A few weeks ago, something snapped in me—and it wasn't pretty. After nine years of intense and complex emotions being built up in our home due to our child's neurological issues, for some reason this particular moment seemed to draw everything to the surface, revealing my tears, grief, anger, hatred for the damage that's been done, and fear over my own unsettled emotions.
It's impossible to explain all that brought me to this point. This is simply one of the crosses I've been given to carry, and no one can fully understand the weight of it but Christ.
As I've prayed about and considered what happened, I’ve realized that one of the strongest emotions that unexpectedly arose in me was the grief and horror of seeing the true face of my sinful heart in ways I've been somewhat blind to or easily able to excuse. God allowed the pressure of my circumstances to rise to a point of breaking through my human resolve, coping skills, and my natural tendency to use my pain as an excuse for my response.
The truth is that having to face the reality of our sinful thoughts, actions, and reactions, which trials tend to expose, can be quite frightening and uncomfortable. Easier circumstances can allow us to believe the subtle lie that although we know we need a Savior, we don't believe we need a Savior quite as much as someone else.
In all honesty, deception had subtly woven its way into the hidden areas of my heart. This season of intense suffering, however, has increasingly led me to resonate with Paul's words in 1 Timothy 1:15–16:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Although to some this may sound as though I am defeated and "being hard on myself," the reality is that I am now freer to receive the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Christ because I see more clearly how desperately I need it. When we are able to get a truer picture of how corrupt and sinful we are to the core—without any false perception of our own human goodness—we are able to grasp and appreciate more deeply the incredible gift of Christ's shed blood on the cross.
What Suffering Revealed
Here are five ways that the pressure of suffering has been used in my life to reveal who I am apart from Christ and what I have gained in Him.
1. The pressure of suffering has revealed pride: the subtle belief that I believe I deserve the best in life—including comfort, health, success, and met expectations.
And yet Christ sacrificed His comfort, health, earthly reputation, and life so you and I could have far more than these temporal desires—a secure identity in Him, forgiveness, growing character to reflect Him, joy, a purpose for every moment of our life, and a promised eternity with Him.
As we realize how little we deserve, we see more clearly how much we have gained in Christ. In fact, the very trials that have caused me to question God’s goodness have been the very tool He has used to show me just how good of a God He is.
2. The pressure of suffering has revealed how selfish, conditional, and temporal my love is.
And yet Christ willingly and deliberately entered into horrific suffering to offer the ultimate sacrifice—His very life—even while we rejected and hated Him.
As anger, self-protection, and self-pity arise in me toward others, I am freshly reminded of how Christ’s response was the opposite of mine as He was mocked, beaten, and rejected by the very people He was giving His life for. Friends, our love tank will always run dry when running on the checks and balances of those around us. It is only when we tap into the endless fountain of Christ's love that we are able to extend ourselves, give of ourselves, and sacrifice for others with an unconditional, Christ-centered love.
3. The pressure of suffering has revealed how ugly my heart is when I don't have comfort, confidence, and control.
And yet Christ knew the true state of my heart—selfish, proud, angry, impatient, and rebellious—even before my life began, and He still chose to love me, die for me, forgive me, and offer me new life in Him at His expense.
Sometimes, God allows uncomfortable (or downright devastating) circumstances in order to expose the true state of our hearts and magnify the holiness of His. Until we are willing to face the reality of our sin, we will never fully grasp the freedom and treasure we've been given in the cross.
4. The pressure of suffering has revealed how much I desire to be my own god.
And yet Christ has allowed my suffering to free me from this bondage and to teach me to trust Him, lean on Him, and find rest in Him as the one and only true God who is in control and working out His good and loving purposes in my life.
Trying to control our lives is exhausting, and eventually we will crash and burn. In God's grace, He sometimes allows circumstances that strip away our ability to have any semblance of control in order to free us from the vicious cycle of self-reliance and teach us to rest in His loving purposes and faithful promises.
5. The pressure of suffering has revealed how far I fall short of being the holy and sanctified child of God I desire to be.
And yet Christ came to earth to live the perfect life for me. He died in my place so that His holiness and perfection would cover my sins and attempts at self-glorifying morality. And He is now faithfully changing my sinful heart to reflect the holiness of His. As the Psalmist said, “He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday" (Ps. 37:6). We may not see it in the moment, just as it's hard to see the sun's light coming up because of how gradual it is. However, for the true believer, when we look back, we will see how the light and character of Christ has grown within us.
If you are feeling discouraged by your sin, take heart and be comforted by the fact that you see your sin and are grieved by it because it means the Spirit is at work in you. He will be faithful to His promise and will bring your righteousness to completion.
Fix Your Eyes on the Cross
I always thought pain and suffering would ruin my life and rob me of joy and happiness. In reality, suffering has removed the illusion of happiness, exposing the emptiness and brokenness of my soul apart from Christ and gradually opened my eyes to the treasure, joy, and hope of being forgiven, loved, and restored by the blood of Jesus.
Christ suffered in order that we may know Him. If you are hurting today, may it lead you to know your Savior more deeply than ever before. For those who are in Christ, we can trust that just as His suffering had a holy and glorious purpose, ours does as well.