(Happy Birthday to my Mother (Ellen Mae Sndograss Hester – 1925-1999)
Suffering Will Always Change You
Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner
Several years ago, a close friend walked away from faith.
I still remember our last conversation about God, as she told me that he had not come through for her. She had prayed and asked him to change her situation, but things continued to get worse. She asked angrily, “Is this how a good God treats his children?” and went on to list all that God had not done for her, despite her faithfulness. She was tired of doing the right thing because it hadn’t gotten her anywhere.
I understand how my friend felt. I too have had unwritten, unilateral contracts with God where I tried to live a righteous life and in return expected God to bless me by fixing all my problems — especially if I prayed and read the Bible. After I became a Christian as a teenager, I felt sure that God had promised me an easy life and all I had to do was live it.
For years I felt God fulfilled his part, but my confidence eroded after my first miscarriage. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Then a marriage crisis almost undid me, and just as I started healing, our infant son died unexpectedly.
What Suffering Produced in Me
Each time something else went wrong, I begged God to fix it, to take away the pain, to restore things to the way they were. When things kept getting worse, I angrily stopped talking to God, wondering if he was even listening.
I realized, however, like Peter, that there was nowhere to go, because only Jesus had the words of life (John 6:68). I cried out asking God to help me to trust him, to reconnect, and to find hope in what seemed like impenetrable darkness. I needed peace and I couldn’t find it anywhere besides Christ. It was then that my faith radically changed. I found an inexplicable peace and hope that I had not experienced before — my easy trouble-free life had not yielded anything but an enjoyment of the present. But suffering was producing something unshakeable.
Suffering is a catalyst that forces us to move in one direction or another. No one comes through suffering unchanged.
Suffering Always Changes You
Paul says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
Here, the Christian’s suffering will ultimately result in a hope that won’t put us to shame. But we do not go directly from suffering to hope. For some, like my friend, suffering leads to rebellion and anger, crushing their hope, not bolstering it. What’s the difference? Why does suffering increase faith and hope in God for some and destroy it for others?
I’ve pondered that question for years. I am grateful that God chose to reveal himself to me through suffering, yet grieved when others only see the suffering and not the loving God behind it. Some of the difference lies in how we understand and experience hope and suffering in our walk with God.
How to Find Hope in Suffering
To find hope through suffering, I cannot be tied to a specific outcome. My hope is not that my situation will turn out a certain way, or that God will give me exactly what I want, but rather that God will always do what’s best for me. It is a living hope in a Savior who loves me, not in an outcome I feel entitled to. I need to trust that God wouldn’t allow anything that isn’t best for me, and that everything in my life is put there for my good (Romans 8:28). God’s love has been poured into me, and all of Scripture proclaims that love. The cross displays it and the Holy Spirit seals it.
But if I do not trust God and believe that he loves me, I will not see how my suffering could be good. In the moment, it is painful; it certainly doesn’t feel good. I will start judging God’s faithfulness and love based on what I can see and whether God answers my prayers the way I desire. I will walk away before I get to see the end, experiencing the hardest part of my trials without ever getting to the good part. I won’t see anything to rejoice in and my suffering will seem pointless.
Yet when my hope is in a God whom I know loves me, God shapes me through my trials. When my son died, my faith was shaken, and I doubted everything around me. But when I cried out to God, he poured himself and his love into me. My faith grew stronger.
So, when I learned of my debilitating disease years later, I was distraught at first, but remembered how faithful God had been to me. I didn’t panic; I knew from experience that God would give me all that I needed. Scripture reminds us that being burdened and despairing of life itself can strengthen our faith (2 Corinthians 1:8–9). This is because the deepest trials make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. The more we endure with Christ and find him sufficient, the stronger our faith becomes.
This endurance produces character. Suffering softens my rough edges, makes me less judgmental, and helps me value people over things. It forces me to focus on what’s important in life.
As a result, I’m more compassionate, more self-controlled, more content, more prayerful, more passionate about the Bible, and more excited about heaven than I would have been otherwise. Left to myself, I’d be more irritable, critical, and impatient than I already am, but my physical limitations are teaching me kindness, patience, and grace. All my suffering has been an opportunity for growth.
My hope is that one day I will behold God’s glory and be transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18), and suffering gives me a foretaste of both. While I cannot see now what I hope for (Romans 8:24), God’s promises in Scripture and my firsthand experience of his faithfulness assure me that I will not be disappointed. I have tasted that faithfulness in the deepest, most treacherous valleys where God’s presence has dissolved my fear (Psalm 23:4), so I am certain his promises will never fail.
Therefore I can rejoice in my suffering, knowing God is using it to produce in me what I could not produce in myself. My faith is stronger, my character more like Christ’s and my hope more secure. Thanks be to God that as we trust in him, assured that he’s doing what’s best for us, suffering does indeed produce hope.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Desiring God, who blogs at danceintherain.com. She is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.