I want to suggest two points that relate directly to suffering, and two that do not. First, you learn to suffer well by watching others suffer well. When we weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn we are not merely offering comfort to others, but are receiving instruction from them as well. We can’t do this, however, unless we enter in. If illness makes us uncomfortable, if we refuse to visit His own who are poor or in prison, if we insist on spending our time exclusively in the village of the happy, pleasant people, we will learn precious little. Visit instead the oppressed outside your local abortion mill. Go where the suffering is, and enter in. God has peculiarly blessed me in giving me a beautiful example to witness in my precious bride. As she is assaulted once again with chemo in an attempt to push back her leukemia relapse I watch her both fight and fear. Through it all, however, there is a bedrock trust in her heavenly Father. Seeing her strength, I am strengthened.
Second, practice. When Denise was first diagnosed with leukemia eight months ago some seemed to fear that after battling breast cancer, after it later metastasized to her back, that her stamina in suffering, and that of our family, might somehow run out, as if God grants us a finite amount of faith, and then bleeds it out through suffering. No. Suffering is like a muscle. The more we use it the stronger it gets. Ironically, each time our family suffers some sort of setback my biggest fear isn’t the setback itself, but wondering, “What future hardship is God trying to get me in shape for?”
The first key to suffering well that isn’t directly related to suffering itself is this- we have to know our Bibles. Because the Bible is the autobiography of God what we find there is God revealed. In His relations with us what stands out most is hesed, the Hebrew term for “loyal love.” When we are steeped in a biblical understanding of these twin truths, that God is all-powerful, and that God loves us unchangeably, we enjoy the peace that passes understanding. When we know our Bibles well we know our purpose isn’t ease and comfort, but to be conformed to the image of the Son, which brings me to the last point.
The second key is to know well Jesus. He, the Bible tells us, is a man well acquainted with sorrow. As we have been dealing with Denise’s battle with her leukemia relapse I am constantly turning back to this precious truth- Jesus was here before me. There is nothing we are going through that He hasn’t been through first. Though the famous Footsteps poem surely has it right, that there is only one set of footsteps because He is carrying us, from another perspective there is only one set of footprints because He is walking in front of us, and we walk in His blood stained footprints. If we know Him, then we know that wherever He goes, we want nothing more than to follow. The Valley of the Shadow of Death is both where He walks and is the very pathway to heaven.