You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11
Nine years ago today, I lay in a hospital bed in Philadelphia. I was 20 weeks pregnant with identical twin daughters who were suffering from a condition called Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome and had just undergone an in utero surgery in an effort to save their lives.
That morning, the doctor came in to see how the babies were doing after the surgery. I watched his face fall as he looked at the monitor of the ultrasound machine. Immediately, I knew. Our smaller baby, the one who had been struggling the most because of the condition, our little Fiona Jane, had died.
It was part of our undoing, a pain that brought us to our knees. With it came the realization that our entire situation was, and always had been, in God’s hands. We were at His mercy. Though we had understood this in a vague way before this trial, it became very real to us when we had no other choice but to resign ourselves to His Divine Will.
Today, in the midst of worldwide uncertainty and anxiety about the coronavirus, people are afraid. Many are sick. The future is unknown. And I’m reminded once again of the difficult truth that joy comes by way of suffering.
Comfort versus joy
In a modern world that is dedicated to the pursuit of convenience and comfort, suffering presents a significant challenge. We desire to control every aspect of our lives, and in the Western World, with its abundance of information and relative security, we are indeed able to maintain an illusion of control in many things.
Should we encounter suffering, we are surrounded with tools and temptations to distract and numb ourselves from our pain (addictive screens, constant entertainment, shopping on demand, and abundant comfort food, for example) or to deny it and pretend everything is just fine, perhaps by presenting a polished image of ourselves to others through social media for an instant dose of approval.
But challenges, trials, and suffering are a part of life in this fallen world, and eventually, we all come face to face with them in a way that we can’t outrun. They destroy our illusion of control and can test our faith like nothing else.
God not only allows suffering, but He tells us it will happen (John 16:33), wants us to consider it a privilege (Philippians 1:29) and even says to count it all joy (James 1:2)! But it would be disordered masochism to actually take delight solely in pain and suffering. So suffering must hold some benefit for us, and joy must mean something beyond earthly comforts and fleeting pleasure.
Stripped of our sense of control and artificial comforts, we are forced to turn to the God of all comfort and offered the opportunity to trade earthly happiness for eternal joy.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Earthly comforts are fleeting. God’s comfort is eternal and comes to us by way of suffering. Sometimes we forget this, but difficult times serve to remind us.
We read in Jeremiah, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord…They are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream. It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green. In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7,8)
Heat comes. There are years of drought. Our consolations may dry up and be blown away like chaff in the wind. We may feel pain, worry, and uncertainty. But if our trust is in the Lord, we do not need to fear. Our roots reach deep – to the source of our life and our hope. The joy of the Lord is our strength.
I used to think “resignation” had a negative connotation, akin to quitting or giving up. But then I learned that there is something so freeing about giving up running from pain and trying to control everything around me. Resignation to God’s Will means placing all of our greatest hopes and deepest fears into the hands of the One who not only knows the future, but who loves us and works all things together for our good. We can endure pain when it leads to something good. Just ask any laboring mother.
Resignation to the Divine Will is a daily battle and the ultimate fiat. It is saying with our Blessed Mother, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.” It is the offering of ourselves as a living sacrifice, to be used according to God’s purpose. And in the economy of heaven – where the first are last and the last are first – it is this dying to ourselves and relinquishing of control that brings us to eternal glory.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5
In my case, weeping tarried a long time. It still tarries today. We lost not only our Fiona, but would go on to lose her twin sister as well. The depth of our pain was enormous. But in hindsight I can see that God used that time of suffering to strengthen my faith in Him and to give me an eternal joy that is not easily shaken by circumstances.
One for sorrow, two for joy.
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. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Joy comes by way of sorrow, and the mercy of suffering, if we can learn not to run from it, not to fear it or numb it away, is that it strips us of our comfort, rearranges our priorities, and reminds us that this is not our permanent home.