Why must we suffer? If God is a good and faithful Father, how can he leave us to trudge through the ruthlessness of a world that rips life, hopes, and dreams from beneath our feet?
Dear friends, I don’t have the perfect answer. I cannot comprehend how or why miscarriage, infertility, the loss of a child, divorce, infidelity, or any other parenting struggle occurs.
But here’s what I can tell you: God is faithful.
He never abandons us. He is a readily present parent, abounding in steadfast love. And he feels every ounce of pain that burdens our hearts.
He suffers right alongside us.
In “Why Does God Allow Suffering?,” Billy Graham offered an account of suffering that struck me deeply: “The Bible teaches that we are to be patient in suffering. That’s the hardest thing of all, to be patient, to have songs in the night. Tears become telescopes to heaven, bringing eternity a little closer.”
To be patient in suffering seems a mighty task. It also seems a bit unfair. In the middle of a devastating loss, abandoned hope, or inescapable struggle, the very last thing we want to hear is a whisper from the Holy Spirit to be patient.
And, if I am completely honest with you, when I am in the tear-filled trenches of my greatest struggles, patience seems like an irrelevant call to action.
I long for solace, comfort, and provision. (And if I am really honest, I feel entitled to those very things given the unkindness the world has offered.) I seek the warm embrace of my loving Father. And I question why God chose to hand me this particular card.
Was I not kind enough? Generous enough? Obedient enough?
Dr. Jim Denison positions innocent suffering as: “the greatest challenge the Christian faith must face.” But it’s just that: innocent suffering. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. As cliché as that might sound, it is a simple truth.
My inability to bear children without fertility assistance did not result because God felt me unworthy to fulfill my role as a wife and mother. My dear friend’s miscarriage was not a consequence of her own doing. The devastating loss of an adolescent child is not punishment from a vehement God.
Dr. Denison assures us, “Natural diseases and disaster are a consequence of the Fall and our broken world.” Romans 8:22 clearly states: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
Life is unfair. It is messy and can be mean. But the filthiness we sometimes find ourselves in has a purpose and reveals the goodness and compassion of the Lord.
In order to receive his comfort, to brush off the grit of a stained and fallen world, we must run hard after him. We must be patient to uncover his path for our futures. And we must choose contentment amidst the most difficult moments in our worldly existence.
After diligent prayer and thoughtful reflection, I offer these ten ways to discover contentment in suffering. I hope they meet you wherever life has left you struggling.
10 Ways to Discover Contentment in Suffering
1. Understand that contentment is not something to be found; it is a heart position to be chosen.
In the depths of hardship, our heart position can suffer.
Our human nature may lead our minds astray as we desperately search for explanations as to why our circumstances have occurred. Heartache can consume our existence. Depression sometimes overwhelms our daily strides.
When life feels too heavy, perhaps we find ourselves pulling the covers over our heads, lacking the motivation to complete necessary daily tasks. And, in some cases, we may be overcome with anger. We might be frustrated and hurt by God. We can be downright mad at him.
All of these sentiments are normal. But allowing them to overcome our bodies, minds, and spirits is devastating to our emotional wellbeing.
Choosing gratitude must be our response -- even in the deepest parts of our despair.
In Colossians 3:15–17, Paul writes: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Choosing gratitude in suffering isn’t easy. It will often feel entirely unnatural. But it will soothe your soul and salve your wounds.
Sing psalms, give thanks, and let his peace rule in your heart.
2. Be willing to surrender all to Christ.
Contentment results out of an obedient surrender to Christ and his will for our lives.
It is not rooted in mere satisfaction, but rather in knowing that God is good and his plans for each of us are perfect. It is the consequence (or blessing) of allowing Christ to be our strength.
In Romans 8:38–39, Paul writes: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing (not suffering, loss, grief, or our own sin) can separate us from God. When we are rooted in him, all things -- even the most painful events -- work for his greatest good. And he is daily refining us with fire as we work through a worldly existence marked by inevitable tribulation.
But in order to see his goodness in the middle of our excruciating pain, we must be willing to surrender all to him. We must be in his will to be content. And we must choose to say “Yes, Lord,” even when his answer to our prayers is no.
3. Cast off comparison.
Struggle can invite comparison.
When we face trials, we are tempted to look around and ponder why our neighbors have been granted what seems like abundant blessings and we are left wanting or destroyed by loss and grief.
If only we could conceive. If only we had more time. If only the diagnosis were incorrect.
But, even in the realities of our suffering, God sees us and meets us with compassion and comfort. When we look to the world for solace, we are left feeling less than. We are tempted with comparison. And we often find ourselves envying our neighbor.
I urge you to turn your eyes to the Lord. Rest in his promises. And know that your pain has a purpose.
In her book, "The Scars That Have Shaped Me", Vaneetha Risner describes the beauty of our scars, reminding us that God is sufficient and physical perfection is not our goal: “Those of us with scars should wear them like jewels, treasured reminders of what we’ve endured. It’s okay to show our imperfections, it’s even courageous. And perhaps we’ll discover the beauty in our scars.”
Your scars probably don’t look like everyone else’s. But they are beautiful. And they do remind us of the healing God has and will provide.
4. Reject fear.
The Bible speaks to fear through Paul’s teachings in Philippians 4:6–7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Fear is a whisper (or shout) from the enemy. The spirit of fear comes knocking most loudly when we are unstable and vulnerable. Like a damsel in distress, we are a big red target for Satan in our suffering. Our guard is down and our minds consumed.
Please remember that to fear the Lord is wise, but fear of the world pushes us subtly from our Father. It sneakily nudges us toward self-reliance and worldly trust as we desperately seek a solution for our current circumstance.
We must refuse to invite fear into our lives, minds, and homes. Instead, we must trust in his goodness, promises, and plans, placing our worries, fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams at his feet.
His yoke is easy, his burden light (Matthew 11:28–30). Surrender to him and find rest.
5. Trust in God's promises.
Trusting God’s promises should be the overwhelming narrative of our Christian walk.
In John 15:5, Jesus describes the strength we discover by abiding in him: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
To abide is to dwell, remain, or endure in Christ.
It is to lean wholly and fully on our Creator and trust that his strength is enough to hold us when we are weary. It is to trust that he will give us rest, meet us in our suffering, and heal our broken hearts.
Affliction is often the grounds upon which our deepest encounters with Christ are experienced. But we have to trust him enough to let him in. We have to be willing to open our eyes and see that he is standing by our sides, ready to pick us up and surround us with his warm embrace.
When we allow the truth of God’s character to wash over our minds, when we accept that his plans for our lives are a beautifully designed roadmap crafted before we even entered this world, we are left with a transcendent peace that stills our souls.
Trusting God with the big -- and little -- things shifts our focus from that of past pains to that of eternal purpose.
Christ endured worldly pain and suffering. He understands our pain intimately and pleads our case before the throne.
Trust in him.
6. Know how to be brought low and how to be brought high.
During seasons in which we abound, rejoicing comes naturally. Our hearts overflow with joy and our mouths spill over with worship and praise. But when life isn’t so kind, what is our response?
In Philippians 4:11–13, we find: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Do we know how to be brought low?
Through an intimate relationship with our Creator, we can confidently and contentedly wade through our suffering. He empowers us to rejoice in his goodness, even when our circumstances offer little cause for celebration.
When we are low, he strengthens us.
In “Contentment in Motherhood,” Melissa Kruger writes: “Our circumstances are the classroom in which we learn contentment. And most days, it’s not an easy lesson.”
To be brought low isn’t comfortable. But the circumstances we least enjoy often push us toward our greatest encounters with the Lord. They bring us to our knees and require that we gaze upon our heavenly Father in surrender.
If we let them, they push us to trust him more, to seek him in all that we do.
And when we begin to search for him, we find that his presence is gently woven into every detail of our days. In Psalm 16:11, David says: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
When we know how to be brought low, we too, like Paul, can understand what it is to face plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
We can find pleasures at his right hand. And, despite our suffering, we can discover the fullness of joy.
7. Recall the significance of alon time with Christ.
Alone time with the Lord is the only way to truly get to know him. Any relationship requires attentiveness, time, a willingness to earnestly listen, and stillness in another person’s presence.
The relationship with our Father is no different.
But, all too often, our quiet time becomes another cumbersome daily task. It becomes one more to-do on our never-ending list. And we sometimes avoid it, rationalizing that we will get to it after we just get this one important thing accomplished.
While journaling the other morning, a realization dawned on me, stopping me right in my tracks: I am guilty of giving Christ the least of me. As a stay-at-home, working mom of three under three, I run around tending to cleaning, meal prep, children, and remote work responsibilities while giving God quick smiles, a swift prayer, and a small peck on the cheek.
That morning, I was humbled. I prayed hard that I would stop. I pleaded for the obedience and will to quiet my mind. And I asked the Holy Spirit to help me search for him in my every task, thought, action, and word.
He answered. My days have been filled with new perspectives and washed afresh with his gentle grace and provision. I’m certain that I will need another reminder to be still in the very near future. But therein lies the beauty of unadulterated communion with our Father.
He reveals to us the richness of life. He reminds us that we are favored children of the King, we are forgiven, and we are loved. We do not have to earn any of it -- it’s already ours.
Reach for him. He longs to grab you and hold you tight.
8. Accept Christ as your strength.
Like an athlete training for an upcoming race or competition, the process of growing in strength and prowess isn’t comfortable. Often, it flat-out hurts. To build muscle and sharpen skills requires energy, time, and commitment.
An athlete can expect to be sore after long workouts. Time is required for his muscle tissue to heal and recover. But the end result is that he is stronger and more prepared for whatever lies before him than he was before he began training.
As we walk through our valleys, God will strengthen our muscles. He will sharpen our skills and equip us to emerge stronger and more radiant than we would have been without our trials.
But we have to turn to him. We have to surrender to him.
We weren’t created to walk through our pain alone. We were created to lean hard into Christ. We were designed to be transformed, equipped, and encouraged by a Father who abounds in grace, mercy, affection, and love.
In this life, we will face tribulation, but, take heart dear friends: God is big enough for our greatest suffering. He is powerful enough to sustain us in our deepest pains and hurts.
Choose today to allow him to fill the hollow parts of your soul with joy. Choose to be transformed by his goodness. Choose to find your strength in him.
You are his. And you are cherished.
9. Put your thanksgiving into words -- on paper and audibly.
As I discussed above, quiet time is an essential ingredient to an intimate relationship with Christ.
Everyone’s quiet time will likely look different. Some may favor journaling, while others prefer singing songs of worship and thanksgiving. There is no one “right” way to praise God.
But I do want to encourage you to write down your wins and failures and how you have seen God amidst your circumstances -- good and bad.
Journaling reminds us of God’s faithfulness, renews our perspective, and quiets our thoughts. It allows us the chance to organize our emotions, invites the Lord in to change our viewpoints, and provides the opportunity to truly reflect.
Audibly declaring God’s faithfulness offers the circumstance to share our struggles and wins with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It grants us the occasion to speak truth into someone who might need to hear it most. It equips us to be his workmen.
Journal. Sing. Share. Bear his fruit.
10. Search for God's grace in darkness.
Finally, constantly search for specific evidence of God’s grace. He is an ever-present light in our darkest moments. He is the antidote to our despair.
Psalm 139:13–14 reminds us: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
No matter our circumstance, the truth remains that God beautifully designed us to fulfill his purpose. But sometimes the fulfilling part -- the in-between of birth and death -- requires that we are uncomfortable. To live in a fallen world is to experience discomfort.
But Jesus understands our suffering and meets us in our hardship. He gets down on our level, looks us straight in the face, and offers us his hand as he walks with us through our pain, right by our side.
When we search for God’s grace in our suffering, we will find it behind every corner. We will see him in the big things, but, more importantly, we will discover that he is also in the small things.
Look upward, open your palms, and say, “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” At the same time, understand that it is okay if you do not want to say it. It is okay if your heart is hard and your mind overwhelmed with grief. The Lord loves you no less.
Searching for him, despite your hesitations and frustrations, allows your heart to slowly soften and your wounds to slowly heal. It allows the Lord to gently enter into your suffering and wipe away your tears, providing you comfort and the strength to carry on.
Choose him. He chose you.
Await Clarity With Thanksgiving.
God doesn’t remove our suffering; he provides a path through the hardship. He gets down on our level and holds our hands as we trudge through the murky waters of our worldly pains.
Our Father loves us and cares about our every struggle. He knows the pain we feel and feels it right alongside us. Those tears that bring us to our knees? They hurt his heart too! And he longs to convene with us, to take our burdens, and to reveal how he will use our pain for his good and his glory.
But first we have to turn to him.
We have to open our palms and surrender the weights that we so often drag along, failing at pursuits of self-reliance.
I imagine sitting with him in a pitch-black room, the soft glow of a bedside lamp illuminating our faces. Like a small child in her father’s lap, God slowly reveals that the room -- the big scary, dark room -- won’t be dark forever.
In the morning, the golden rays of the sun will once again light the corners and edges of the space we inhabit. And the whole time, even in the dark, he will have been there by my side.
Be assured that while we won’t ever fully understand why God allows our suffering, we can find rest in the truth that God is holding us and that he is more than enough.
In the words of Billy Graham: “There’s a mystery to tragedies . . . We don’t know the answer. And we may never know until God explains all things to us.”
I look forward to the day when I will sit humbly at Christ’s feet and learn the mysteries of this world. Until then, I trust in him.
I will choose to enjoy the worldly pleasures of relationship, worship, communion with him, and the natural beauty of his design.
I will choose to bathe in his grace and give thanksgiving for the loved ones and things I do have.
And I will choose to be patient as I await his discernment and clarity.