Thump. Thump. Thump. I am in the darkness of my bedroom, trying to sleep, but instead I’m shedding tears over the little jewel of a hummingbird, puffed up, sick and disoriented, hitting his head over and over on the roof of our covered porch. We tried to clear him out, but were unable to convince him the open sky would be better for him. I think to myself – such a small little head… such a hard roof. I don’t think he’ll make it ‘til morning.
For many of us, suffering is hard to accept, even if you believe in God. You can believe in the goodness of God, but can’t accept that he would allow suffering, especially when it involves someone you love. I recently had to grapple with this after my sister found she had a glioblastoma- a rare brain tumor with a poor survival rate. This kind of cancer was not in our family history and the diagnosis came out of the blue, after my sister suffered excruciating headaches.
At first you think maybe prayer will give you a miracle, but as the days pass and all you see is downward progression, you begin to lose hope. Love is a powerful and hopeful thing. You feel it should move mountains, it should do everything- it should heal my sister. Instead, my sister is dying in slow and painful bits. What’s more, there is suffering and injustice everywhere. It’s so common; it’s easy to get numb to it- that is, until it strikes home and close to your heart.
After agonizing with this for some time and feeling like supporting my sister meant I had to feel miserable and suffer myself, everything boiled down to one thing- trusting the person I knew as God. From the lowest depths of despair, I had to ask myself, do I think God is blind to suffering and has no compassion? What makes me arrogantly think God is not doing something about it already, in ways unseen and incomprehensible to me? Why should I impose my will on God, as if it could possibly be better than his own? The God I know is compassionate and loving and cares even about the smallest details in one’s life. I’ve had proof of this countless times in my own life- why should this time be any different?
I came away from these questions with a warmth in my heart and a certainty that God is working his will in my life, in my sister’s life and in the whole world. His will is utterly good and all things are under his control. He allows suffering for reasons that are beyond us, but they are not unloving reasons. It was hard to get past trying to find a reason for my sister’s suffering and just let that go and trust she is in God’s hands. He will work all negative things, even pain and suffering towards good. I may not be able to appreciate how he is doing this, but I can be sure of it, and maybe if I’m open enough, I will eventually see the good being worked.
I am left with a choice then. I can be filled with anger and confusion, maybe even directed towards God himself, and fall into the depths of despair and bitterness, or I can trust in God’s goodness and believe all things are being worked towards a good end, and be filled with hope and joy.
If you know God and have a relationship with him, having hope is not a delusion. It is entrusting my future, my sister’s future and the future of the whole world into the hands of someone who knows better and loves better than I ever could. This doesn’t negate the sadness I feel when I see my sister wasting away from a cruel disease. My task is to endure, to comfort and to look towards my God with hope and love and the sure expectation that his loving will is being carried out. If you can believe that, then everything is well, even at this very moment, even amidst pain and suffering. Being with my sister with this attitude, this belief, has helped both of us much more than my despairing for her ever did. I am grateful to God for teaching me a lesson- a really hard and painful lesson, but a sorely needed, and soul-freeing lesson.