Rejoicing Through Suffering

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My blog post this week just didn’t quite come together. So, I decided to post something from Matt Chandler that I thought was powerful. I took this quote from a Matt Chandler book, which you can get here. This is a powerful portion of the book where he talks about rejoicing through suffering. Chandler writes:

“One day when my son, Reid, was just a little over one year old, I went home from the office in the middle of the day to surprise my wife for lunch.  My wife’s a blogger, and she was working on a new post that day. When I show up, Reid’s upstairs napping.  Lauren asks me to read what she’s written before she posts it, so I sit down to give it a look.  And while we’re sitting there reading and just catching up, I hear Reid upstairs.

He’s not able to get out of his crib yet, of course, but something up there just sounds … wrong.  I don’t know if you can understand that if you’re not a parent, but if you are, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.  You get used to certain sounds of stirring, crying, turning over.  You know which silence is normal and which isn’t.  And this time, something just doesn’t sound right. So I say that. I say, “What is that?”

Lauren heads upstairs.  I sit down at the computer to finish reading her blog post.  As I’m scanning through her post, I hear her scream like I’ve never heard her scream before.  She’s screaming at the top of her lungs – and she’s running down the stairs, carrying my son, who’s in a full-on seizure, turning blue and gasping for air.  He’s trying to breathe, but he can’t.

I take Reid from her, set him down on the ground, try talking to him, try to get him to snap out of it, and Lauren starts dialing 9-1-1.  The fire department is literally a block from our house, so I hear them, while my wife’s on the phone with them, fire up the siren and start the short drive to my house.

I turn Reid on his side.  I don’t know if he’s living or if he’s dying, but the ambulance gets there right away, and the paramedics push me out of the way and start working on him. Then they hustle Reid outside and put him in the back of the ambulance. They turn to Lauren and me and say, “Only one of you can ride in the ambulance.”

Now, I don’t know how it works in your house, but we didn’t even have a discussion about that.  We didn’t say, “Well, what do you think?  Do you want to go?”  My wife just gets in the ambulance.  She doesn’t even turn around.  She doesn’t look at me.  She doesn’t nod.  She just gets in the ambulance, and the paramedics tell me, “Follow us.”

So I run and get in my car.  The paramedics shut the ambulance door.  Boom, and they’re gone.  I don’t know what hospital they’re going to.  I quickly start my car and tear off after them, and I keep up with them for maybe about the first mile.  They’ve got a siren, remember, and I don’t.  So it doesn’t take long for me to get cut off and for us to get separated.

I don’t know where I’m going.  I don’t know where they are going.  I can’t get Lauren to answer her cell phone.  And I don’t know if my one-year-old son is about to die. How do you rejoice then?  Because God is not saying through Paul, “Rejoice when everything’s going well.”  He said, “Rejoice always.”  “Always” includes when they put your son in the back of an ambulance.  Or when you get put in there yourself. Rejoice in the Lord.  Always.  And again I say, rejoice.

We need help then, don’t we?  I want to rejoice always, but I need help on the day I’m stuck at a stoplight, my son and wife are gone, I have no idea where to go, I don’t know if he’s going to make it – how in the world could I possibly rejoice?  Because as out-of-the normal as those situations are for many of us, they are still real-life situations right?….That day when the ambulance disappeared out of my sight, knowing that God is God – that nothing is too difficult for Him, that His love and His sovereignty are real – was my foundation.  When my heart and mind wanted to go to every plausible reason why despair made sense, the fact that nothing is too hard for God became my reason, my rationality.

This is why the mature Christian is reasonable.  Because, as Paul says, “the Lord is near,” even in a desperate situation like the one I described.  Because in that moment, here’s what I had at the ready: the knowledge that the God of the universe, the God who rescued and saved me, is not Himself powerless at all in that moment, is not at all surprised or shocked by that moment, is not reeling one bit or trying to figure out what to do in that moment.

The God of the Bible is not an ambulance driver who shows up after the wreck and hops out and thinks, Okay, let’s do some triage here.  The God of the Bible does not show up after the accident and try to fix it.  That’s not what He does.

He’s there.  He knows. And on that day, the Lord was near, and my son’s life was not too difficult for Him to save.  He could be trusted with my son.  Reid was and is His.  My wife is His.  My daughters are His.  I am His.

My prayer, then, is, “Lord help me rejoice in You in this moment.  Because I know you are in control.  I know You love me; I know You love my family.  And I don’t understand what You’re doing, and I don’t know how things are going to work out.  But help me to acknowledge that if I have You, I have everything.”

My prayer in that moment, seeking joy in all circumstances, is similar to Job’s – “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” Job 13:15) – and Jehosephat’s – “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron. 20:12).

Now, let me be very clear, because I’m not trying to make this whole exercise stupid.  I didn’t sit in my car with an idiot grin on my face, saying, “Well, I’m glad the Lord’s here, and this is great!  Rejoice in the Lord always; and again, I say rejoice!”

That wasn’t happening.  That’s what we might call an unreasonable theology.  God is not glorified when you act happy about horrific things. He’s glorified when, in the deepest possible pain you experience, you still find a way to say, “I trust You.  Help me, because my heart is failing in my chest.  Help me!  My son is Yours.  His soul is Yours.  His life is Yours.  You loaned him to me for Your good to begin with.  And I know I’m supposed to hold him loosely, and if you take him home, he’s Yours…but I’d like to keep him.”…

In the end, all turned out well with my son.  But in those moments when joy is hard to come by, I go back to that painful, desperate day.  And I use my imagination like this:  I see the Lord in that ambulance with my son.  I see the Lord caring for my wife, calming my wife, and giving peace to my wife.  I see His glory filling that ambulance with infinite power.  Regardless of how it might have ended, I see God as fully in control and fully loving in that moment.”

Picture from here

 

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