From the time I was a young girl, I always felt the Lord’s presence and His pursuit of my heart. However, I did not begin regularly attending church or consistently studying God’s word until a while after my husband and I got married. In the spring of 2007, we joined a “small group,” and every other week, we met with four other couples to learn about the Bible and have accountability with one another. I remember completing a study together about why God allows pain and suffering. Standing in my very young and immature faith, I could not fathom the answer to one of my heart’s biggest questions.
If God is good, then why does He allow suffering?
Rape. Murder. Betrayal. Lies. Deceit. Hate. Anger. Abuse. Neglect. Disease. Death. Brokenness. Loneliness. Emptiness. Rejection. Abandonment.
Even after the study on suffering was finished, I still questioned the validity of what the Bible taught about suffering. In all honesty, I was so young in my faith at that time that I wasn’t fully convinced that the Bible was inspired by God; instead, I thought maybe it was just a collection of books written by men with their own opinions and agendas. At that time, the world’s influence in my life was much, much greater than God’s. The world’s ideals and values had a much stronger presence in my life, so I couldn’t fathom how God could both be good and allow suffering simultaneously.
My foundation for doubting God’s goodness in the midst of suffering can be summarized in just one word. Comfort. As a very young Christian, I believed that if my life was pleasing to God, wouldn’t He want me to be comfortable?
But who could blame me? Isn’t the goal of comfort one of the most permeating messages of our American culture? Go to college so you can get a good job and live a comfortable life. Get married and have two kids because you can comfortably parent two kids (e.g., sit in a booth, share one hotel room, split up when sporting events take place at the same time, drive a car or small SUV… I mean, who wants to be seen in a minivan?). Epidurals, air conditioning, heated leather seats, tagless t-shirts, sleep number beds, DVD players in our vehicles, and so many others all serve our desire for comfort. Our homes, cars, relationships, and lifestyles reflect our need for comfort.
Throughout the next five years, and my faith and understanding of God’s Word grew stronger. We continued attending our small group Bible studies and Sunday services. I came to know with my whole heart that the Bible was the inspired Word of God. I, like many others, had always wondered about the purpose of our lives. I longed for more than just waking up, going to work, picking up my kids, eating dinner, and going to bed at night. Then, as Jen Hatmaker wrote so perfectly in her book, Interrupted, “God plucked me and my family out of complacent, comfortable, safe Christianity and dropped us into the deep end of struggle, injustice, brokenness, and a hurting humanity.” (p. XVIII)
An orphanage in China
God wrecked the comfortable life Ryan and I had built together and opened our eyes to the millions of children who need families. He showed us their medical conditions, their neglect, their abuse. I looked deep into the eyes of real children who were living in heartbreaking circumstances. Picture after picture, I saw children with deep vacancy in their eyes. I was extremely uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that I stopped looking at their pictures and focused solely on their medical conditions. If I saw the name of a medical condition that we were open to, I would then look at the child’s face. The experience was extremely raw and painful.
These were children, just like the two little boys who were born from my body, and they needed what so many of us can give – a family. I could no longer pretend that adoption was “neat” or “cute” or “fun.” Adoption was no longer optional – it was essential. We left our comfort zone, walked away from the booth, and took a leap of faith. We answered the call that the Bible so clearly gives to ALL believers – to care for the orphan and love the least of these. Our hearts were broken like never before, and the Lord brought us two new sons, Tucker (2013) and Tyson (2015).
Throughout our journey to Tucker and during our transition home, the Lord finally helped solidify my belief that even though God allows suffering, He is still good. I finally had the spiritual maturity to trust that suffering in my life produces endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5) and that trials in life are an opportunity to grow in my perseverance and determination (James 1:2-4). Even when we experience trials and tribulation, God does not let them overwhelm or consume us because He is always with us (Isaiah 43:2). We are told not to be surprised by the suffering we experience but instead rejoice in knowing that we are sharing in Christ’s suffering and that believing that God will reveal His glory in time (1 Peter 4:12-13). All discipline we experience can seem painful, but great fruit is the result of those trials (Hebrews 12:11). We are guaranteed pain and suffering in this world, but in Christ, we can have peace knowing that He overcame the world (John 16:33) and that any pain we experience now cannot compare with the glory that will be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).
Our adoption journeys brought significant pain and suffering, and if you are in the middle of an adoption process or have previously adopted, you know exactly what I mean. The waiting and not knowing if your child is being well-fed, loved, or nurtured is painful. The delays that take place during the adoption process while watching others pass you by brings tremendous sorrow. You suffer alongside your child when he or she comes home as you learn how institutional life has affected their development, their health, and their ability to bond with you.
But then again, if you have adopted or are currently in process, you also know that trading comfort for God’s Will reaps the most beautiful fruit. You understand that being comfortable isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Laying down your life – the comforts, the familiar, the easy, and the convenient – and living at the center of His plan is where true life is found. God has shown me that He indeed is good AND allows suffering. I now understand that when God allows us to experience suffering firsthand, He develops our character. When we witness the suffering in others, we are guided opportunities to do His work. Suffering truly is purposeful if we can view the situation through God’s eyes.
Tyson, our newest son from China, has been in our arms for almost 3 months now. Although we are still working through this transition and building trust and security with our little guy, I am already wondering what lies ahead. As the dust begins to settle, and we establish our new normal, I am realizing how uncomfortable it feels to be comfortable. I don’t want to go back to living an easy, convenient, comfortable life.
My heart yearns for more – more of God and more of His work serving the Least of These. I am not afraid to suffer anymore. God has shown me that the pain I experience cannot compare with the glory He has in store for us. As I look into the deep, dark eyes of my precious sons and watch my blue-eyed babies love their new brothers with abandon, I cannot help but smile in anticipation of all God might do with this army He has given Ryan and me.
Now the question is – what will God do with yours if you step outside your comfort zone?