I remember the first time I visited the White House. I admired it from behind its wrought-iron fence, a tourist with a camera. The second time I visited at the invitation of a congressman’s wife, who gave me a private tour. On my third visit I was escorted by my lifelong friend Karen, who was serving as Director of White House Personnel. I got the insider’s tour, treading reverently through hallowed hallways and royally decorated rooms. My fourth and final visit found me eating breakfast in the posh and private dining room set apart for presidential appointees only—again at Karen’s generous invitation.
This simple California girl had no business being in a place of such power and prestige. I belonged on the outside with the other tourists taking pictures across the front lawn. Had it not been for a few special invitations, those vigilantly guarded gates would have remained closed to me forever.
But I’ve received many invitations to frequent a much more coveted place—one so superior that it leaves the White House looking like a broken-down shack. This place drips with incomparable beauty and power and treasure and comfort.
An Invitation to Suffering
In my twenties, the invitations started rolling in—in the unexpected form of anxiety and depression. In my thirties they came as extended singleness and chronic illness and a sick child. Just twenty months ago the invitation was a cancer diagnosis. Sometimes the invites have come with less pomp and circumstance—as a wounded relationship, a stressful job, a deep disappointment.
Though bitter and unwelcome, these sufferings have ushered me into privileged places, deeper and deeper into the Beautiful, Marvelous Expanses of God. Without them, I would have remained a tourist of sorts, admiring the glories of God from a distance, but never truly experiencing them for myself.
Obviously, suffering in and of itself is not redemptive nor desirable. Who willingly signs up to be hurt?! How could wounding ever be good? But “since . . . Christ suffered in the flesh,” killing sin and death, we experience more of His life when we suffer, “for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). I have often sensed the Spirit whispering to me in my pain, “Come in further, dear heart. There’s more beauty in Me than you can possibly imagine.”
Beauty in the Dark
I have prayer journals full of the beauty Christ has shown me in the darkest hours of my life. Last year, in the thick of chemotherapy, I sensed the Spirit impressing truth upon my heart:
I know this is hard. I know there’s dread as tomorrow approaches; I know what it means week after week to sit in that chair. But I am here. With you. I’ve chosen you, beloved—to bring you nearer to Me.
I have everything, everything, you need for this journey. And I have poured out my Spirit on you, given you joy and peace and purpose like never before. I’m changing you, freeing you, blessing you. And this is not your doing, loved one. Your job is to hide yourself in Me and watch Me work on your behalf. Today that’s what I want you to do—hide yourself in Me. Rest. Trust. Enjoy Me. I am yours and you are Mine.
And through long years of singleness, I came to love the promises of Isaiah 54:4–5:
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”
And as I’ve watched my only son suffer mysterious illnesses, one after another, I’ve understood a little bit more of God’s sacrificial love for me. He too was a parent who was anguished over watching His only Son suffer. Only He chose to do it (He crushed His own Son!) so that I could be forgiven and healed and treasured and free.
No Tear Wasted
Many have suffered far more than I have. (I read their stories to strengthen my flabby soul. I listen carefully to their words about how good God is even when life is unspeakably awful.) But the hardships God has entrusted to me have been perfectly tailored to draw me further and further into the Beautiful, Marvelous Expanses of God. He has not wasted one tear I’ve cried, one physical pain I’ve endured, one dream I’ve watched die. He has used every single sorrow and weakness to bring me into more of His joy, freedom, courage, power, faith, compassion, and love.
He is not a one-dimensional god. There is more to Him than we can possibly imagine. He has no beginning nor end; He is tender and fierce; He is mesmerizingly mysterious. There is no end to His jaw-dropping goodness—goodness He longs for us to experience.
And so He gently pries our little-kid fingers off our little earth-treasures, then shows us “the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge” of Himself (Rom. 11:33).
Where are you hurting today, dear one? What is the darkest, scariest part of your life right now? That may just be the much-coveted invitation that will usher you further into the Beautiful, Marvelous Expanses of God.