Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner, PhD, RN, serves as the National Director of Nurses Christian Fellowship USA and Editor-in-Chief of JCN.
The author declares no conflict of interest.
The continuing education feature this issue, Entering into Suffering: Becoming a Transformed and Transforming Healer, by Rebecca Gaudino, Barbara Braband, and Anissa Rogers (pp. 16), hits home for nurses. We regularly encounter suffering, whether we are at the bedside, in administration, or teaching.
I suspect many of you reading this have suffered or are suffering—physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Suffering is a part of life. We lament with the ancient prophet Habakkuk:
How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. (Habakkuk 1:2-3, NIV)
Like Habakkuk, I've asked a lot of why questions. Why could I never get pregnant? Why did my brother die at an early age? Why did Hurricane Matthew kill so many and wipe out more of Haiti's infrastructure? Why does someone get cancer? Why can't we alleviate a patient's severe pain? There are no answers to these questions. And no answer will change the fact that suffering happens, and it is awful. It seems the more valid question is: How do we cope with suffering?
I hesitate to write about this topic. I'm not a philosopher or theologian' and I'm limited by one page of text. But I can look to God and his Word. The Bible is a real book about real people who suffered a lot. It teaches principles that help me deal with suffering.
For example, God is faithful through suffering and accomplishes bigger, even better, things than we can imagine. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, who let their father believe he was killed by a ferocious animal (Genesis 37). Years later, Joseph moved into a position of power just under Pharaoh and saved his family during famine (Genesis 45:6-18). God grew the strong nation of Israel through 400 of years of brutal slavery in Egypt (Genesis 12:40-41, 15:13). The most poignant example of suffering and God's greater purpose is Jesus, who suffered to bring about the redemption of the world (Isaiah 53:4, 10-11; John 3:16; Hebrews 2:9).
Another principle: We can learn through suffering. Suffering focuses our attention on God like nothing else; it molds our faith and character in profound ways. James, Christ's brother and leader of the suffering Jerusalem church, wrote, “Consider it pure joy...whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3, NIV). The apostle Peter wrote not to be surprised at suffering, that “those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:12-19, NIV). Suffering can accomplish God's purposes in our lives as we cry out to him and learn to trust and follow him.
Jesus learned what it costs to maintain obedience to God in the midst of great suffering. Because of this, Jesus understands what we go through and he is able to help us (Hebrews 2:18, 4:14-16, 5:8). He is our supreme example of trusting God in suffering.
A final great principle: Pain and suffering will end when God accomplishes the final redemption of the world (Revelation 21). We will see for ourselves that death has been swallowed up in victory (Isaiah 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:50-57)!
Even if I never understand what God is doing in suffering, I've learned he is worthy of my trust. I can agree with Habakkuk's concluding words:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV)
As you face hard things, bring your pain and questions to God. Dig deeper into his Word and prayer. Trust God and learn to hold onto his strength and unfailing love.