Updated: Feb 2, 2021
"Well, I've got no answers for heartbreaks or cancers, but a Savior who suffers them with me" - John Mark McMillan
Four years ago, I started a "Bible in a Year" plan and totally failed. I got behind, got frustrated, and gave up. Since then, I have avoided Bible in a Year plans like the plague (anyone relate?!). But this year, I last-minute decided to hop onto The Bible Recap train, and I am obsessed. We are going through the Bible chronologically, so we started with Genesis 1-11 and then switched over to Job. I have never read through the entire book of Job because I always found it confusing, long, and quite honestly - depressing. This morning, though, my reading was in Job 14-16, where one of Job's friends chastises him for his pain and suffering. He argues that it must be Job's fault that all of the hardship is happening because God is just and wouldn't allow suffering otherwise. Job has already presented his case of innocence, so at this point he is exasperated that his friends do not believe him or comfort him - even in the midst of intense suffering. Instead, they self-righteously tell him all the ways he is wrong, sinful, and deserving of these horrible circumstances.
“I have heard all this before.
What miserable comforters you are!
Won’t you ever stop blowing hot air?
What makes you keep on talking?
I could say the same things if you were in my place.
I could spout off criticism and shake my head at you.
But if it were me, I would encourage you.
I would try to take away your grief.
Instead, I suffer if I defend myself,
and I suffer no less if I refuse to speak."
As I was listening to these verses on my chilly walk through the neighborhood this morning, I realized how much I have identified with Job throughout our foster care and adoption journey, though my experience was a little different. Fortunately, I didn't have any friends telling me how horrible I am and what poor choices I made (I have really amazing friends and family), but I did feel incredibly lonely and isolated in the middle of a really hard season. In The Bible Recap podcast about this portion of Scripture, Tara Leigh-Cobble said, "It's hard to feel alone in your pain. But it's even harder to feel unknown in your pain." So while I didn't experience the mockery that Job experienced from his friends, I did experience the aloneness and unknownness of suddenly raising a teenager and pre-teen who have experienced trauma in my late twenties as a first-time parent. I didn't know how to handle teenage attitudes, trauma, biological family, school decisions (and about a million other things), and I felt like my life was spiraling out of control.
The year of 2019 was the hardest year of my life (it even beat 2020), most of the hardship and suffering coming from the effects of trauma and the way it manifests itself in challenging behaviors. I felt so alone, like no one else in the world knew the experience of wanting so desperately to be a good mom but feeling like failure was my constant companion. (Although these sweet pictures remind me that there is always still joy - even in pain. I can see it so clearly looking back.)
The Lord used this season of hardship in order to teach me more about His love for me and about how to love others better:
Suffering Draws Us Closer to Jesus
Christ experienced the epitome of suffering, loneliness, and unknownness at the Cross and the moments that led up to it. He was fully God and fully man, so He quite literally did not fit in anywhere, nor was there anyone to share His suffering with Him. He was rejected by man AND by God at the Cross. In being lonely in my suffering, I was able to draw near to the heart of God and foster sweet companionship with Him in a way that would have been impossible otherwise. Through suffering and loneliness, I was given the unique opportunity to join in Christ's suffering and loneliness. At the time, all I wanted was my friends and family to surround me (which they did to the best of their ability), but instead I experienced the sweet love of Jesus surrounding me, lifting me up, and empowering me to move forward. God often gives us these instead-gifts while we are experiencing hardship, and it helps us to catch the glimpses of light in very dark places.
Suffering Makes Us More Like Jesus
Suffering and loneliness developed in me a sense of compassion for others, but especially my own children. They have experienced abandonment, multiple placements in families, rejection, loneliness, and more hardship and suffering than most adults will face in a lifetime. Before having children, I had experienced very little hardship, pain, or suffering. Although my suffering is nothing in comparison to theirs (though we should not compare suffering!), it did build in me a sense of compassion and understanding that allowed me to extend grace when I wanted to bring down the hammer, to dole out a little extra love when I wanted to hide in my room, and to bring me back to compassion when we experienced the effects of trauma in our home.
Suffering drove me to Jesus, and suffering made me more like Him.
"Sitting with someone else's suffering with them teaches us patience and compassion - the kinds of things that God feels towards those who are weeping and mourning" Tara Leigh-Cobble
If you are experiencing suffering, loneliness, and aloneness, here are six things you can do as you wade through it:
1. Talk to God about it. During these intense moments of grief and uncertainty, it was really hard at first to turn to God. I didn't feel I had the capacity or strength to always sit down and pray, but I could open my Notes app when I felt I couldn't control my sadness, anxiety, or anger and ask for help. And almost immediately, I felt His presence with me, giving me peace and helping me in my next parenting move.
2. Remember the truth of the Gospel. Write out Bible verses on notecards and stick them around your house. Keep truth pinned at the top of our Notes app. Ask your friends to send you Scripture. Use scripture as your background on your phone (like the one below). Never underestimate the power of God's Word.
3. Tell someone. Many people are unaware that trauma, grief, sadness, and loss accompanies foster care and adoption, so you might need to tell others what you're going through in order for them to understand and be able to help. Or join a support group so you can have the support of other foster and adoptive parents. And even then, you might need to ask for help with physical, tangible things.
4. Ask for help. Be specific. One thing that I tended to do in my pain and suffering was isolate myself. I desperately wanted and needed companionship from others (even those who didn't totally understand), but I didn't know how to ask for that from others. Now that I'm about a year and a half past that point, I realize that sometimes you just have to ask people for what you need: a coffee date, for them to come over, for them to take the kids, for a meal. They might even want to help you but don't know how.
5. Get counseling. Counseling for our family helped me in ways I can't even put into words. I am forever grateful to our children's therapists and mine for their help, guidance, prayer, and love through this season of parenting.
6. Remember that the God of the universe gave up His divine privileges in order to suffer for you. He is not a God who is far from your calamity; he voluntarily entered into calamity for your sake. When you enter into your children's trauma, hurt, and hardship, you are entering into Jesus' trauma, hurt, and hardship. And if you choose to see Him in it, you will experience Him in it.
These six things might help you, but remember that there is no six-step formula to exiting pain, sorrow, and suffering. Be encouraged that God has you here for a purpose and that this is the Christian life - this laying down of your life and sacrificing and loving others in a way that costs you something. It's not about getting rid of the suffering. It's about meeting God there.
Some Truth For You:
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.