Stepping outside, I felt the coolness of a beautiful spring morning, where the birds are singing a beautiful tune as the sun rises over the trees, bringing everything to life. I decided to load my bike into my car and take it to a quiet, country road not far from my home. As I rode, I noticed a chipmunk cross the road, an eagle soaring up above, the smells of blooming wildflowers, and the world around me starting to wake up. This was my kind of morning.
Perhaps you’ve never experienced the hills of Missouri on a bike with the wind coming against you, but as my ride continued, I was wearing out. Cresting the top of a small hill, I stopped for minute to catch my breath. And in that moment, I looked back only to see the constant ups and downs of my recently traveled path. Looking to what lay ahead of me, the small hills and valleys continued for miles. As I finished my ride, I reflected on that moment while hearing the beautifully recorded lyrics, “You’re God of the hills and valleys, and I am not alone,” echoing through my headphones.
My ride came on the heels of a life-changing experience. Over the past several years, suffering has presented itself in my life more than I ever would have anticipated. Injury seemed to pull a dream from underneath my feet, death stole my best friend, a feeding tube sustained me while silently speaking a shame I still fall into at times, the job I thought would jumpstart my career was terminated, my closest relationships were altered, and phrases you don’t want to hear wedged themselves into my story. Two months ago, I could not even think about taking this ride. And looking back at the road, I realized the beauty created in the midst of suffering.
I Believe, but . . .
In Mark 9, we hear a father cry, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24). What does this sound like to you? To me, it sounds like desperation—a cry that brings one to their knees, not knowing what else to do. The days seem agonizing as you wait for change. God seems silent, even absent. And we start to question if he even hears our cries at all. Have you been there? Have you ever been like David where you wanted to cry out, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1).
Trust me, you are not alone. I’ve been there too. At times, we who are Christians can be disillusioned by comfort. We are taught to say that everything is “fine.” Rather than finding our comfort in the Lord, we search for it in our feelings or current circumstances. When a situation isn’t changing, we find ourselves thinking that we don’t have enough faith or that we’re living in a way that is keeping God from working. This is a lie, and we must seek the truth in this.
Christ approached the garden of Gethsemane in agony, knowing that his purpose was about to be fulfilled. In desperation, he asked the Lord to take this cup from him. Do you see it? Even our perfect Savior agonized over the struggle. Praying so fervently, drops of blood fell from his face. He was hurting. He went to the Father in his anguish.
On my knees, I’ve gone to the Father in desperation. Anger. Brokenness. Despair. Loneliness. Sadness. You name it. But even in my hurt, there has been comfort. Honesty with God is an awesome experience. It’s okay to be angry, to express how you feel. It’s okay to admit that something doesn’t feel “okay.” And in the midst of these honest, raw conversations come the most beautiful realizations life has to offer.
Check out the response of Christ at the end of this prayer in Mark. At the beginning he’s crying in desperation to the Lord. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” And then . . . are you ready? “Yet, not what I will, but what you will” (14:36).
Can you imagine the difficulty of this prayer? I can tell you that when troubles come, that isn’t the first thought that comes to my mind. But in the raw honesty of Christ, there is surrender. The unbelief is shadowed by an unshakeable trust that God is at work in the present circumstance. The intensity of our emotions is shattered by the foundational truth that “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). And when we get to this point—when our white-knuckled fists become open hands of surrender—growth can happen, and the pain we once felt is overwhelmed with a hope beyond our comprehension.
Don’t Be Surprised
I remember sitting alone on a rock wall overlooking the Mississippi River. Lost in a trance staring across the state line, the words “I don’t get it” flowed out of my mouth. I was reading a book called Uninvited, and the questions that flooded my mind filled the words of the page.
“Will I trust that God sees and knows things I don’t? Will I trust him when I don’t understand? When circumstances are hard? When people betray or reject me? When my heart gets broken? Will I trust him to the point where I fully turn the control of my life and those I love over him?”
These questions were more real now as I was facing the most difficult season of my life. Every experience of suffering in my life has produced its own reaction, shining a light on where my heart is in that season. Although we pray to know more of who God is, it’s difficult to see beyond what is in front of us. Truth that these circumstances are good for us is washed away by the pain and sorrow of the present.
Following the questions from Uninvited, Lysa Terkeurst reminds us, “If God is good and God is good to me, then I must fill in all the gaps of the unknowns of my life with a resounding statement of trust: God is good at being God.” And in my suffering, this statement has been a booming anthem of hope.
In 1 Peter 4 we are reminded, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (vv. 12, 13). Suffering looks different to all of us, but one thing we can focus on is this. Our sovereign Lord rules over all of humanity. Even Christ wasn’t surprised at the most brutal form of suffering he faced because he knew that there was a greater purpose in the pain. And in that pain, we are reminded that our “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). So, in this, I find my rest. In this, I find my hope. And in this, I rejoice in my sufferings, knowing that my sovereign Creator is worth every single second.
Kelly Stutler is a native of Milan, Indiana, currently residing in Hannibal, Missouri. She enjoys outdoor activities and spoiling the beautiful children that are a part of her life as she pursues the mission of the gospel.