Spiritual Growth

The Pain of Anticipation

I think that God gives moms selective memory when it comes to pregnancy. We remember the sweet baby showers, the thudding heartbeat on the ultrasound, the feeling when the doctor first puts your baby in your arms. What you don’t remember is the absolute chaos your body was in for forty weeks. As I finally leave the first trimester of pregnancy, I hope to say goodbye to symptoms either I didn’t have in my first pregnancy or somehow I forgot.

One of the worse symptoms I’ve had so far is dizziness. My mom started to get concerned, so she brought over her blood pressure cuff and glucose meter so I could monitor what was going on. As soon as she pulled out the lancet (a small needle), I knew we had a problem.

I have an incredibly low pain tolerance. I’ll admit it; just a minor paper cut has my eyes watering. She hands over the small needle for me to prick myself, and I know I can’t do it. It took five minutes before I finally handed it to back to her for her to do it. An hour after every meal, I dreaded that little finger prick—that tiny, brief pain.

I came to realize that my anticipation of that little prick was worse than the pain itself. I agonized for minutes over what would last for less than a second. Then I realized, for me, that didn’t just apply to tiny pricks on my finger. My fear of suffering could be as agonizing as the suffering itself.

My fear of suffering could be as agonizing as the suffering itself.

For most of my Christian life, I’ve lived in fear of the worst-case scenario. My anxious mind would take one small bit of bad news and run with it until it was a full-blown tragedy. And it wasn’t eased when I came to stories in Scripture. Joseph suffered years of injustice from his brothers, slave masters, and even his own friends. David spent decades of his early life on the run, being chased by a paranoid king. Jesus himself suffered at the hands of the people he came to save, and eventually died a gruesome death on the cross. Yet instead of comforting me, these passages and stories made me anxiously await the moment when the “suffering hammer” would final drop on me. In my mind, when the suffering finally came, I wouldn’t be able to withstand it.

Like the irrational fear of a tiny finger prick, my great fear of suffering showed me how little faith I had in God—both in his goodness and his sovereignty. My fear revealed that I didn’t believe that he truly was good and wanted what was best for me. It also revealed that I didn’t think he was powerful enough to strengthen me throughout the suffering and to keep it from overwhelming me. What I was missing from the biblical stories of suffering was that God was graciously sustaining each of them throughout it.

What I was missing from the biblical stories of suffering was that God was graciously sustaining each of them throughout it.

Repeatedly throughout Joseph’s story, we are reminded that God was with Joseph. “And whatever [Joseph] did, the LORD made it succeed” (Genesis 39:23). Joseph even recognizes at the end of his story of suffering, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

We read of David’s agony all through the Psalms, but he remembers that it is God who sustains him. “But you, O Lord, a rea shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head….I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me” (Psalm 3:3, 5). Even in the darkest of days, David was comforted by the fact that the Good Shepherd was with him (Psalm 23:4).

Jesus knew from the moment he came down to earth how his life would end. When he drew away to pray on the night of his betrayal, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Then he rose up, strengthened to meet his betrayer. He suffered because he knew that the hands of these lawless men were the means by which God was loosening the pangs of death (Acts 2:23-24). 

How did I for so long miss the true meaning behind these men’s suffering? The problem was my perspective. As I looked at the little lancet before it pricked my finger, it seemed to be able to inflict more damage than it could. When I considered suffering in this life, it appeared to be stronger than my faith, too much for God to even use. I couldn’t see how God could make something good out of the tragedy I feared. But Paul reminds us that God is using our suffering on earth to prepare us for something much greater in glory.

God is using our suffering on earth to prepare us for something much greater in glory.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Having a biblical view of suffering helps us to live without fear and with hope. When suffering comes, we can trust that God will sustain us and use that suffering for his glory and our good. Fear can never lessen the suffering of the future, but it does rob joy from the present.

Fear can never lessen the suffering of the future, but it does rob joy from the present.

I once heard a podcaster say to think of your “worst” worst case scenario. A spouse dies, you have a terminal illness, you lose your home, whatever it is. Sit there a moment, and ask what then? Is God not still with you? Is he not enough to sustain you and comfort you? Is there not a still greater hope of glory in the future?

I write this not as someone who every day had to remind herself of both the goodness and sovereignty of God to have victory over my anxiety. But as I call to mind all my terrifying pregnancy dreams (another side effect of growing a human in your body)—filled with deployment deaths, cancer diagnosis, family strife, and child loss—I know that if any of those far-fetched dreams actually happened, God would still be there. Just like he was with Joseph in the Egyptian prison. Just like he was with David hiding in the caves. And the Father was even with Jesus as he walked to Calvary, as he lay in the grave, and as he rose up from the dead.

God will give you the grace you need when you encounter hardship in the future, just like he’s given you grace to handle what he’s put before you today.

Suffering is hard; there’s no denying that truth as I hear stories of suffering that seems unimaginable. But instead of focusing on that truth, I choose to place my faith in the God who is good and sovereign. When I consider the potentially rough road ahead, I remember that I am his and he is for me. And these same truths are true in your life, too. God will give you the grace you need when you encounter hardship in the future, just like he’s given you grace to handle what he’s put before you today.

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