How can I deal with tragedy and suffering? How can I keep my family strong in the midst of it?
The older you become, the more you realize that trials and problems and even calamities are inevitable — they are a normal part of life. Things may be peaceful in your life right now, but be assured that, at some time, a storm will hit. It may be an accident, a health issue, a death in the family, or an unexpected financial problem. Or, as we all learned on September 11, 2001, your world may be suddenly changed by a national tragedy. You cannot avoid the storms of life. But you can learn how to withstand them.
Suffering has certainly not been a stranger to the Rainey family. In the spring of 1993, for example, our family began to experience the force of a storm that would change all of us — and especially our son, Samuel — forever.
For a few weeks we had seen some warning signs that something wasn’t right with Samuel’s body. Then, one night as our family was hustling through an airport to catch a plane home, we noticed that Samuel could not keep up with the rest of us. This was puzzling, because he was a good athlete — just the year before he had been ranked seventh in the state for his age in novice tennis.
The next day we found ourselves in a neurologist’s office. Suddenly, words we only heard once a year during the Jerry Lewis Telethon were echoing loudly. Samuel had muscular dystrophy.
The good news, we were told, is that Samuel’s type of muscular dystrophy was not fatal. We were assured that he will most likely never be confined to a wheelchair. The bad news was that Samuel’s athletic days were over. It was the death of a dream for a boy who wanted to play tennis in college. And for a mom and dad who thoroughly enjoyed watching him compete.
THE FOUNDATION OF OUR HOME
Barbara and I knew that our marriage was strong even before this particular storm hit us. From the beginning of our marriage, we have resolved to build our lives and our family upon God’s Word and upon daily prayer together. When I hear of couples who buckle under the storms of life, my suspicion is they have not put down a firm foundation for their home.
In Matthew 7, Jesus says that those who act upon His words “may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).
But those who do not hear God’s words and act upon them are like those who build their home on sand. “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell — and great was its fall” (Matthew 7:27).
God is the head of our home and the foundation of our home is the truth of God’s Word. We have found that, as we make God and His Word the focus of our relationship and home, the trials and tribulations strengthen rather than weaken our relationship.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE STORM HITS
Our experience with Samuel also reminded us of a number of important things we need to do in order to stand strong when a storm hits. First, during times of trial and suffering we need to use this as an opportunity to draw close to God. Nothing happens in our lives apart from what He allows or ordains. As 1 Chronicles 29:11 tells us,
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.
Yet this same sovereign Lord also seeks a close relationship with us. As the following passages tell us, He is our Comforter during times of distress and suffering:
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
“Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
A second conviction about dealing with suffering is we need to be there for each other. A husband and wife must be involved with each other during a crisis.
During our experience with Samuel, I remember it took a deliberate act of my will to move toward Barbara and the pain she was experiencing, because I wasn’t at the same place she was. I wasn’t as ready to talk about it as she was and she needed to talk about it. So I took the initiative to talk with her.
We’ve also resolved to make our marriage a priority. We know that if our marriage remained on solid ground, our children will feel stronger and more secure as well. Not long after Samuel’s diagnosis I scheduled some time later in the summer when Barbara and I could get away and just be by ourselves to talk with each other.
Fourth, we’ve learned that we need to allow the body of Christ to minister to us. The biggest way our friends helped during the situation with Samuel was in writing letters. These letters really broadened Samuel’s perspective of the body of Christ. I don’t think he had any idea that people cared like they do.
Finally, Barbara and I have learned to hold to the truth of God’s Word no matter what our emotions told us. We can’t deny our emotions, but we can’t allow them to control our responses, either. You’ve got to hang on to the truth of Scripture and let that be the foundation of your home.
Even when we don’t feel God loves us, we know from Scripture that He does. When we don’t feel any good can come out of a trial or calamity, we know from Romans 8:28 that all things really do “work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Through the entire experience I think Samuel has learned how to trust God even when he doesn’t understand His plan. I remember one evening a few months after the diagnosis, when he and I were driving home from the grocery. We had been talking his limitations, and I shared how God has always used people regardless of their situation. My feeble efforts to comfort him seemed shallow. A moment of silence filled the car.
Then Samuel turned from looking out the window and said resolutely “Well, Dad, I guess you don’t need legs to serve God.”
Tears filled my eyes. My son was teaching me a lesson on trust. And as I drove home I prayed silently, “Lord, increase my faith and use our son for Your purposes.”
Taken from familylife.com by Dennis Rainey. Copyright © 2001 FamilyLife. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Dennis is Executive Director of FamilyLife and host of the daily radio broadcast, “FamilyLife Today.” Parents of six children, Dennis and his wife, Barbara, have written numerous books, including Moments Together for Couples.