The melodious sonnet by popular country band Rascal Flatt, God Bless the Broken Road, was the first song my husband and I danced to on our wedding day. On that happy October day, we swayed back and forth, content in one another’s arms. We had both traveled down the cobblestones of a past marred by brokenness before meeting each other, and during our first dance, it all felt worth it — just to come to this moment.
Call it newlywed bliss, but I felt as if everything had been made right again. I longed for a fresh start at life, and it was just within reach. However, the irony of this song would be lived afresh only a few short months into our happily-ever-after.
I arrived back from a weekend trip out of town to find my husband lying in bed in excruciating pain. I realized that this was more than just a normal headache. Something seemed terribly wrong. After suffering several days of debilitating pain, my husband needed relief, and we needed answers.
Several whirlwind visits with doctors revealed that he had a severe case of shingles; however, we were assured that in just a few weeks the pain would subside, and life would go back to normal. We breathed a sigh of relief.
All will be well soon. But our hope was in vain.
The pain never subsided. The doctors told us the nerve was permanently damaged. Their medical prognosis was delivered with a compassionate bedside manner: the pain would never go away. A life of narcotic pain pills was the only prescription available.
This is not the news that a 38-year-old man expects to receive, and certainly not the forecast that a new wife is ready to hear.
Recently I found a journal entry from several years ago. My husband was in the thick of his storm with this chronic illness. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, and no end in sight to his suffering.
I penned these words one night:
One week from today we will go to yet another neurologist appointment. I’m not sure how many more I can take. It’s been two-and-a-half years. Two years of figuring this out, praying, fasting, doctors, medicines, supplements, a little bit of this and a whole lot of that. Two years of patience, tear-soaked prayers, running to the altar, asking why, anger, denial, impatience, and being broken.
One afternoon, having suffered yet another disappointing doctor’s visit, I sat sobbing uncontrollably in the car. I was grieving the loss of joy in my life. The burdens of this dreadful season had chipped away at our sense of purpose and hope. The pain medications had taken a toll on him. The reality of this broken road had robbed my joy, and I desperately needed it back.
In God’s great care and gentleness, He spoke to my heart that afternoon. The moment I heard His voice, I noticed a shift within me. He removed from my mind and heart the fear of the unknown, the striving to figure it out, the pleading with Him for healing.
God allowed me to exhaust my white-knuckle demands for an answer. When I finally cried out, “I can’t hold on much longer,” He invited me to release my anxious grasp and fall into His open arms.
“When anxiety was great within me your consolation brought me joy.”
The Father of joy replaced my fearful striving with His supernatural calm – the kind of God-peace that makes no sense under the circumstances. My emotions were as raw and as real as it gets, yet even then I understood that a cup of suffering would produce in me the ability to truly surrender and find freedom.
In that surrender, I could receive the gift of His joy.
I love this quote from Bill Johnson: “One of the greatest things God wants to give us is a promise, not an answer. A promise establishes hope and causes us to seek Him and not an answer.”
When we seek God and not an answer, it draws us closer to Him in relationship. This intimacy with God gives us a greater ability to have ears to hear and a heart to receive. And what do we receive?
When we surrender, the fruits of the Spirit are fully ripened. We receive love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control during all seasons of life. (Galatians 5:22-23)
When my perspective shifted to seeking a purpose and not an answer, my blinders were removed. The season of suffering was still marred by much pain and prayer, but there had been a noticeable shift in the atmosphere of my heart. The joy of the Lord that I desperately desired was within sight because His comfort had been there all along.
When at last I perceived the Lord’s comfort always present during this time of anguish, my heart was at peace.
In every season, there is a purpose, and in every purpose, there is a promise to be discovered.
Seeking the purpose in our pain produces a trust in God’s goodness that is unshakable. This trust enables us to stand on His promises, which in turn produces an unwavering peace. Trust and peace create the growing conditions to cultivate strong roots of joy.
The storm still raged in my husband’s body for another two years, but we were at peace. We weathered the storm by hanging on to our lifeline, the hope of Jesus. The pain slowly began to subside, until one day I realized I had not heard my husband speak about his pain in months. While we waited, surrendered to the Lord, the healing we desperately desired had arrived.
If you find yourself in a season of anguish or perseverance, ask God to show you His comfort, His purpose, and His promises for you today. It is possible to have joy even in the midst of the suffering because our joy becomes rooted in knowing that God is with us, He is for us, and He comforts us. I pray that He shows you His goodness even today.