Suffering...my uninvited friend
‘You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.’
This statement is not completely true.
Sometimes there is a friend who comes along your path you would not have chosen. She sticks by you.
Her name is Suffering.
In the beautiful allegory, ‘Hind’s feet on High Places,’ by Hannah Hurnard, the sweet and vulnerable main character, Much-Afraid, is given two companions by the Chief-Shepherd after her escape from the Valley of Humiliation and her Fearing Relatives.
These two helpers and guides will accompany her to the High Places where ‘perfect love casts out fear.’
Their names are Sorrow and Suffering.
‘I can’t go with them,’ Much-Afraid gasped. ‘I can’t! I can’t! Oh my Lord Shepherd, why do you do this to me? How can I travel in their company? It is more than I can bear…Why must you make Sorrow and Suffering my companions? Couldn’t you have given Joy and Peace to go with me? I never thought you would do this to me!’
These aren’t just the words of a fictional character. They are my words. They are your words. When bowed low with grief and sorrow - at the cancer diagnosis of your child, spouse, parent or friend; seated at the bedside of your daughter as she breathes her last; weeping over your latest miscarriage; anguishing over your child, lost in the world of sin and darkness; struggling with the never ending needs of your special needs child or standing alone as your spouse walks away – Much-Afraid’s words are our words: ‘I can’t! I can’t! Oh my Lord Shepherd, why do you do this to me?’
Much-Afraid shuddered. How could she go with them and abandon herself to their power and control. It was impossible. Then she looked at the Shepherd and suddenly she knew she could not doubt Him, could not possibly turn back from following Him; that if she were unfit and unable to love anyone else in the world, yet in her trembling miserable little heart, she did love Him.
Even if He asked her the impossible, she could not refuse. She looked at Him piteously, then said, ‘Do I wish to turn back? Oh Shepherd, to whom should I go? In all the world I have no-one but you. Help me to follow you even though it seems impossible. Help me to trust you as much as I long to love you.’
Then the Shepherd said softly, ‘Fear not, Much-Afraid. I promise that you shall not be put to shame. Go with Sorrow and Suffering, and if you cannot welcome them now, when you come to the difficult places where you cannot manage alone, put your hands in theirs confidently and they will take you exactly where I want you to go.’
Sorrow and Suffering are the two companions who will take us exactly where God wants to take us.
After bowing us low, Sorrow and Suffering takes us to the High Places.
The High Places are where God is. The High places are the places of comfort, joy and peace. We can get there by no other way. Sorrow and Suffering are our companion guides. The way to the High Places is on a road paved with trials, hardship, sadness, pain and tears. The High Places are where there are no more tears or sadness.
It can be no other way.
The way paved to the High Places is via Calvary. Jesus, our Divine Friend, the Friend of sinners, chose Sorrow and Suffering out of love for us. What friend would do that?
In the Heavenly places, in eternity past, Sorrow and Suffering were chosen for the Son of God. The plan of redemption and restoration were marked with a cross and a crown of thorns. And as Jesus was bowed low in Gethsemane, knowing the sorrow and suffering he would experience, he submitted to His Father’s will, knowing His father would turn His face away from His Son. What torment. What anguish.
And yet Jesus did not cry out, ‘I can’t! I can’t! Oh my Father why do you do this to me?’
He cried out, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ Those words of submission resulted in an angel from heaven appearing to strengthen him [Luke 22:42-43]. Jesus chose Suffering and endured the cross for the joy set before Him [Hebrews 12:2].
Sorrowing and Suffering bowed our Saviour low to enable us to be raised up.
Because Jesus chose Sorrow and Suffering as His companions, in our moments of heartache, we get to experience Jehovah Jireh, our Provider. We get to experience Jehovah Shalom, our Peace. We get to experience Jehovah Rohi, our Shepherd.
As we reluctantly put our hands in the hands of Sorrow and Suffering, the two companions we would not choose, we are guided to the High Places.
Along the journey we are never alone.
The God of all comfort, our Lord Shepherd, has gone before and He sees our tears and gathers them all up and puts them in a bottle [Psalm 56:8]. The Lord Shepherd, who has gone before us, never slumbers or sleeps and has now been exalted to the highest place, where He is interceding for us.
Romans 8:16-17 reminds us that the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
It is the cross before the crown.
When Sorrow and Suffering take us, limping through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for our Lord Shepherd is with us; ; guiding and comforting us. [Psalm 23:4]
When we look beyond Sorrow and Suffering who walk alongside us, to the truest Friend of all, we will not stumble or fall. [Psalm 121:1-4]
Sorrow and Suffering are the companions who keep us on our knees so that we can arise and no longer feel sad because our Shepherd has remembered us in our sadness [1 Samuel 1:10, 18].
They are the friends who enable us to cry out in the wilderness so that our Shepherd can draw near [Genesis 21:16-17]. They are the helpers who enable us to testify that though we were empty, He has made us full [Ruth 1:20, 4:14-15].
Sorrow and Suffering are the two uninvited friends who keep us humbly dependant on God so that we don’t become conceited and boast in ourselves and our own strength [2 Corinthians 12:7, 10]. They are the conduit to us experiencing unique, divine and daily sufficient grace and Christ’s power resting on us [2 Corinthians 12:9] and they are the means by which the works of God are displayed through our pain, trials and heartaches. [John 9:3].
Sorrow and Suffering are the friends who put a song of joy in our hearts while there are tears in our eyes.
Sorrow and Suffering are the two companions who will take us exactly where God wants to take us – to the foot of the cross and to the High Places.
We would not choose Sorrow and Suffering.
We, like Much-Afraid, would rather choose Joy and Peace as friends.
We would rather choose our own friends for life’s journey, but ‘there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.’ [Proverbs 14:12]
The Shepherd looked at Much-Afraid and answered her very gently, ‘Joy and Peace. Are those the companions you would choose for yourself?
You remember your promise, to accept the helpers I would give, because you believed that I would choose the very best possible guides for you. Will you still trust me, Much-Afraid?
As Christ’s ones, it is Sorrow and Suffering who are the two companions who will come, uninvited, to take us exactly where God wants us to go and it is only then that we will experience true and lasting Joy and Peace.
Will we trust Him?
‘For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.’
[2 Corinthians 4:17-18]
‘Others have gone before me,’ thought Much-Afraid, ‘and they could sing about it afterwards. Will He, who is so strong and gentle, be less faithful and gracious to me, weak and cowardly though I am, when it is so obvious that the thing He delights in most is to deliver His followers from all their fears and take them to the High Places?’
She stepped forward, looked at the two veiled figures, and said with a courage she had never felt before, ‘I will go with you. Please lead the way,’ even though she could yet bring herself to put her hands to grasp theirs.
The Puritan, Octavius Winslow, gives us the right and humbling perspective in this poetic excerpt from one of his sermons:
Listen, then, to the voice of Jesus in the storm.
‘It is I who raised the tempest in your soul, and will control it.
It is I who sent your affliction, and will be with you in it.
It is I who kindled the furnace, and will watch the flames, and bring you through it.
It is I who formed your burden, who carved your cross, and who will strengthen you to bear it.
It is I who mixed your cup of grief, and will enable you to drink it with meek submission to your Father's will.
It is I who took from you worldly substance, who bereft you of your child, of the wife of your bosom, of the husband of your youth, and will be infinitely better to you than husband, wife, or child.
It is I who have done it all.
I make the clouds my chariot, and clothe myself with the tempest as with a garment.
The night hour is my time of coming, and the dark, surging waves are the pavement upon which I walk.
Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.
It is I, your Friend, your Brother, your Saviour!
I am causing all the circumstances of your life to work together for your good. It is I who permitted.... the enemy to assail you, the slander to blast you, the unkindness to wound you, the need to press you!
Your affliction did not spring out of the ground, but came down from above; a heaven sent blessing disguised as an angel of light clad in a robe of ebony.
I have sent all in love!
This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.
This bereavement shall not always bow you to the earth, nor drape in changeless gloom your life.
It is I who ordered, arranged, and controlled it all!’
In every stormy wind, in every darksome night, in every lonesome hour, in every rising fear, the voice of Jesus shall be heard, saying, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.’
For three other perspectives on sorrow and suffering, please read: