September 23, 2010

Suffering, Sovereignty, and Submission

These past few weeks have been hard. I think some of the hardest I've had in a long time. This season and this time of the year bring back so many memories of last year.

It was a year ago tomorrow that we moved to Dallas. I remember that day so well. We had gone to the doctor that morning and I was so big that our doctor didn't think we should wait any longer. He said we should go to Dallas as soon as we could. I had been getting ready for weeks, but this was still much earlier than I had planned to leave, so there was a last-minute scramble of packing. I remember making plans for places for the kids to stay until they would join us in Dallas. I remember putting my clothes in a suitcase not really paying attention to what I packed. And I remember standing in the kitchen saying goodbye to Lincoln. I think that was the hardest. And later we drove out of town, not knowing when we would be back. We were nervous and anxious, but so hopeful.

It's seems hard to believe that it has been almost a year since Anne Marie was born. For me it just feels like time has been standing still. In this past year there have been births, and deaths, weddings, and graduations, birthdays and holidays,  the end of a school year and the start of a new one, and yet sometimes I feel as if life is going on and I'm still in the same place. So, it's been hard. And it's really hard even to explain or describe -- so many emotions and memories. And so many questions.

Not long ago, during one of these times of questioning, I was walking on the trail in our neighborhood listening to a message by Nancy Guthrie. I've read several of her books over the past year and they have been so helpful. Nancy's message was on suffering, more specifically what Jesus thinks about suffering. So many things from her message stood out to me, but she said one thing at the very beginning that really hit home. She was speaking about the loss of her first baby, Hope, and she said, "Nothing could have prepared me for the emptiness that her death left behind in my life." That's how I felt walking along that trail. Empty. Just so empty.

I kept walking and listening and I heard the best message on suffering that I have ever heard. Nancy talked about the questions that were going through her mind after she lost her infant daughter, Hope, and then a few years later, her infant son, Gabe. They were the same questions I had. And I imagine the same questions so many others have during times of suffering.

I have struggled so much lately with God's plan for me. I have wondered how losing Anne Marie could be God's perfect plan for me. I have wondered why after hoping and praying so long for a baby, God would give us a baby girl who we would have to give up. I have wondered why Anne Marie had to endure so much pain.

As I listened to Nancy's message she gave biblical examples of what Jesus thinks about suffering and she referred to passages I have read hundreds of times, but seemed to be hearing for the first time. And then she talked about the question that I have struggled with the most. She says:
I remember reading in the midst of my grief, somewhere, that God was sad with me. And I really struggled with that because I thought to myself, "Well, He doesn't have to be sad. I mean He's the one who had the power to change things." I think this is the wall that so many of us who believe in God's sovereignty run into, don't we? And it hurts. We think, "God if you are powerful enough to have done things differently, if you are really in charge of this world, how can I believe that you are sad with me if you could have given Hope and Gabe long and healthy lives if you had wanted to?" Have you ever hit that wall of confusion about God and His purposes and His power in your life.

In the lowest part of my grief and in the midst of these questions looming in my heart and mind I came across this verse, Hebrews 5: 7-9. And it was like a doorway opened up where I had hit that wall. It says, "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him."

When I read that Jesus offered up prayers to the Father with loud cries and tears I could relate to that because I had so many tears that needed to come out. And it helps me to know that Jesus understands what that feels like. It helps me to know that Jesus does not dismiss suffering. To think about suffering like Jesus is not to dismiss it and say it doesn't matter or that it shouldn't hurt. Jesus is not rushing you, telling you you need to just get over it. Secondly, here is Jesus, and if ever anybody ever deserved to have his prayers answered in the affirmative by God, it should be Jesus, right? And here is a picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane pouring out his repeated requests to His father, asking Him to save Him from death on the cross, and God says no. It helps me to know that Jesus knows what it feels like to bring your heartfelt passionate prayer to God and hear God say, "I've got something else in mind. I have another plan, and that plan includes suffering." Because I have wrestled with God's plan for my life and it helps me to know that Jesus wrestled with the plan for His life, even as He submitted to it.

Have you cried out to God in frustration about how He could have the power to heal and yet choose not to heal the one that you love? Have you agonized in your effort to reconcile your understanding of a sovereign, loving God with the one who allowed the accident, the abuse? I have. . .  But I'm here to tell you that when you groan because there are no words for how deeply you hurt, and when you cry out to God with hot tears and you agonize over His plan that has caused you pain, Jesus understands. He understands what it's like to cry out to the Father, who has the power to make another way, but chooses not to.
I still have a lot to learn about suffering, sovereignty, and submission. I am still taking baby steps and sometimes steps backwards. But slowly, God is teaching me what He thinks about suffering, something that conforms all of us more to the image of Christ.

You can listen to the entire message here. You won't be sorry, and I imagine that, like me, you'll listen to it more than once.


  1. Vanessa Hart10:16 PM

    Thank you, Susie. That was exactly what I needed to hear tonight - at a time when I'm so weary from all the suffering.

  2. Great words Susie! I know every day is hard missing your baby girl but this time of year especially so I would imagine! Lifting you up!

  3. I, too, am grateful for Nancy's ministry.Praying for you in this season.

  4. I love you Susie. I'm praying for you too, you and your family. Thanks for sharing your heart.


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