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Hard Faith

Schoonover-Shoffner, Kathy

doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000639
Department: Think About It

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.



As nurses, our work is imbedded in suffering. We intentionally encounter pain to help others. Alas, we experience our own hurts. As Christian nurses, we live in the tension between cruel and unjust suffering and faith in a kind and just God. Our faith can be challenged.

The past months I have been living out hard faith. On a perfect October 2018 evening, my husband fell off our garage roof and tumbled onto concrete. Police found him over an hour later, when neighbors called 911, thinking there was a hurt animal in the bushes behind our house. I had observed the garage light on and thought he was tinkering about, as he often did. The fall resulted in what was classified as “severe traumatic brain injury” (TBI). He was not expected to live, then his long-term prognosis was guarded. After months of hospitalization, rehab, and closing his busy medical practice, we are reckoning with an unplanned, difficult life.

I've relentlessly grappled with faith since that fateful evening. I struggle to pray “not my will but Thine be done” (Matthew 26:39). What is this mysterious will of God? Why can't it be what I want? As my husband fights for words and ideas, I wonder: Whydid God allow this? Of course, there are no quick answers to those questions. I eventually decided to let my questions rest, at least for now.

I wrestled with the thought of just drifting in my faith. Like the uncomfortable time right after a fight with a dear friend, I was deeply hurt. I felt God had let me down. Why would I actively pursue him? I decided that's a fair and honest reaction to intense pain. However, the pain will not change, whether I'm walking closely with God or not. But if I walk away, I'll still be miserable, and I won't have God. I concurred with the apostle Peter who, after many of Jesus' disciples turned away, and Jesus asked him, “Do you want to go away as well?” said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69, ESV).

I turned to Hebrews 11, the great text defining faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (v. 1, ESV). The words seemed like a nice platitude, as I watched my lifeless husband for weeks in intensive care. But as I refreshed my memory about the people of God who “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (v. 13), I recalled faith must be lived out over the long haul. Hebrews 11 recalls godly people of authentic faith “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38), who suffered severely and never gave up. There was no causal connection between their suffering and the goodness of God. God remained who he was and is: faithful and good. Furthermore, he brought about what he promised to those people—full relationship with himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the ancients could live their entire lives suffering and not receiving what God had promised (v. 39), could I not keep fighting to remain faithful?

Recently, I was encouraged by 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. The apostle Paul speaks of knowing that God, who raised Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us in his presence. Therefore, we do not become discouraged. We don't look at the temporal seen things, but the everlasting unseen things, the things that are imperishable. I'm struck by how much I put myself at the center of faith and how much I look at the circumstances around me. Jesus calls me to look intensely at him, at eternity. Does getting my eyes off myself change circumstances? Not immediately. But it does put me in a better place to hear Jesus, the One who continues to call me out of the grave.

I've decided it is not faithless to live in the tension between suffering and believing. That tension is the expression of a heart that has met Jesus and longs to go deeper with him.

© 2019 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship