Suffering and Me by Katie Barnes
My family has had a saying since before I was born that we share with each other when we want to express the endlessness and unconditionality of our love for one another. It is abbreviated YTTF and means Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Forever.
We sign it on birthday cards, send it in text messages, and whisper it in the dark when the moment needs a deep expression of love. The weight of these words took on new meaning for me about three months ago when I lost my dad to brain cancer. My yesterday, today, and tomorrow were gone, and my forever was suspended in time. What does it mean to love someone when they aren’t there? And what does it mean when they’ve promised to love you forever and suddenly forever doesn’t seem so abstract anymore?
As I was grappling with my grief, I found something beautiful in the Word of God. Just as my family has spoken this promise of love over each other since before I can even remember, the Lord speaks it over us as well. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Wow. This beautiful consistency doesn’t just happen within my family dynamic but is breathed over us by our Creator. That means that even in my hurt, Jesus is the same. Throughout my grieving process, that can be hard to remember, but Jesus never changes. As Jesus tells us in the book of John, He is the bread of life, the light of the world, the door of the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection, the way, the truth, the life, and the true vine. All of this is still true.
With this in mind, there are several things that are keeping me steadfast in the Lord even in the middle of my pain. Some days are easier than others, but God has given me the beautiful guide of His word to remind me that this is all for His greater purpose. My dad’s life is worth the Lord’s glory, and my daily struggle is nothing compared to the eternal impact made possible through the cross. These things keep my eyes focused on heavenly treasures and make my grief less of a burden than it could without a hope in Jesus. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Lesson One: God Remembers Us.
When we first found out my dad was sick, I felt betrayed and broken. My life had been pretty nearly perfect up until this point and I certainly wasn’t doing anything to try to change that. We were a totally normal nuclear family, getting by better than most. And then we got hit with a curveball the size of Texas. I didn’t understand why the Lord had targeted us with this devastation. We hadn’t done anything wrong. We were good people. We didn’t deserve this.
But then I decided to change my perspective. God didn’t choose us for this to punish us. God chose us because He trusted us with it. When God decided to flood the earth, He spared Noah because Noah walked with God and found favor with Him. God chose Noah to survive the storm because He knew that Noah was capable of it. When that storm started, I wonder if Noah doubted the ark. I wonder if he started to think he wasn’t going to make it either. But then in Genesis 8:1, the Bible says “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”
Did you catch that? God remembered Noah. In the midst of the worst storm in the history of the planet, God remembered Noah. I know the Lord is always the same, and because of that I know He loves me as much as He loves Noah. So who am I to think that the Lord will forget me in my storm? God remembered Noah, and He remembers me; and one day, these waters will recede just the same.
Lesson Two: God Has Purpose in Our Suffering
This one is a lot easier to remember when you aren’t actually going through a hardship. Sure, it’s easy to know God has a plan for everything when you have no reason to doubt it. But there are so many moments in this when I just don’t get it. It feels wrong and unfair and entirely unnecessary. So I have to constantly remind myself that there is purpose in this.
Joseph’s brothers were so consumed by hatred that they betrayed him and sold him to an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh. Joseph had every reason to hate them and to seek revenge. But instead, Joseph chose to look to God in this time and to use his situation to glorify his Master. When Joseph meets his brothers again, he tells them “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8). After their father dies and Joseph’s brothers become indebted to him, he continues to show them grace and forgiveness. In Genesis 50:19-20, Joseph says, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Joseph’s brothers sought to ruin him and bring devastation upon his life. Instead, Joseph kept his focus on God and worked to bring Him glory in his new circumstances, remembering that God always has a good purpose for whatever He brings us through. No bad thing will prevent the will of God. Of course, I never would have chosen this for myself. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to go through; but God is sovereign and He is good. Through this process, I constantly have to remind myself that God cannot stop being good but I can stop remembering that He is good. When I forget that, it seems like He is out to get me. But His word tells us that he “works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). The Lord is on my side, and this hardship in my life will only bring more glory for Him and more good for me.
Lesson Three: God Gives Us People to Lift Us Up
The one thing that has been my real saving grace throughout this whole process is people. My friends, family, coworkers, and even acquaintances have brought so much joy and peace to me in this tough time. Even months later, they are looking out for me, checking on me, making sure I am okay. From the very creation of the earth, God has created us for relationship–with Him and each other–and I am so lucky to have the people He has given me to help me stay strong and to be a sounding board for whatever I may be feeling on any given day.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is when the Israelites defeat the Amalekites. The only way for the Israelites to win was for Moses to stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in his hands. Any time his hands were lowered, the Israelites would start losing. But the part of this story that really resonates with me isn’t the battle or the winning or losing or any of that. The part of this that sticks out for me is the help Moses received from his people. The Bible tells us, “When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset” (Exodus 17:12).
Wow, I just love that. Aaron and Hur were so willing to fulfill the purpose of the Lord that they stood with Moses and literally held him up until they had won. I am so thankful for the people holding me up in my grief. They don’t just stand beside me and watch. They stand with me and take care of me when I grow tired. They lift me up when I can’t do it for myself. I couldn’t do it without them and I and so grateful that I don’t have to.
Lesson Four: Jesus Suffered Too.
This has single handedly brought me the most comfort since my dad has passed. It is the reminder I always go back to. The two most profound words in the Bible are “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). This verse is so powerful on its own that I think it resonates with every Christian at different points in their lives. But for me in my loss, the reason Jesus has been brought to this state has become so important.
Jesus is weeping over the death of his dear friend Lazarus. We know that Christ loved Lazarus, and as soon as He hears that Lazarus is sick, He tells Lazarus’ sisters that it will not end in death. Jesus even allows Lazarus to die while He is away to show His ultimate power later on. He knows even then that He is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, that He will see His friend again. But when Jesus arrives in Bethany, He asks to see where Lazarus’ body has been placed.
And that is when he begins to weep. Jesus takes the time to mourn the loss of His friend. Even when He knows He will raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus grieves over him. It would be so easy in the midst of my loss to think that the Lord doesn’t understand what I’m going through. To think that from His point of view, this isn’t that big of a deal and my pain is negligible. But right here in these words, I see that the Lord grieves with me. Jesus not only understood grief but he felt it. And the same way He took the time to mourn the loss of Lazarus, He is taking the time with me to grieve over me. I cannot feel anything that the Lord Himself doesn’t understand. And that brings me so much peace and makes me feel so much closer to the Lord.
Lesson Five: He Will Redeem Even This
Life is messy. It is dirty and gross and broken. We are sinful and bad. And we are all just doing the best we can. If we think about it too hard, it almost seems like it isn’t worth it. Until we remember how good our God is.
Ecclesiastes tells us, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Everything. That means even the death of my father is beautiful. Even my tears and my suffering are beautiful. My brokenness is beautiful. When I crawl into my mom’s arms in the quiet of the night, and we weep with each other, that is beautiful. When I am angry, sad, hurt, or happy, that has all been made beautiful in the Lord. Life can be so hard, yes.
But, man, it is beautiful.
To all of you, thank you for reading.
And Dad, YTTF.
Katie Barnes is a junior English major from Oxford, MS. She currently serves as co-leader of hospitality ministry at the BSU. She has vast knowledge about Captain America and loves black olives.