
After watching that meat mallet video, I searched for other ways to tenderize steak. I searched for hours. In hindsight, what I was looking for an easier way. I didn’t like that meat mallet video. I wanted a video that showed the steak surrounded by candles, relaxing in a bath listening to Yanni. That’s the kind of tenderizing I wanted.
I did find several articles that verified you don’t need a mallet to tenderize meat. You can use salt or a lemon juice marinade. But those mallet-less approaches weren’t what I wanted either. There’s a reason why you need salt or lemon juice and it isn’t pretty.
The salt and the acid in the juice break up the flesh. Pounding it with a meat mallet does the same thing. It breaks up the flesh.
God wants to break up those hardened, fleshly places in our hearts. The bad news is breaking up those places means breaking our hearts. The good news is a broken heart gives us the opportunity to exercise hope and build it up like a muscle.
Hope is a beautiful thing, but when everything is going our way, we have no use for it. The best time to exercise hope is when we’re in the middle of a painful situation. You’ve seen those bulked up guys at the gym lifting weights. You know what their faces look like. They’re in pain. But they keep doing those reps because they want the end result: a stronger body.
We can take that same principle and apply it spiritually. Our barbell is Scripture. The Word of God has weight, but just like the weights at the gym, it does us no good if we don’t pick it up and use it again and again.
“Lord, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me.” (1 Samuel 1:11)
“The bows of the warrior are broken, but those who stumble are armed with strength.” (1 Samuel 2:4)
“Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” (Job 13:15)
Whatever Scriptures resonate with you, pick them up and use them, speak them over and over again. You’ll build up faith and strengthen your ability to hope in times of trouble.
It’s easy for me to sit here and write this message, but in all honesty, it’s a battle for me to live it. I fight hopelessness regularly. I have to summon the self-discipline to speak Scripture and to go to Jesus with my pain. I don’t like looking at my pain. Taking it to Jesus means having to look at it, touch it, pick it up and carry it so that I can hand it to Him. My human nature, my flesh, tells me to cover up my pain. Hide my wounds. Don’t let anyone see. I want to be strong, successful, independent, whole…not broken. I want to have my act together. That’s the face I want to present to the world. I also think having my act together is what will point others to Christ.
Jesus and Thomas showed me something different.
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29, NIV)
Thomas didn’t believe. He doubted. So what did Jesus do? He didn’t go to him with a thunderous miracle. He didn’t reveal his power with some big bang. He didn’t try to debate him into belief. Instead, He showed Thomas His brokenness and He let him touch his wounds.
He let him touch his wounds.
“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27, NIV)
When Jesus showed Thomas his brokenness, his pierced palms, the gaping hole in his side, He didn’t do it for the blood and gore. He did it for the Glory of God. Thomas was able to see God’s glory through Jesus’ broken body, and when he came face to face with brokenness redeemed, he couldn’t help but cry out in worship, “My Lord and my God!”
In his book, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing, Henri Nouwen writes:
“Our glory is hidden in our pain, if we allow God to bring the gift of Himself in our experience of it. If we turn to God, not rebelling against our hurt, we let God transform it into greater good. We let others join us and discover it with us.”1
God shows up in our brokenness if invite Him in and allow Him to touch our wounds. When we open ourselves up to Him in that way, He brings the “gift of Himself” into our pain and heals it. We can then invite others to touch our wounds, and give them the gift of seeing hope in spite of suffering, joy in spite of pain and God’s redeeming grace at the center of it all.
Henri Nouwen goes on to say:
“If mourning and dancing are part of the same movement of grace, we can be grateful for every moment we have lived. We can claim our unique journey as God’s way to mold our hearts to greater conformity of Christ. The cross, the primary symbol of our faith, invites us to see grace where there is pain; to see resurrection where there is death. The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads to new life.”2
“Every moment can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads to new life.” Moments of joy, moments of heartache and everything in between. God wants to choreograph all of these things into a beautiful and sacred dance that transforms us into a greater likeness of Christ so that we can minister to a broken and hurting world.
This world is broken. We live in a broken place. We can’t be here and not experience heartache and brokenness. Is there something that’s breaking you? Is there something that has you saying, “Why bother? What’s the point?”
Will you let Jesus enter into that broken place? Will you allow yourself to experience the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings? If you could pray like Hannah, silently but with all your heart and soul, what would you say to God? How would you cry out?
Take a few minutes now to go before the Lord. If you are in a season of suffering, pour out your pain to Him and let Him touch your wounds. He will heal you. Or pray for someone you know who is hurting and ask the Father to fill up those broken places in the way that only He can.
Lord, thank you that when we lift up our burdens to You, You take them. Thank you that our suffering is not wasted with You. You have a purpose. You always have a purpose. Even though You might not always reveal what Your exact purposes are, we can trust that You will not leave us or forsake us. You will turn our mourning into dancing. You will redeem us, raise us above our circumstances and give us Life.
Thank you Lord, that when we ask You, “What’s the point?” Your answer is: I AM.
I AM enough. I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life.
To You alone be the Glory.
by Michele de Miranda, Shabby Chic Ministries
1 Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 12.
2 Ibid., 18.