Don't Dismiss Your Suffering
Mert was a friendly, gregarious man who rarely met a stranger. His smile could let up the darkest room. But don’t laugh at his jokes or at him using some funny sounding, obscure vocabulary for something normal – like saying “Indubitably!” instead of “Of course!” – or you would hear it over and over again. And he expected to laugh every time.
And could Mert tell a story. Like the time he picked up his hoped-to-become girlfriend Elsie for their first date…with her name painted in small calligraphy above the driver’s side door handle. Or cool memories of driving stock cars on dirt tracks before he had to get a real job to support his family. Oh, or the time one of his daughters exchanged a tiny pair of false teeth from the 25-cent toy dispenser for his real teeth that soaked in cleaning solution each night; he walked out the next morning dressed for work and made her come find him outside in the car to return them as he chuckled and got the last word.
But he rarely told war stories.
Mert served in WWII and after his death some medals were found to which he had only vaguely referred. I know, because Mert was my dad and I was that daughter. One time I asked him why he didn’t talk about the war. I wanted to hear stories. But he was evasive, saying something about how he “didn’t really do much” like buddies of his who gave their lives for our country. He explained that he “just” drove officers around in France.
He never referenced having to leave his pregnant wife to serve oversees; going week after week aching to hear from home when mail deliverers couldn’t find him; not seeing his first baby until she was months old; dealing with loneliness and fear and shame of feeling like he wasn’t really sacrificing for his country. And he didn’t talk about the times his life was at stake or he did heroic acts that resulted in medals getting pinned onto his uniform because that wasn’t all that important.
Do you ever feel like Mert? Do you compare your sacrifices or suffering to others and feel almost embarrassed about how little you’ve walked through? If you were to stand up and give a testimony about God’s strength and grace in your life would you be thinking the woman who lost her toddler to cancer or the guy who just lost his third job this year must be rolling their eyes at your “suffering?”
I use to feel that way. But about fifteen years ago I started walking through some really hard stuff. Over these years trial after trial has rolled through my life and I’ve discovered something amazing about God: He is there every step of the way. I didn’t need God any more in my 50’s when walking through scary issues with teens than I did in my 40’s when Mom died 17 days after being diagnosed with cancer or than in my 30’s when trials were more of the “aww…our Christmas budget is really low this year” variety. Sadness is sadness and sorrow is sorrow and sleepless nights are sleepless no matter what the causes.
And every sad, sorrowing, exhausted person needs comfort and strength.
I’ll be honest with you. Suffering increases as we age. At 60 I’m facing some weightier things than I did at 25. And I have more people to worry about now. My kids have spouses and kids who go through hard times, friends I’ve known for decades are going through difficulties that affect me, and new people coming into my life and church need prayer and compassion. I’m facing aging and outward decay and those tests old people have to get to rule out (or discover) bad diseases. Everywhere I look (within and without) are evidences of living in a fallen world inhabited by broken people.
But please know that if you’re looking at not having much to give your kids for Christmas this year I’m not rolling my eyes at you. Suffering certainly comes in degrees, but the good news is this: grace doesn’t. Hardships are promised and anyone who says otherwise is lying to you – or to him or her self.
I wish I had known to help Daddy see that while his sacrifice and hardship gratefully didn’t cost him his life (and mine, since I wasn’t born yet) the assignment he was given helped win a war. I hate that he was embarrassed to tell his story because it wasn’t as stirring as someone else’s. I wish he had been more proud of his medals and been eager to tell me stories about how he earned them. It saddens me that he felt he “didn’t do much.”
Do you tend to minimize the difficulties in your life compared to those of others? Does your life seem pretty cushy when you look at the suffering going on in the lives of those you love? Would you hesitate to offer to share your story because there’s really not much to tell?
Then think again. God has been faithful to you. He has brought you through more than you know. His grace is likely one of the reasons why you don’t “feel” like much has happened to you. And as you think about this, know that He’s preparing you for the day when grief or loss or sorrow or shame over sins done by you or against you slap you in the face. He’s with you now and will be with you then.
And please talk about that grace with others. Tell them how he helped you with anxiety about an impending exam or empowered you with courage to share the gospel with someone. Point to how He gave you strength to resist that temptation to lust or poured out the gift of conviction and forgiveness if you gave in. Look for opportunities to tell story after story about how Christ invaded your heart when your parent died, giving you comfort over either the loss of such a prized relationship or the pain of such a complicated one. Speak about how he’s helping you face a frightening illness or the thought of even more years of singleness when you desperately want a family.
Don’t minimize your struggles because that means you won’t tell your story. Don’t think your story is too dull to tell. God’s help is God’s help for whatever reasons it’s needed.
Maybe someday Mert will tell me his. For years I’ve been thinking about him and I enjoying one of our long lunches together. Maybe even one that lasts 100 years. That should give him enough time. On that day we’ll actually both have war stories. I won’t have any from France, but we’ll both have plenty of stories from lives painted by broken dreams, overwhelming disappointments, breathtaking grief, forgiven sins and “trials of various kinds.”
He finished his race. I’m still in mine. But I don’t want to hold back my story. And please don’t hold back yours.