The Gift of Suffering, with Bunny WilsonThe Gift of Suffering, with Bunny Wilson
Leslie Basham: Bunny Wilson knows a lot about physical suffering. Here's how she responds to it.
Bunny Wilson: I completely focus my attention upward to a sovereign, loving God who never stops thinking about me, who, the Bible says, "Sings over me. He knows how many hairs are on my head. His thoughts are as the grain of sand." This is the God I serve, and I will never question Him about my suffering.
Leslie: This is Revive our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It's Friday, November 4.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss:It is a special treat to have my friend Bunny Wilson back with us in the studio again this week. Bunny, you’ve had such an influence on women through your speaking, through your writing, and we’re glad to having you sharing this time with us.
Bunny:It is so good to be here with you Nancy.
Nancy: We want to talk today about a part of a book that you’ve written called, Seven Secrets Women Want to Know. Why are these secrets, secret?
Bunny: Well, secrets are whispered, not openly discussed. The seven secrets are so controversial, they're not usually open forum.
Nancy: So why should women want to know these secrets? Women want to know every secret, right?
Bunny: Because as Christian women, we should want what God wants for our lives.
Nancy: You've said in this book that there are seven things that God wants for our lives as women. I wish we had time to go into all of those. Tell us about the first several of those secrets.
Bunny: The first one is submission, then servanthood, suffering, and sacrificial love. Would you agree that each one of those is controversial in its own right?
Nancy: I think they are, and I think they are also secrets because they're things that most of us don't understand God's heart on those issues, and yet it's a secret we really need to understand.
Bunny: You know what is so fascinating about that, Nancy, is that Jesus Christ was a submitted servant who suffered because of His sacrificial love for us. We are called to walk in His footsteps; we are called to do what He did.
So you have to ask yourself, "How could those principles even become controversial?" And you also have to ask yourself, "If I am not a submitted servant who suffers because of my sacrificial love, then what am I really doing in my Christian walk? Am I really being like Christ?"
Nancy: You're saying that these are the secrets that are essential in our lives if we want to be like Christ?
Bunny: Well, yes. So, how did they end up being secrets? Why aren't we proclaiming these from the mountaintops?
Nancy: Now, the one about suffering? That doesn't sound like something we'd want to proclaim from the mountaintops. I don't think most people walk into a Christian bookstore and say, "Can you help me find a book on suffering? I think I'd like to suffer." Some of us have to suffer at times; then we want the book. But you're saying, "We need to be familiar with this principle and exercising it in our lives even when we're not pressed to do so"?
Bunny: Yes, and in all honesty how many people, how many Christians do you know who in some way or another are not suffering? Every Christian I know in some way is suffering.
Nancy: Sometimes that suffering is monumental, and sometimes it can just be the everyday irritations and annoyances of life.
Nancy: I remember hearing Elisabeth Elliot say that suffering can be everything from traffic jams to taxes to tumors and within that whole range of experiences, we have to learn what it means to suffer as Christ did.
Bunny: Yes, because Jesus did say, "If you suffer with me, you'll reign with me" [see 2 Tim. 2:12].
Nancy: Bunny, I know that over the past few years you've dealt with suffering in a very personal way. I wonder if you'd just tell us a little bit of your story and what God has been teaching you through that experience.
Bunny: Three years ago I began to develop a tremor in my right hand. I didn't understand what it was then. It's been diagnosed as an Essential Tremor, which basically means that they don't know what it is but they give it a name. It usually happens after you are forty-five and about a million Americans are affected with it.
It's usually hereditary and my father does have it. Fifty percent of the time it's hereditary. It's common, but it's very complex. My hand began to tremor three years ago, and it tremors from the time I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night. I have lost the ability to write. I now have to write with my left hand and have to eat with my left hand, and it is quite inconvenient.
Nancy: And so, how have you handled this situation?
Bunny: Well, I call my tremor "Handy" because since it tremors constantly, it reminds me to pray without ceasing, to go to secret places with God and to seek His face. It also comes in handy when I'm seasoning food, scratching my husband's back, and tickling my nine-year-old daughter.
Nancy: This is obviously something that has affected you in the ministry that God has called you to.
Bunny: Yes, it has affected me in a very positive way. I guess in a way people really enjoy the fact that you suffer, and I don't mean that in a cruel way, but people are actually kind of relieved to know that somebody else is suffering and to see how suffering should be handled. Not only people, but I'm teaching my children how to suffer.
I have a nine-year-old daughter, her name is Gabrielle, and Gabrielle loves Handy. Handy tickles her, and Handy tells her stories. I give Handy another voice other than the voice that I have.
One day I was talking on the phone. I was getting a treatment for my tremor. I was talking on the phone in the kitchen, and I was telling a friend that there was a good chance that this treatment was going to cause my tremor to stop. Gabrielle came around the corner, and she said, "You are only thinking of yourself. If your hand stops shaking, where's Handy going to go?"
I had to actually put the person on hold and take Gabrielle in my arms and say, "You know, Handy's been busy for three years. Handy just wants to take a nap." And I had to console her because when she introduces me to her friends she says, "This is my mom, and that's Handy."
Now just think, Nancy, if I had been ashamed of my tremor, she would have been ashamed. She doesn't realize it now but one day in the future when she has her own Handy, because everyone I think gets their fair share of suffering, she'll remember the Handy that I had, and she'll know the attitude and the outlook she should have on her suffering. She doesn't realize it, but Handy is teaching her to suffer.
Nancy: So you're saying this inconvenience isn't all negative?
Bunny: Well, it's not. One of the reasons I'm happy to have it even though it's inconvenient is it qualifies me to speak on the subject of suffering.
When people can't see anything wrong with your life, especially if you're someone in the public eye and people listen to you when you speak, if they cannot see anything wrong with you, they think your life is perfect. Even though my life wasn't perfect, they couldn't see it. Now they can look at me and see that my hand is tremoring which qualifies me to speak on suffering.
The reason that I say I'm happy about that is because for years I had been grieved at how I watched Christians suffer—all of the murmuring and complaining and the self-pity and woe is me that shouldn't be in our lives when we suffer.
And so now when I speak about Handy, I tell people that I believe that God is going to heal Handy, that there is absolutely no way that I won't be healed and the reason I believe that is because I accept God as sovereign which means I've given Him the right to choose which side of the river my healing comes on.
One lady said to me, "My mother got sick, and she believed God for healing. I believed God would heal her. The church prayed God would heal her, and God took her before she was healed!"
And I said, "Oh no, when your mother stepped from earth into glory, she was healed for all eternity."
Another man said to me after a conference, "God didn't do that to you. God didn't give you that tremor."
And I said to him, "Then who did?"
And he said, "I don't know."
And I said, "You only have two choices: It was either God, or it was Satan, and Satan does not have direct access to a believer. He can ask for permission, as we see in the Book of Job, to inflict Job, or when Jesus said to Peter, 'Satan has requested to sift you like wheat.'"
I said, "So am I going to focus on the one who had to ask for permission or the one who gave permission? I choose to focus on the one who gave permission. But I will tell you this: If Satan did ask for permission to make my hand shake, ever since it started, he's been begging God to make it stop, because not only does it remind me to pray, when people see a tremor, it reminds them to pray." Nancy, I'm actually a walking prayer machine.
Nancy: Bunny, how did this whole thing develop in your case? Was it something that came on gradually, or was it all of a sudden?
Bunny: It came on very gradually. When I spoke, I would hold the microphone in my right hand, and I began to notice that the microphone was moving back and forth. I even remember doing a conference and I was sitting at the book table signing books and a woman came up to me. She grabbed my right hand, and she said, "My hand tremors just like yours."
I looked at her with a completely blank expression. I didn't know what she was talking about. I didn't know that my hand was tremoring. I didn't know what it was, but it was very slight. But then it progressively got worse. That's the way they diagnose an essential tremor. It progressively gets worse. They can't explain why, but it does.
Nancy: Did you ever find yourself struggling with those kinds of emotions that you described other people having when it comes to suffering? Was there ever a temptation to be troubled by it, or was submission to suffering just a natural thing for you?
Bunny: I am so happy that I practiced submission like we talked about with God being the final authority. Because since I accepted God as sovereign, I knew that He had allowed it to happen, and because of that I was not going to question Him about it.
I remember one day for about three minutes I began to despair. I hated that place so much I said, "No, I'm not going to go there." So I did do the route of the doctors. I had MRI's to be checked out. I went to a wellness center. I went to a biological dentist.
I just began to go down the roads that might give me an answer. As a matter of fact, Nancy, I've asked God not to heal my tremor until He shows me the source. Because let's say that God were to touch my body and heal me, I never would have known what the source of the tremor was. There are a million Americans suffering with essential tremors. I want to know the source because when it does stop or if it does stop on this side of the river, I want to be able to help other people who have essential tremors.
As I was reading the information on this particular illness, it said a million Americans have it. I thought to myself, "How can a million people have it and I don't see it?" Well, as I began to read the material, I discovered that a lot of people with essential tremors, even though they are healthy stay in the house because they are so embarrassed. People stare at them. They can no longer sign checks. They can't eat in public, and so they just stay home.
Well, if my contribution is to get the people that have essential tremors out of the house, then I think that will be a great contribution.
Nancy: Bunny, your heart is obviously to help people. You may be able someday to help people with an understanding of the physical aspects of essential tremors, but it's been interesting for me to watch how God is using you to help people in some other ways, even though you don't understand the physical aspects of this at the moment.
I think what you're doing is helping people understand the sovereignty of God. It's been an incredible blessing and challenge to me to watch you say, "Though I don't understand this, yet I still trust that God is God, that He knows what He's doing, that He doesn't make mistakes, that He hasn't made any mistakes with my life, and I surrender myself to whatever He wants me to experience and to learn through all of this."
I think of a number of women listening who have their own issues. It may be another physical affliction or a financial affliction or an affliction in their marriage or with a son or daughter that they cry themselves to sleep over at night, and they're saying, "This is so hard to understand."
God's heart to that woman is, "You don't have to understand, but you do have to trust. Let Me be God. Trust that I know what I'm doing, that I'm too wise to make a mistake, and I'm too loving to hurt you except that I know that ultimately it will be for My glory and for your ultimate benefit."
Nancy: No matter how we embrace suffering, we still have to deal with it day-to-day. I know that this tremor for you is an inconvenience. You're doing public speaking and doing TV programs. How does it affect you in those areas?
Bunny: Well, I have had to adjust. It started out slightly and it has increasingly become worse. It's only recently that I lost my ability to write with my right hand or eat with my right hand. So the way I adjust is to sit on it; I make it be still.
When I am speaking in front of a group of people, you will remember I used to hold the microphone in my right hand, and I used to walk up and down the platform. But now I have them pull up a chair, give me a stand-up mic right near my mouth, and I sit down in that chair and I sit on my hand.
Now when I begin speaking, the first thing I do is tell them about Handy. I tell them about my attitude toward Handy, and then I sit on Handy to make it still while I'm speaking to the audience. Nancy, the only way I can describe it is that it is supernatural, the additional anointing that the Lord has given me to communicate His truths.
I think that as the people sit and listen to me, they realize that I am sharing with them out of my suffering. Then they start thinking about how they're suffering and what their attitude is towards it and how much more they could be doing or things they pulled back on because they were suffering and went in a different direction because of what they were enduring.
It gives them a different perspective and attitude. I'm grateful for Handy that during this season of my life that this is what is being accomplished in the lives of believers.
Nancy: Bunny, is this something that conceivably you would have to live with for the rest of your life or for a very long time?
Bunny: Yes! There is no cure. But you know what, Nancy? The way I see things as a believer is that I am a soldier that's been dropped behind enemy lines. Satan is the prince of this air; I am in God's army and soldiers are on a need-to-know basis.
When those planes hit the World Trade Towers and we sent our forces across the ocean, I will never forget that there was a captain being interviewed. He was about to take his war vessel across the ocean and the reporter said, "Where are you going?"
The captain said, "East."
The reporter said, "What is your destination?"
The captain said "East."
The reporter said, "How are you going to know where to go?"
The captain said, "When I head East, eventually I will get orders for where I am supposed to go."
God has us on a need-to-know basis. God has given me everything I need to know.
You and I might bounce back some Scriptures of reflection and encouragement to people that are listening. What Scripture of encouragement comes to your mind, Nancy, when we say, "He's given us all we need to know?"
Nancy: I think of the passages that talk about the future hope we have, where Paul says in Romans 8:18, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (NKJV). Not now, but down the road.
And in 2 Corinthians 4, at the very end of that chapter where Paul says that our afflictions in this life are really only momentary and they are light. Now that's hard to believe when you are in the midst of the affliction! It seems like it is very major and seems like maybe it will go on for years, and it may.
But Paul says, "Think about it in the light of eternity. Every affliction is momentary, and it is light." He tells us what the perspective is that helps us see it that way, that those afflictions are accomplishing something in us that could not be accomplished any other way. And when we get to the other side of the river, as you say, we get into the presence of God and eternity. We will look back, and we will say, "What I have now is worth everything I had to endure there on earth in order to get to this eternal and exceeding weight of glory."
Bunny: When we think of eternity, the Bible says that one day with the Lord is like a thousand years on earth. Now it uses the word "like" because there'll be no ending to time. But if you were to break that equation down, Nancy, one day with the Lord is like a thousand years on earth, do you know that that means? By the time we live to be seventy-five years old, only one hour and forty-eight minutes have passed in heaven?
So no matter what we are going through in our life as a single, as a married person, with our husband, with our children, with our afflictions, we only have about twenty minutes left, and we're going to be out of here. We can, I can, hang on for twenty minutes to celebrate God and eternity.
Nancy: That does give such a helpful perspective. And yet, what do you do right here and now, while you're in the midst of that? Do you ever pray and ask God to take this affliction away? Have you asked Him to remove it?
Bunny: Well, I don't just want it to go away. I mean that would be wonderful to just wake up one day and it just stopped, but I'd never know why I had it. I don't have the benefit that Paul had when he was afflicted. He knew why he had his thorn in his flesh.
He said, "So that I would not become conceited because of my exceedingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh. A messenger of Satan was sent to buffet me. I pleaded with God three times to remove it from me and God said, 'My grace is sufficient for thee for my strength is made perfect in weakness'" (2 Cor. 12:7-9 paraphrased).
Isn't it interesting about God that the world cannot understand how strength is made perfect in weakness? It just sounds so paradoxical, yet that's the way God is. His thoughts are as far from our thoughts as heaven is from earth.
I'm not going to be like Job and defend myself. In Job 31 he was afflicted, and his friends who condemned him couldn't prompt him to condemn himself, but they did provoke him to defend himself.
And in Job 31, the whole chapter is called Job's defense. He says things like, "If I had walked in falsehood, if my steps had been turned from the path, my heart had been led by my eyes." He said, "If I had denied the desires of the poor," he says, "Oh that someone would hear me. I sign now my defense. Let the almighty answer me."
God didn't respond to him immediately. He waited seven chapters, and in chapter 38 it says, "And God answered Job out of a storm. He said, 'Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?'"
He questioned Job in all of chapter 38, all of 39, and at the beginning of chapter 40. Job says, "I am unworthy; how can I reply to you? I cover my hand over my mouth. I spoke once but I have no answer, twice but I will say no more" (vv. 4-5 NIV).
Nancy, I thought that was a noble answer, but the way God responded to Job, He was very displeased. He said, "Brace yourself like a man for I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?"
And I looked at Job's answer, and I realized when he said, "I am unworthy," Job didn't get it. Instead of being turned upward, he was turned inward.
The reason Handy hasn't gotten me down is because I completely focus my attention upward to a sovereign, loving God who never stops thinking about me, who, the Bible says, "Sings over me. He knows how many hairs are on my head. His thoughts are as the grains of sand." This is the God I serve, and I will never question Him about my suffering.
Nancy: And in the midst of that suffering, no matter what the description, no matter what the type, no matter how long it goes on, the answer that God gave to Paul is the same answer that He’s given to you. It is the same answer He gives to every woman, every man in the midst of every situation, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
We have what we need to know, and that is in the midst of this weakness, in the midst of this pressure or problem, He is enough. That is what we trust. We keep our eyes on the finish line and know that the last chapter has been written. There is hope that in the midst of what seems to be hopeless right now, His grace is still sufficient for me.
Leslie: Bunny Wilson has been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about suffering. Bunny has studied the Scripture on this topic, and she’s had to live out what she believes. How has suffering affected you? What questions does this program raise? I hope you’ll share your thoughts and your questions on the Revive Our Hearts listener blog. Here is how to do it. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com, click on today’s program. At the end of the transcript you can read the comments left by other listeners. You can respond to them and add your own thoughts.
The website and the radio program are able to continue because of listeners who support Revive Our Hearts financially. They believe in what the ministry is doing and want to be a part of it. You’ve heard today’s program because of listeners who have donated.
Would you support Revive Our Hearts so we can speak to even more women as well?
When you make a donation of any size, we want to say "thank you," so you’ll receive the 2012 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar. The new calendar is called Seeking Him Together. It will encourage you to seek the Lord for revival in your heart and in our nation. Ask for the Seeking Him Together calender when you call with your donation. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.
Well, are there truly substantial differences between men and women, or are they just cultural constructs? Next week Mary Kassian takes us to the book of Genesis to examine the roles of men and women before the Fall. Please be back with us for Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.