“How can you sing joyful songs during this difficult time?” our relatives asked. It was the night before my brother’s funeral, and we were singing his favorite worship songs. My brother David had tragically and unexpectedly died a few days before. He was just eighteen years old when he drowned in the Danube River. Our family and the entire community were in shock. But there was a glimmer of hope in all of this. David was a believer in Jesus, and we knew that one day we would see him again.
Hanging up the phone, I gathered a few items and waited for my husband to arrive. He’d just called from the church where he and our son had been working on a few building repairs. From the brief exchange, I learned that our son had been in an accident but was stable enough for us to drive him to the hospital. Even with uncertainties pounding in my mind, I knew in that moment how important it was to make my worship stronger than my worries. The supremacy of God and His goodness had not changed.
During a tumultuous year, Martin Luther penned what became one of his most treasured hymns. Ill and suffering with depression, things got worse for Luther when the plague hit his town. But, inspired by Psalm 46, he chose to proclaim God’s character and His triumph over evil with the words “a mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” This hymn has been called the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation” for its impact.
Amanda Varty was diagnosed with a chronic illness and lay confined to a bed in a darkened room for nine years. Usually too weak to go to church, one Sunday she felt compelled to ask her husband to take her to a service. As Amanda worshiped God, she felt strengthened in her body, but weakness returned when she went home.
In my view, besides our relationship with God, each of us typically desire three key treasures—health, possessions, and family. A loss to any can be heart wrenching. The Old Testament patriarch Job experienced a triple test—financial ruin, the deaths of his ten children, and painful ill health (Job 1:14-19, 2:7). We can’t imagine the intensity of pain Job had to bear.
A close friend lost his father unexpectedly. Though my husband and I both had responsibilities on the day of the funeral, we asked others to cover for us so we could drive more than 350 miles to be with our friend and his wife. Overwhelmed that we would travel such a distance in one day to be with them, our friends held us close when they saw us. Others had brought food, still others had taken care of details back home, but in this moment we found that our simple presence carried comfort.
In 2017, the morning after the mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert that resulted in nearly 60 fatalities and more than 500 wounded, the President of the United States quoted Scripture to comfort the grieving families and victims. This response to tragedy isn’t unusual; many people turn to the Bible for comfort following devastating events
Poet Christian Wiman, some time after being diagnosed with an incurable form of blood cancer, reflected on his ordeal, writing, “I have passed through pain I could never have imagined, pain that seemed to incinerate all my thoughts of God and to leave me sitting there in the ashes, alone.” But he found hope in the powerful presence of Jesus. “I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness, cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ ” (Matthew 27:46). In times of great suffering, Wiman realized, only the One who carried all human suffering can sustain us.
One day Dan McConchie was riding his motorcycle when a car unexpectedly came into his lane and forced him into oncoming traffic. When he woke up two weeks later in the trauma center, he was a mess. Along with a deflated lung and broken bones, he’d suffered a spinal-cord injury that left him a paraplegic. Dan prayed for healing, but it never came. Yet in the midst of this tragedy he experienced peace and learned a profound lesson: “Life isn’t for our comfort. Instead, the purpose of this life is that we become conformed to the image of Christ. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen when everything is unicorns and rainbows. It instead happens when life is tough.”
Sipping tea at a café, I saw two women sit down at different tables. One, young and attractive, was downing a drink topped with a mountain of whipped cream. Shopping bags sat at her feet like obedient pets. The other, about the same age, gripped a metal walker as she moved to her table. Thick plastic braces guarded her ankles. The clerk at the register had to help her maneuver into her seat. As I looked at the two women, I wondered, Why does God seem to allow some to suffer much more than others?
I know a leader who learned sympathy when he lost his job. He admitted it’s easier to humbly love when life has knocked you down. When, as he would say, “You’ve got blood in your mouth.” I also know a pastor whose heart was softened by the death of his son. This pastor wouldn’t say it was worth it—and he’d be right—but his grief has made him a more compassionate shepherd.
When I glimpse a palette of vivid colors painted across the sky or take in the delicate design of a daffodil, I love to ponder God as Creator. Beauty can draw us to experience awe when we see His imprint in nature. Even if we’re surrounded by concrete with no green in sight, we may hear some melodious birdsong and remember that God is our Maker.
Following a long season of loss, hardship, transition, and illness, my heart and mind were in a fragile place. Though my assurance that Jesus Christ is “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13) remained intact, I had many questions about what it meant to fully trust Him in the day-to-day aspects of life.
Tricia Mingerink’s young adult Christian fantasy series The Blades of Acktar contains a scene where the protagonist is forced to watch friends and family martyred for their faith. A fearful person, she was struck by the peace with which each martyr faced death. In a moment of clarity, she realized that these believers were not bound by their immediate circumstances. The fear borne out of her exclusive focus on the present melted away as she embraced a perspective of eternity in God’s presence.
In 1997 Singapore experienced the Asian financial crisis. Many people couldn’t find jobs—including me. After nine months of sending out countless resumes, I finally landed a job as a copywriter. God provided for my needs! Then the economy plummeted again because of the SARS outbreak. And, once again, I was jobless.