I have always prided myself on my ability to handle and carry a lot. I am an achiever. I can be self-reliant. So much so that it is easy for me to rely on my own strength rather than God’s. Or other people’s.
But there is no humanly possible way to shoulder the weight of both a sick spouse (my husband was diagnosed with cancer at age 43) and children who are undoubtedly struggling to understand it all— plus my own emotional upheaval. Over the past year it quickly became obvious that I needed to change. My heart needed to change. Pride can keep us too private, maybe too independent. I’ve spent my life carrying more than I needed to, and it took something tragic like my husband’s cancer diagnosis for me to once and for all give everything over to God and let others in.
One of the gifts God gives us in our suffering is the gift of seeing who we really are. The layers get pulled back. Our eyes are opened and our hearts are exposed. That’s what happened to the disciples who found themselves in a boat in the middle of a stormy lake. They not only discovered who Jesus was but also who they were.
Sometimes this discovery can feel a little discouraging!
There are all sorts of ways that we deal with who we really are, aren’t there?
We can pretend. So we work hard to maintain an image. Look a certain way. Keep people at a distance so they don’t figure out who we really are. We share only what benefits us and makes us look good. All in an effort to keep up an appearance of having it together.
We can blame. It’s always someone else’s fault, never ours. We blame it on a friend or set of circumstances. Anything to keep the blame from us. We never own our part or the sin we bring to the table.
We can minimize, acting like our sin isn’t that big of a deal. My sin isn’t that bad, is it?
And, of course, we can defend our sin. Put the blame on someone or something else. We get defensive when confronted and explain everything away.
We can be so good at handling sin the wrong way that we fall short of the life God wants to give when we allow him to uproot it. The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:1–2).
Jesus is interested in perfecting our faith, in finishing the work he started. This is a journey that we have to be willing to cooperate in by first being honest about who we really are.
But where there is confession there is always God’s comfort. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.” There is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Only life and freedom and sharing in God’s holiness.
There is a “harvest” if we don’t give up or give in during difficult times when we sense we are being “trained” or disciplined by God. Which is why we are often commanded to be patient in suffering (James 5:7). We need to be careful not to miss a future harvest because we are unwilling t0 endure a current hardship.
If God is disciplining you, be encouraged. He considers you his son or daughter. His discipline is out of love. He is remaking you and growing you. Don’t give up or grow discouraged. Repent where necessary. Run to the cross. Rely on the Holy Spirit. And remember that God’s love is always good, even when it is not gentle.
Excerpted from Ruth and Patrick Schwenk’s new book, In a Boat in the Middle of a Lake, available now.
At some point, we all find ourselves, like the disciples in Mark 4, in a boat in the middle of a lake. For some of us, this is the loss of a loved one. For others, a disability or financial insecurity. For Patrick and Ruth Schwenk, it was Patrick’s cancer diagnosis at age forty-three.
In this powerful new book, the Schwenks share their personal stories of loss and tragedy, along with strong Bible teaching and the experiences of nearly twenty years in pastoral ministry, to show that one of the greatest ways God transforms us is through trials–through difficult seasons of loss, disappointment, weakness, and suffering. Because while we live in a culture that values strength, control, and comfort, God does his greatest work in us through our pain. It’s when we’re weak that God has us where he can work with us. But that is never where he leaves us. It’s through the hurt that we come to fully know the hope that is ours in Christ.