The Sweetness of Suffering, by Kylie Machacek

If you are old enough to read this post, it is no news to you that trials are inevitable in our lives on this side of heaven.  Although we will encounter much distress and discomfort during our earthly lives, throughout the Bible we see God painting a picture of hope with broad brushstrokes of bright pigment. The joy we receive when we persevere through difficult times far outweighs the suffering.  Just as God bestows a crown of beauty from our ashes (Is. 61:3), He brings sweetness from suffering.

Many Christians read the word “suffering” and they are filled with fear or indignancy.  However, suffering can simply be defined as trials, distress, or hardship, all of which we encounter almost daily. We can experience these trials in many areas of our lives– health challenges, financial constraints, sour relationships, mental strongholds, persecution of faith, grief, and etc.

A marked experience of suffering in my life was in 2011.  I gave birth to a beautiful, sandy-haired baby boy who lived only 5 hours.  He passed away in my arms.  There was nothing I could do to turn away from the suffering of grief– no turning back, no do-over. I tried to resist it, but I had to trudge my way right through it.

I remember the ensuing moments so well– weeping on my bedroom floor, screaming in my parked car, and letting the tears roll onto my pillow at night. But in these moments of deepest pain when I felt so alone, the Lord was so near.  He revealed Himself to me in ways He never had before or has since. I could physically feel His nearness.  And I experienced the truth of Psalm 34:18 –  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.” His words, His presence, His understanding and compassion all changed me and restored hope to my heart.

It was during this time of suffering that the most miraculous thing happened– my faith grew. What a paradox! My greatest loss became my greatest gain?  Absolutely. God invites us to draw near to Him no matter the season.  But in times of distress when our hearts feel pressed, He makes His nearness known. He seems to lean in closer waiting for us to experience His love and comfort in greater measure.

We find in scripture three defining passages that describe the sweetness that can result from trials and suffering. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says that suffering comes to prove whether our faith is genuine.  God already knows whether or not our faith is genuine; therefore, hardships reveal to US if we believe who God says He is and if we trust Him fully. We could say it another way– trials are the “litmus test of our faith.”

James 1:3 says the same thing– trials test our faith– and even is bold enough to say that we should “count it all joy” when we encounter hardship. So when you're worried and can't sleep and begin to count your blessings instead of sheep (as the song says), James is telling you to add your current trial to the list.  What a perspective shift! But we must keep the end in mind– James continues by saying that these hardships test our faith which produces hypomonē  (a Greek word meaning patient endurance or perseverance), and this hypomonē works in you so you “may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” THIS is the blessing we count.

Romans 5:3-5 reiterates these truths by telling us to “glory in tribulations” for they produce, again, hypomone. However, this scripture says hypomonē produces character and character produces hope.  Now, I can hope for a million dollars tomorrow and chances are, I will be greatly disappointed.  But verse 5 says that this hope that results from persevering through suffering is a hope that “does not disappoint.”  This means our hopes will be shifted and shaped to be placed in something assured and certain.  When the world offers no guarantees, God willingly promises His.

In fact, God promises that ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).  The Greek word for “work together” in this scripture is synergeō which is where we get the word “synergy” from. Synergy is when two or more things interact to produce an exponentially greater effect than they would have on their own.  This verse is a promise that God is taking all the seasons of your life– triumphs and trials, success and suffering– to produce something immeasurably more than you could ever ask, hope, or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).