Oddly, on the morning of January 11th, the eighth anniversary of both the birth and death of my first-born granddaughter Indigo Evangeline, Isaiah 40:1 sat open in the bible on my lap. One cannot ponder “comfort” without pondering “discomfort”. Even some eight years later, my mind still poses the question, “where is the comfort in suffering?”
When seeking comfort in the midst of suffering what are we truly requesting?
While not evident in the moment, much later we realize the comfort we sought in times of suffering, was the very suffering from which we sought relief.
While God comforts us in our suffering, He does so not so that we might obtain relief, but so that we might learn the compassion necessary to comfort others.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Praying for all those affected by Indie’s brief life and death, the words of Isaiah gave pause to my conventional prayer of comfort in painful times.
suffering reveals god’s presence
Certainly, God should be our comfort in suffering, but even the Apostle Paul despaired of “life itself” under the pressure of suffering. (2 Corinthians 1:8)
Though far from experiencing the level of suffering which Paul encountered, facing loss of various types, illness, financial hardship, death of loved ones, mental illness, divorce, and abuse presses many of us beyond our ability to endure.
Facing all of those things myself, many in the past year alone, was enough to push me into a place of despair, much like Paul speaks of in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians.
Yet, it is suffering which reveals most clearly the strengthening assurance of the God of all comfort and the eternal Hope which ultimately brings us through.
Seeking comfort amid my own suffering, as well as for others, reminded me the nature of God’s comfort is not sappy and sentimental, but a hope-filled strength, standing with me.
The word Paul uses for “comfort” in 2 Corinthians 1:3, “paraklesis” carries the understanding of “an intimate entreaty” for strength and aid, from someone close by, or “next to” another.
Simply, we can face no suffering where God remains absent or distant or disqualifies us from His hope-filled comfort. Whether trials, testing of our faith, hurts inflicted by others, or even suffering caused by our own sinfulness, the Holy Spirit entreats the Father for our strength and aid. (Romans 8:26)
comfort and the fellowship of suffering
In the same way God comforts us in every manner of suffering we face, we have the opportunity to “comfort His people” (Isaiah 40:1), which increases the blessing of the Hope we received in our time of need.
Experiencing this firsthand recently as I chatted over coffee with a friend, I realized the impact of vulnerability in sharing our stories rather than hiding in shame.
After sharing a bit of my difficult year at her invitation, she shared a time when a series of difficult and painful events left her completely burned out. So much so, she took a four-month sabbatical from her job and ministry.
Unable to read her bible, feeling like her prayers were going no further than the ceiling, and feeling isolated even at church, shame crept in. No matter how hard she tried, the happy, worship time left her feeling more shame than joy.
Added to her already fragile state of mind, hurtful comments from well meaning “friends”, who chose to point out their view of her failure to depend on God, pushed her into an even darker valley.
Over the course of her sabbatical, God never left her, and eventually healing and restoration came. She encouraged me to remember true Hope is honest about the present, asks hard questions, and isn’t afraid to share doubts with God.
Given my own bout with shame at not responding better to the painful difficulties God chose to allow in my life, her words brought tremendous comfort.
Knowing this woman was a prominent teacher, speaker, and ministry leader in my area, helped me understand, no matter how strong our faith, or how deeply we know God, we will still have those dark nights of the soul.
She feared her sabbatical and faith struggle might diminish her ministry, but in fact, it flourished. Hurting people need comfort from someone who understands and has experienced brokenness, not some platitude about life being hard for everyone at times.
where is the comfort in suffering?
Not a course of study particularly favored by most, plumbing the depths of suffering invites not only soul-searching, but God searching. An invitation to wrestle with hard things in painful places, suffering beckons us into unknown depths.
Within those depths we find our faith withstands the fire, preserved by God’s hope-filled comfort.
Suffering reveals the comfort of God, inviting us into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, turning the inward focus of our heart to an outward focus toward others, sharing both our sorrows and the comfort of God.
Where is the comfort in suffering? In the realization that God’s embrace becomes sweeter as we invite others into a place of comfort with us.
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