I’ve experienced suffering before—a divorce, a rebellious teenager, the loss of my parents—but watching my daughter, Annie, suffer tops it all. She’s experienced 11 months of debilitating pain caused by sciatic nerve entrapment disorder, and her condition is so rare and inexplicable that it’s hard to even wrap my head around. Taking care of this formerly thriving young woman through her chronic pain and resulting depression and hopelessness has been, at times, more than I thought I could bear.
I cried out to God as King David did while he was under much distress: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1–2, NIV). I asked God, Why my daughter? Why my family? Why me? My cries and questioning led me to an important central question: Why does God allow suffering?
Through this experience, I’ve learned that suffering can many times accomplish three things:
1. Suffering Points People to God
The pain we experience in life often forces us to turn to God because pain cannot be ignored. Many times in the midst of suffering, people become aware of their need for God.
C. S. Lewis wrote prolifically on suffering and found that, contrary to popular opinion, God often shows his benevolence through allowing pain in people’s lives. What most people view as “bad,” God works for “good.” As Joseph exclaimed in the Bible, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20). In our case, more than 3,000 people are being influenced daily as they follow Annie’s journey on our Facebook page.
2. Suffering Allows Us to Experience Joy and Comfort in God’s Grace
The last 11 months could not have been possible without friends and family serving and supporting us. My husband, Chris, has been an amazing support, and my son, Christian, moved in to help me through July, and many of Annie’s friends and my friends have served us with their time and efforts. They show up with meals, take over household projects, and visit—over and over again.
I am a natural “doer,” so getting to all of the appointments and organizing doctors and assessing options have all come relatively easy to me. But sitting with my sweet baby girl for hours on end while she struggles through pain I cannot address takes an emotional, mental, and physical toll that is, at times, beyond my abilities. I have struggled with frustration and even shame over this weakness, but as I acknowledge my own limitations, God has provided friends and relationships to fill all the gaps. Countless friends have shown up faithfully to sit with, talk to, and even stay the night with Annie when pain keeps her awake. As friends keep showing up for us in innumerable ways, we continue to be overwhelmed by the fullness of God’s grace and provision.
3. Suffering Enables Us to Be Refined by God
My prayer life, trust, and faith have all grown through this experience. As Paul says to the Corinthians, “Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:16–17).
As difficult as it is for me to not fixate on all of the pain, suffering, and brokenness I am exposed to every day, I have to remember that there are greater things yet to come. I remain confident in God’s promises. I know he is in control, and I will choose every single day to put my trust in him. I will proclaim like the psalmist, “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 42:11).
In late August, at the recommendation of Annie’s doctors, we took the drastic step of traveling to Switzerland to meet with an expert in her condition and to undergo a major surgical procedure. We are so grateful that God led us to this doctor and feel certain that this surgery was the only medical option left to provide hope of a normal life. Nevertheless, we still face a long road ahead. Her surgery went as well as could be expected, but the recovery period can take as long as 18 months, and while it’s likely that her pain will be reduced significantly in that time, it is in no way guaranteed. My girl is physically, emotionally, and spiritually tired, but we are fighting on as a family. We know that God is with us in this journey, so we remain hopeful for healing.