My family and a few other families I know have been having a rash of tough times. Between death, cancer, Alzheimer’s, infertility, theft, break-ins, and just general stress of work and home there have been more than a few people wondering what God has planned here. And, to be fair, I get it. Even Job who, early in the book named after this character, refused to offend God found himself at least questioning how this was going to end.
From what I’ve seen in my own life, suffering leads to wisdom. It can be practical, such as touching a hot stove being painful, therefore most hot things should be handled with care. To more subjective, I have experienced the loss of a loved one, therefore I can sympathize and be selective of my words around someone in mourning.
Joseph, in particular, (Genesis 37- and following) finds that wisdom is hard won. His naivete and maybe pride show in the beginning of his life when he shares his dreams of being in authority over his older brothers and father, much to their anger. He is sold into chattel slavery by his own family and bought by an Egyptian. Interestingly, with each bad turn in Joseph’s life, the phrase, “and the Lord was with Joseph,” appears. The blessing given to Abraham, passed to Isaac, and then Jacob, was being honored in Joseph’s life. God was with Joseph, and through Joseph, people were being blessed, such as Potiphar’s household and the jailer’s prison. Despite the pain he experienced, God blessed Joseph and blessed those around him as well.
At this moment in my life, I cannot say that I am suffering. I have stressors and frustrations, but very little that is breaking my back and bringing me to existential questions. Instead, I am watching Job and Joseph, and these families around me deal, cope, and struggle with the pain in their lives. I watch them rely on God’s strength, or try to handle it themselves. I watch them fall, rise again, stumble, and continue crawling on. I have to admire their determination to not simply lie down and surrender to the pain.
They all have hope, in one way or another. Many of these families find themselves relying on God through His people, the church. They retreat into the stronghold that God is in order to access that power that is made perfect in humanity’s weakness.
At the end of suffering, there is treasure: hope, wisdom, empathy. These are never replacements for what is lost along the way, just as Job’s blessings at the end of his story do not replace those he lost at the beginning. Instead, these are hard-won treasures that last a lifetime.
I bring this up because if your family is not suffering now, you might in the future. The way you handle that stress will often be inherited by your children. Do you allow yourself to be supported by God and His people? Do you run to earthly comforts or vices? Does anger begin to fester or bitterness resurface? Do your children see you develop wisdom as you progress through pain and stress?
Remember, every moment is one that can be transformed by God’s presence. Deuteronomy 6.4-9 commands God’s people to speak of God at every moment of the day, to model faithfulness and trust and submission to our King.
PS: I’ll do something that doesn’t involve pain or suffering soon. Most of the things I share here are what I am reading at the moment – which for now are Job and Joseph’s stories.