As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. –James 5:10–11
Time is a valuable element in our lives. In our fast-paced world, we want everything instant and fast! Instant coffee, instant noodles, fast lane, express counter, express delivery. We also want efficiency. We want everything to work out smoothly, according to our plans. We plan based on what we know. Plans guide us so we know what’s next. We want assurance and security. We dislike uncertainty, because it makes us feel unstable.
So it is difficult to wait patiently in the midst of suffering. The Chinese character for patience (忍) is a compound word with knife (刀) on top of heart (心). Patience enables one to bear the pain of the wounded heart that keeps beating.
Waiting is easier if I know how long I will have to wait. I appreciate the digital displays on stop lights that tell me how long I have to wait. Alas, many troubles in life do not have a visible timer telling me how long before the suffering ends.
After I had a bad fall and fractured my right ankle, a friend wisely encouraged me to be patient with my healing. I knew that patience is a virtue, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But I wanted to get better faster. I wanted to know when I would walk again. I asked my doctors how soon I could walk normally, when I could put weight on my right leg. When? When? When? It took me four months of physical therapy before I could walk normally. Seven months after the surgery, I still felt tightness in my right ankle whenever I walked down the stairs.
During this season, God taught me to embrace pain with joy. Job is the character in the Bible who is most associated with suffering. Yet he was able to say: Then I would still have this consolation— my joy in unrelenting pain—that I had not denied the words of the Holy One (Job 6:10). Job’s comfort and encouragement, his joy in suffering, was that he did not deny God, but remained loyal to God throughout his trials.
No one would volunteer for suffering classes in life. I did not volunteer to have cancer. Nor did I choose to break my ankle. Yet from swelling to healing, from sitting to standing, from hopping to shuffling, from strength to strength (Psa 84:7), God holds my hands and brings me through each difficult time, inviting me to experience peace beyond understanding.
During this difficult time, I discovered good things come out of the bad. I learned to use a wheelchair, navigate the stairs with crutches. Most importantly, I learned to practice patience – a hard lesson that made me more compassionate with those who cannot walk.
Before I had my ankle surgery, a friend told me that her doctor-brother said, “We do not have to tolerate pain unnecessarily.” Pain relievers lessen physical pain. Yet there is another kind of pain that no painkiller can fix—the pain of a broken spirit and a wounded soul.
Psalm 34:18 declares that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 51:17 says that “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
We live in a broken world, where we cannot run away from pain and grief. Yet Christians have assurance that our pain and sufferings are not in vain. For God works out all things—good and bad—for our good, for those who love him and are called for his purpose.
Because of my cancer, I have become more compassionate towards others who are suffering. Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to walk with the anxious, the broken-hearted, and the confused. Compassion compels us to cry with the grieving, and mourn with those who mourn. Compassion calls us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.
As Henri Nouwen wisely observed: “The dance of life finds its beginnings in grief. . . Here a completely new way of living is revealed. It is the way in which pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain.”
When friends came to me for comfort and help, God helped me comfort them with the comfort that I received from him. As Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5).
Paul prayed three times for God to take away his thorn (2 Corinthians 12:7–8). God told him, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8). God wanted Paul to rely on his power and not to exalt himself.
My emotional and spiritual pain allowed me to experience fully God’s grace and mercy. God walked me through the deep dark valley of depression, even when my emotional and mental being denied his presence. I remember how to embrace and overcome pain. My pain yesterday becomes a steppingstone to joy today.
Until I learn the lessons of patience, God will continue to send difficult people, and put me in places that test my patience. Until I learn the lessons of love, there will always be unlovable and unreasonable people to test my patience. The “thorns” in life is God’s lesson plan for me to learn patience. In my mortal morally sinful body, I need to learn these lessons everyday.
Lord, have mercy and thank you for being patient with me while I learn patience. May I learn to learn it neither too quickly, nor too slowly, but in your beautiful time. Amen.