Pressing on through suffering
We are never sure when suffering and great difficulty are just around the corner, yet we have a sure hope in Jesus that cannot be taken away
Toward the beginning of perhaps Paul’s most intimate epistle we find these verses: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4 ESV). The main idea here, and indeed a main theme in 2 Corinthians, is that Christians who have been comforted by God during their darkest hours can comfort others.
When my wife Kate and I, along with our two-year-old daughter Audrey, left for Japan in 2015, we weren’t sure at all what our new life would entail. Kate grew up as the daughter of missionaries in Japan, but she had not yet lived here as an independent adult. Our first year was marked by the typical stresses and challenges of missionary life. We often felt the ironic internal conflict of grieving our losses while at the same time enjoying the new path that we were walking.
Around a year in, however, we found ourselves in a whirlwind. Following the birth of our second daughter Analeigh, Kate experienced a severe recurrence of post-partum depression (PPD). Soon after the onset of PPD, she experienced a debilitating migraine and the loss of most of the vision in her right eye. She went back to the US for two weeks, with our newborn, to get her eye treated. While they were gone, Audrey became ill, but no one knew what was wrong.
By the time they returned from the US, Audrey couldn’t walk and was moaning in pain. We took her to the clinic again and were quickly referred to the hospital for admission. A spinal tap showed that Audrey had bacterial meningitis. Then, the next day, an MRI showed that she had a three-centimeter solid mass behind her eyes. I broke down at this point. I called my parents in America, sobbing as I delivered the news.
This began a seven-week hospitalization for Audrey. Throughout that time we had someone constantly with her. She was on an IV for six of the seven weeks. I spent most nights on the hospital cot beside her bed in case her IV stopped working.
Physical, emotional, and spiritual fatigue set in, yet Jesus walked with us through those dark weeks. We asked thousands of people to pray. Audrey went on to make a full recovery from the bacterial meningitis, and the solid mass simply disappeared. They had transferred her to a specialist university hospital to biopsy the mass, but by then there was nothing to biopsy. Months later, after four eye injections, Kate also regained around 95% of her vision in her right eye.
There are, of course, many more details, but a few years later, we have been amazed how God continues to use our experience of persevering—with the Spirit’s strength—through that experience. We continue to have opportunities to minister to others who are going through, or who have been through, seasons of pain. There were no guarantees that the Lord would heal my wife and daughter at all, much less completely. Yet we asked in faith, knowing that he could do those things. Still, it wasn’t the hope in temporary earthly blessings that helped us through that dark time. We were instead encouraged by the sure resurrection hope in scripture that we had previously embedded deep in our hearts.
Paul goes on to write in 2 Cor. 4:17-18, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Often during that time of illness, the only thing that enabled us to trudge forward was the knowledge that at the end of this life, heaven and earth will be made new. Jesus will crush death, the final enemy, and will wipe away all tears. So we could press on.
And now we continue to press on, as long as the Lord gives us the ability to continue. Be comforted with the same comfort we had in our suffering: Jesus has come, he is with us, and he will come again!