Loving Louise: Thoughts from a Fellow Sufferer

Rose from Brier

Amy Carmichael was an invalid the last twenty years of her missionary life.  She wrote Rose from Brier – a collection of thoughts 7-13-10 The Garrique roses 9and lessons from one sufferer to another.  She understood suffering – it was her lot in life for over twenty years.

I have been reading this book and sharing some of the wonderful poetry and thoughts with Louise as she continues her fight with cancer.  Maybe these words will bless and encourage others who are suffering.

My grace is sufficient

From chapter 3 in the book:

“Hardly a life that goes deep but has tragedy somewhere within it; what would such do without Job?  And who could spare from his soul’s hidden history the great words spoken to St. Paul, My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness?  Such words lead straight to a land where there is gold, and the gold of that land is good.

I shall come forth as gold

Gold – the word recalls Job’s affirmation, When He hath tried me I shall come forth as gold; and St. Peter’s The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire;  and the quiet word in Malachi, He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.  I have often thanked God that the word is not gold there, but silver.  Silver is of little account in the East, and we feel more like silver than gold.  But He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, so who need fear?

How do you know when it is purified?   Melting_crucible.jpg large

This picture of the Refiner is straight from Eastern life.  The Eastern goldsmith sits on the floor by his crucible.  For me, at least, it was not hard to know why the Heavenly Refiner had to sit so long.  The heart knows its own dross.  Blessed be the love that never wearies, never gives up hope that even in such poor metal He may at last see the reflection of His face.  “How do you know when it is purified?” we asked our village goldsmith.  “When I can see my face in it,” he answered.”

Can others see Christ in us, even in our sufferings?

Maintain a constant victory

This poem is from a beginning chapter titled ‘The Rose’

Before the winds that blow do cease,
Teach me to dwell within Thy calm;
Before the pain has passed in peace,
Give me, my God, to sing a psalm.
Let me not lose the chance to prove
The fullness of enabling love.
O Love of God, do this for me:
Maintain a constant victory.

Before I leave the desert land
For meadows of immortal flowers,
Lead me where streams at Thy command
Flow by the borders of the hours,
That when the thirsty come, I may
Show them the fountains in the way.
O Love of God, do this for me:                                                                                                                                                                                                          Maintain a constant victory.

crucible picture credit:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Melting_crucible.jpg

The Silent Suffering of Miscarriage

There was an eerie stillness in the exam room as the technician and doctor firmly moved the ultrasound transducer against my distended abdomen.  The duo pressed and prodded before exchanging a knowing look.  The doctor gently told me to get dressed Paton in Dumfries and Torthorwald (40) and that they would get my husband who was in the waiting room.

This is no longer a viable pregnancy

 “I’m so sorry but we can’t find the baby’s heartbeat. This is no longer a viable pregnancy.”  Surely this doctor was mistaken.  Wasn’t this the little boy we had prayed and hoped for?

But deep in my soul I knew.  I was 20 weeks into my pregnancy but something seemed wrong; I had not felt the little fluttering movements of the baby for several days now.

Like countless other women before and after me, I had suffered a miscarriage.

I was sent home for a few days to see if my body would expel the baby on its own, but it didn’t.  I was not given the choice of delivering the baby but was scheduled for a D & C.  God must have blocked my understanding of what that involved for it wasn’t until years later, when the sorrow was less acute, that I understood that I could have delivered the baby and maybe even held him.

Silent suffering of miscarriage

A number of friends and family have recently miscarried.  In my child-bearing years miscarriage was a topic people rarely spoke about.  A woman’s suffering was silent and personal and few dared to cross those barriers to speak with her about her loss.

But I was blessed.  My miscarriage occurred when another family was spending a few days with us.  The wife had suffered both miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy.  She shared her grief and experiences and allowed me to share mine.  She encouraged me with kindness, sympathy, prayer and with scriptures that had helped her.

A dear friend and sister in Christ lost a daughter halfway through the pregnancy and twins later the same year.  I asked her if she would share with me things that were both helpful and not so helpful as people learned of her sorrow.  I have combined her suggestions with my own to hopefully give a few ways of ministering to a woman who has suffered a miscarriage.

Helpful things

  • Both my friend and I went to hospital alone; she delivered her daughter and I had a D & C.  I would have liked to have someone with me during that time.  I felt very alone and was still coming to grips with my loss.
  • Ask if your friend she wants company.  Some will need a time of quiet reflection to grow accustomed to no longer being pregnant while others want someone there right away so they do not isolate themselves and mentally plunge into ‘a dark place.’
  • Remember we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
  • Sometimes the best thing you can do is hold your friend’s hand while she cries.
  • Reading the Psalms and crying as I read was therapeutic for me.  Gentle hymns playing quietly in the background helped keep my mind fixed on eternal things.
  • The book Safe in the Arms of God by John MacArthur is a good resource for those who lose a child through miscarriage or untimely death.  In 1 Samuel 12 King David says that he will go to his child who died.  We understand that to mean that young children go to heaven when they die and we will meet them there someday.
  • Offer to take any older children overnight so the couple can spend some time grieving together.
  • Give your friend a journal so she can record her thoughts, prayers, poems, and comforting Scriptures and hymns as she progresses through the grieving process.
  • Just because someone is a strong Christian doesn’t mean there is no pain.  We sorrow, but not as those who have no hope.
  • Remember that it takes time for the woman to return to her pre-pregnancy hormones.  Tears, sadness (but not suicidal thoughts,) extra sensitivity and soreness may be expected as the hormones regulate.  Call your doctor and ask for help if there is concern about depression, prolonged discharge, or other signs that the body is not returning to normalcy or if you have any other medical concerns.
  • Send flowers, a card, an e-card, or a note expressing your genuine sorrow for the loss.
  • Prepare a meal and ask if you can bring it by today.   Or tell them you are thinking of them and you will be stopping by at a convenient time for them with their favorite coffee etc. Arrange for some friends to clean house or run errands if your friend is supposed to be on rest for a while.  When you stop by to leave something ask if they want company then.
  • Be careful when you remind your friend of Scriptural promises.  While it is true that all things do work together for good to them that love God, your use of this or similar scriptures can come across as trite or flippant if you are not careful.

Not-so-helpful things

  • Don’t assume that the wife is the only one who feels the pain of miscarriage. Husbands grieve over miscarriage too.  They may have had hopes or dreams for the little one or begun to plan for all that’s involved in adding another member to the family.  Men may or may not want to share how the miscarriage has impacted them, but it’s good to give them an opportunity to talk out it.
  • Don’t ignore the fact that the family has suffered loss.  Platitudes such as, “You’ll get over this.” “Cheer up! You’re young and can have more.” “You already have (blank) children so it doesn’t really matter.” “You should be over this by now.”  “Well that’s not so bad.  My sister (friend, mother, etc.) had something far worse happen to her!” “Whose fault was it, yours or your husband’s?” are NOT helpful and show an insensitive spirit.
  • Don’t say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.”  Rarely does the person feel the liberty to take you upon such a vague offer.
  • Be sensitive to your friend’s need for rest.  Don’t stay for an hour if she’s only up to a 10 minute visit.
  • Let the bereaved talk about the baby.  Use the baby’s name if the family had picked a name.  Don’t act as if the baby never existed.
  • Don’t take it personally if you learn the sad news from someone other than your friend.  This is not a popularity contest to see who gets the news first.  This is no time for hurt feelings, idle curiosity, or insensitive comments.

Gaping wounds and scars

Losing a child is like receiving a gaping wound.  At first the wound is swollen, red and tender.  You can barely touch it without pain.  Slowly the wound heals and is not as sensitive.  As time passes the pain of miscarriage subsides, but as with a wound, there will always be a scar to remind you of the painful experience.

It is well with my soul

I love the sentiment of my friend who has chosen to see the loving hand of God in the midst of her sorrow.  “The bottom line is that I’m so thankful that despite this (loss of three babies in a year) I can still have hope because of all that I have in Christ. It certainly doesn’t mean that there’s no pain. Quite the contrary is true… but it is well with my soul because I trust in His unwavering love and in His perfect plan for my life. In this world are many trials and tribulations but Christ has overcome the world. And praise God that I am in Him!!”

Hardships: A Biblical Response to the Difficulties in Life

Over the next few weeks I will be posting the sessions I recently presented to the pastors’ wives at the National Church Planters’ Conference in Mentor Ohio, sponsored by ARCH Ministries.  These sessions were adapted from my ladies’ Sunday School series on Biblical Womanhood created for Meadowlands Baptist Church of Edmonton.

Session 1 – Hardships:  A Biblical Response to the Difficulties in Life

Ever had one of those days when everything seems to go wrong?  How about a week, or a month, or a year?  Ever ask, “Why me?” Ever think God was dealing harshly with you? We need to stop and ask ourselves, “What is the main purpose of a Christian’s life?”  I Corinthians 10:31 tells us it is to bring glory to God. We tend to lose sight of this when bringing glory to God involves some hardship, suffering, difficulty or problem in my life.  God’s intention is to order each part of our lives for our good and His glory, sometimes especially through difficulties.

Hardships come to us in many forms.

  • The doctor gently explains that you have miscarried the eagerly prayed for child.
  • A fire erupts in your home causing damage and your insurance policy does not cover the loss.
  •  You relocate the entire family far from friends and family to a place that is strange to then several months later your position is eliminated due to a downturn in the economy.
  •  A young son is seriously ill with a mysterious malady and physicians hurry in and out of his hospital room applying various treatments but nothing seems to be working.
  • Your Mom is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and you helplessly watch as the person you know and love is closed off from you.
  • Cancer with its cruel gobbling growth snatches a beloved sister from you.
  • Co-workers in ministry who imagine an injustice begin whispering against you to others.
  • You spend a great deal of time and energy biblically counseling a troubled lady in your church, yet she does not implement the counsel and instead bitterly complains to others that you are harsh and unloving.
  • Seriously struggling with spiritual issues, your daughter seems unable to find peace in her life.

Difficulties of various types do come to us all.

Believers sometimes falsely think that because they are Christians they should lead problem-free lives. There is even a theology espoused by some that Christians who are walking with God will be blessed with good health and financial plenty.  According to this “health and wealth” or “name it and claim it” philosophy, believers should lead a trouble free existence.  But these Christians are soon conflicted by the reality that difficulties come to all Christians, no matter how committed or godly we may think we are.  Proponents of this theology tell us that all we need to do is pray more, or believe more, or work more, or give more to have a prosperous  and trouble free life.  The problem, according to their teaching, is that believers with troubles do not have enough faith to reach the higher ground of a blessed life.

But this teaching does not line up with the teaching of the Bible. We are specifically told in 2 Timothy 3:12 that believers suffer (All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.) The apostle Paul spoke of his trials in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me), while the sufferings of the sinless Lord Jesus Himself are mentioned in 1 Peter 2:23 (Who, when he (Christ) was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.)

We may ask, “Is difficulty in my life a sign of God’s judgement?”  It is always good to bow in prayer before God and ask Him if our troubles are due to some sin in our lives. Sometimes troubles in life are punishment or chastening for our disobedience or sin. As we pray we may know within our hearts that there is something specific wrong between ourselves and God.  Or our prayers may reveal something we did not recognize previously as sinful thoughts, actions, or desires.

The children of Israel were required to wander in the wilderness for forty years because they did not believe God when He told them to conquer the lands He had promised them.  Jonah brought near calamity upon an entire shipload of people when in disobedience to God he listened to God’s directions and purposely ran the opposite way.  When Lot’s wife defied God’s command and longingly looked back at Sodom, God took her life.

Yet we are given numerous examples from the Bible of godly people who suffered.

  • Job was the most righteous man on earth, yet in spite of that fact he suffered the loss of ten children, all of his wealth, his health, and the good opinion of his friends.
  • Joseph was a godly man who ran from temptation and conducted himself with integrity yet he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, falsely accused by his employer’s wife, and left to languish in prison.
  • David was a man after God’s own heart but after he was anointed by Samuel to be king of Israel he became the target of King Saul’s murderous attentions.  In all of his interactions with Saul David took care not to “lift my hand against the Lord’s anointed”, ( 1 Samuel 26:9) yet Saul repeatedly attempted to kill David.

None of these biblical examples were suffering because of wrong doing.  Rather, our loving Father was perfecting these believers through hardships and giving future generations of believers an example of godliness to follow. The question, then, is not will we have troubles, but rather, how we respond to these hardships.

What do hardships do for us? There are several positive results of troubles in a believer’s life.  First, we need to learn we are not the ones in control.  Troubles in life direct us to acknowledge that the all-powerful, all-knowing, creator God is in control, not us. When Satan appeared before God to discuss Job, Job was unaware of the unfolding drama that resulted in his trials.  God was the one who had complete control over all which transpired in Job’s life.

  • Philippians 2:13 reminds us, For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
  • Scriptures proclaim that God does what He pleases and receives glory through doing His own will with His creation. (Revelation 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created and Isaiah 46:10, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.  
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us that we do not have control over our own lives.  What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
  • In Genesis 50:20 we catch a glimpse of God’s intentions overriding men’s plans. But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.
  • God is the one in control. Job 23:14 says, For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me.

Second, our sufferings cause us to focus on the attributes of God.

  • Are we suffering physically?  God the Father who sent His only Son to suffer cross-death on our behalf sympathizes with physical suffering of His children.
  • Are we grieving and mourning the loss of a loved one?  There is tender solace and comfort for the bereaved with the Lord.
  • The omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe knows every detail of each of our lives.  He offers peace and mercy and joy and grace in the face of circumstances that buffet and try the soul of the believer.  He longs to sustain and succor the child who casts himself on God.
  • In addition, our sufferings create in us a reflection of these attributes toward others.  Once we have experienced death or illness or the spiritual struggles of a loved one, we can be more patient, more loving, more understanding in our ministry to others. When we respond properly to our troubles others see God in our lives.

Finally troubles make us understand how much more important it is to focus on eternal rather than the earthly things in life.

  • An unexpected death shows us the brevity of life (Psalm  102:11 My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. James 4:14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.)
  • Losses suffered through a natural disaster or an economic downturn remind us that we need to invest in the spiritual, (Colossians 3:2  Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.) rather than the transitory nature of goods (Matthew 6: 19  Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.) and the shallowness (vanity) of depending on riches (Luke 12:19-21   And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.  But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?   So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.)
  • Pain and sickness rob our vitality and self-sufficient sense of well-being. They cause us to more clearly think of the time when we will leave this life and go to be with God in heaven. (2 Corinthians 5:1  For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Corinthians 5:8  We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.)

Will hardships, difficulties, trials, and sufferings come into our lives?  Absolutely!  Our desire in the face of this truth should be to bring glory to God through our responses to these events.  Am I illustrating the attributes of God to a watching world?  Are you?

Suggested reading:

Jim Berg’s When Trouble Comes

Layton Talbert’s Beyond Suffering

Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God Even When Life Hurts

Beneth Peters Jones’ The Wilderness Within