Arriving home from Sasha's and my morning constitutional, I noticed a small change in the front garden. A mere few days into the harsh month of February, several crocuses had poked their heads above ground. Really? It's been a very cold couple of weeks here in Maryland, with snow dustings and harsh winds more frequent than not. I had to admire the tenacity of those little flowers. In the middle of winter, no end in sight, they were on the move.
Last month I announced my plan for this winter's Dogwood Digests. I was going to write a series of articles on the conversations Jesus had with women, to coincide with the release of my book. Great plan, but it was my plan, not God's. The very next day after posting my agenda, our little grandson Joseph was born, seven weeks early. He was one very sick baby, and among his many overwhelming immediate health concerns came a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Life came to a screeching halt.
Since that day, our existence has been a blur of childcare, support, and prayer for Joseph's brothers and parents. We have agonized with his struggle to stay alive and with the enormity of what lies ahead. We are smack in the middle of a metaphoric winter, no question.
Suffering is a part of the Christian existence. We are usually surprised when difficult circumstances arrive, because we generally expect God will protect us from such things. But the Bible assures us they will be a constant companion. In Romans 8, Paul wrote: "If indeed we suffer with Him..." That conditional statement is first class indicative in the Greek, which means that the condition is assumed by Paul to be true. Paul is only echoing what Jesus told his disciples: "In this world youwill have trouble" (John 16:33, emphasis mine). Paul's word for suffering goes beyond persecution to include general suffering, like illness, personal loss, hunger, financial reverses, and even death.
We follow in the steps of a suffering Savior. Our journey in his footsteps will involve suffering as well.
Paul provides three rays of light in Romans 8 that will make those dark days bearable. His first point: what we suffer, when compared to its resulting glory, will one day seem insignificant. God is using difficult circumstances to refine us and draw us closer to him. "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison," he later wrote. At present, I would in no way qualify what our family is facing as "light" or "momentary"! Yet in comparison to what lies ahead, that's exactly how I will understand it someday. The glory will be worth it all.
Second, Paul reminds us to remember the suffering will someday end. "We groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly...for in hope we have been saved." Knowing the pain is not eternal, but merely temporary, furnishes a light at the end of our dark tunnel. Our hope is in the day when "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain." (Revelation 21:4) There is an end in sight.
Finally, Paul reminds us that we do not travel the path of suffering alone. "In the same way, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness..." God is carrying us through the suffering, providing strength and comfort. Who better to accompany us on our journey than someone who has already been there? We can be confident not only of his power, but in his ability to truly understand.
All three principles Paul lists in Romans 8 are suggestions of where to fix our gaze while suffering. They allow us to see things with an eternal perspective. Note Paul barely mentions the circumstances themselves. Nor does he mention how we feel or what we do. The focus is on God, his purposes, and his promises.
Keeping perspective is how we can poke our heads through the frozen ground of winter and find hope to sustain us in the dark.
"For I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day." 2 Timothy 1:12