by Joseph Kawaja
When I was 16, my parents separated. My mother and father were having marriage issues and they ended up living in separate houses for two years. My mom had moved into a town home just a couple blocks away and lived with my sisters and their children. During this time, I made the decision to live with my dad as my family went through many rounds of counseling. Sometimes it was all of us together, other times we had separate counseling sessions by ourselves. It was a process that was long, painful, and necessary. It brought up old pains and hidden pains, pains we didn’t know were there, deep-seated issues in our family that none of us were really aware of. It was, without a doubt, the most emotional time of our lives. Eventually, we worked through the pain and we learned to forgive each other. Now, our family is so much better than it was before, our dynamic changed so much that I barely remember how bad it used to be. What is the point of my story? The point is that it was a time of extreme suffering, there were times I genuinely believed that my family would just break, I thought I would break. But when I persevered through the hardships, I learned about myself and my imperfections.
Before this time, I believed that my Christian walk was going smoothly, I thought I was the typical good little Christian boy but this rough patch in my life revealed imperfections I never thought or knew I had. I really believed that I had a positive relationship with my parents, I believed I was really close to my mom and dad. Living with my dad made me realize that I wasn’t close to him and he said the same, believing that he was close to me but realized he wasn’t. Spending a lot of time away from mom didn’t help either. Every weekend we all spent together, every trip we took, every minute felt like a ticking time bomb that would explode into another argument over the smallest thing. It was an incredibly tense time. When we all learned to
forgive each other for our imperfections, we started to become a real family. I don’t say real family again because that would imply we used to be one. We weren’t. We just went through the motions of daily life and tolerated each other because we were “family”. While that time of suffering included so much pain, crying, and tense emotions, I would say that despite all that, I would go through it again. My family needed to break so that we could be put back together. It’s like if your arm has a bad break, sometimes the doctors need to break it again so it can properly heal. We don’t fight anymore, we always laugh when we’re together. There’s always one argument here or there, but unlike before, we quickly put it behind us and forget it because we finally learned how to truly love each other.
Suffering is undoubtedly the worst part of the human experience. We all suffer, it’s just a fact of life or as Frank Sinatra so eloquently sang, “That’s Life.” When I say everybody, I mean everybody. There are some preachers or televangelists that say “If you are a sinner, God will punish you and make you suffer”, making it seem that suffering only happens to bad people, which simply isn’t true. Matthew 5:45 says, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust”. It means that no one, not even Christians, are immune from suffering. Sometimes you may find yourself asking the question, “Why does God allow suffering?” Biblically, there’s something known as “The Fallen World Principle” which states that because we live in a fallen world as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, evil and suffering happens to all. Specifically though I want to talk about how suffering affects a Christian.
In 2018, Paul David Tripp published his book Suffering, a book that details how his time of suffering strengthened his walk with Christ and he also shares methods to help other Christians who are suffering. During the height of his ministry, Paul began to develop minor
symptoms, a small fever, a little bit of pain and that was it. He went to the hospital and what he thought would be a quick 10 minute exam turned into 10 days of pain and confusion. He had constant painful spasms while the doctors argued over what to do next. Eventually, they told him that his kidneys were deteriorating and he needed surgery fast. That one surgery turned into six within the span of two years. Paul was never physically the same after this experience. He couldn’t perform ministry in the same way as before. His ministry team needed to make decisions and adjustments they never needed to before. And this time of pain revealed to Paul where he truly placed his faith. Paul convinced himself that he placed his faith in Christ when really his faith was placed on himself. He became proud of how physically fit he was for a man of his age. When God took away Paul’s false idol, it forced him to realize his imperfections. In recognizing his imperfections, he also learned that when everything starts to cave in around you, God’s grace will be sufficient. You can be physically strong, mentally strong, you can have all the money in the world, you can be physically attractive but none of it would be enough. You won’t be able to go through it alone, you need somebody to help you and the best one to turn to during your time of suffering is God.
1 Peter 2:19-20 says “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” This passage is basically saying that when you get punished for doing something bad, you take it in stride because it’s what you deserve. But when you suffer and didn’t do anything wrong and you remain patient through it and trusting, it pleases God. Let’s be honest, nobody likes to suffer, nobody takes joy in it. If you are struggling with something, it’s okay to feel sad, it’s okay to start asking questions. It’s okay for you to ask, “Why am I going through this?”,
“How should I handle this?”, “Will I make it through this?”, “Will I ever be the same person I was before?” These are all perfectly valid questions that you will eventually ask yourself. God uses suffering for his purpose. Jesus’ disciples once asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God may be displayed in him.” (John 9) The man was born blind so that Jesus could heal him and display the power of God to everyone. Likewise, God uses suffering to reveal imperfections in ourselves so that we may become better instruments of ministry and better disciples. My family became broken so that we could become united. Paul Tripp was broken so that he could be healed. The man was born blind so that he could see.
We are all imperfect creatures and even after you go through a long, long time of suffering, you won’t be perfect, it’s just not possible. “As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) Will you become closer to God after your time of suffering? Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. A big factor may be what your relationship with God was before that time. It’s not always the deciding factor though. Some have been close to God and lost their way after suffering, some who were distant from God became closer. You may decide to trust God, no matter how painful it gets or you could curse him. Job faced this same trial. He was a devout servant of God but God took away his possessions to test his faithfulness. Everything was taken from him, his cattle, his property, his money, his children, his health, his friends and his wife. His wife told him it would be better to curse God and die. His friends accused him of being a sinner who deserved it. Throughout all this, Job never cursed out God and always trusted in Him. Because of his faithfulness, God rewarded Job by giving him back double what he had lost before. “For which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:9) It doesn’t mean that God will always reward you in this life for
faithfulness, but your reward will be greatly increased when you reach Heaven. The most important thing to remember is that your suffering will only last momentarily. I thought my family would be separated forever but we weren’t. Whatever suffering you’re going through, I deeply sympathize and understand. I want to help you all by reminding you that your suffering will lead to an eternal glory, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)