But there was a time when I actually prayed I had breast cancer instead of going through hardship in our marriage. Maybe it was more a common thought that invaded my heart more than an actual prayer. But one that came up often.
It would be easier I thought. I could manage chemo and hospital stays. I could have something identifiable and easy to attack. It's easier to talk with kids about sick bodies than sick hearts. Mostly I thought it would be easier because people know what to do with cancer. Everyone knows someone who has wrestled through it: a friend or a family member. And you bake them casseroles and you take them to chemo and you watch their kids. Culture knows what to do with cancer. But culture doesn't know what to do with a broken marriage. Especially when the two people in the broken marriage don't want to give up. And the brokenness lasts awhile and the healing takes longer than everyone else has time for.
Please tell me I'm not the only one. That others like to try to pick and choose their suffering too. We tell ourselves THAT thing wouldn't be as bad, or as hard, or as painful. What would you rather? Infertility? Cancer? A broken marriage? A lost child? It's all crazy-making, isn't it? To pretend we could "handle" one form of suffering "better" or "easier." That we could bear up under the weight of THAT thing better than THIS thing.
Because the truth is we've all be touched by some kind of suffering. Suffering we never would have "picked" if we had some kind of choice in the matter. Brokenness we've walked through since we're walking in a broken world, wrecked by sin and the fall. And none of us had a chance to sign up for what we thought would be the easiest or could handle ahead of time.
It's easy to look around at other's lives, envious of their "lesser sufferings" or self-righteous that we're "doing so much better." But comparison can be deadly. It can create bitterness, anger, and resentment. It contends for contentment and joy in our hearts.
Instead of pushing away from the pain we can lean into Jesus right in the midst of it. "I'm not a theologian or a scholar," Elizabeth Elliot once said, "but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence and the love of God."
What if, in the midst of my suffering, I didn't ask for less of it, but more of God?
So, slowly, my prayer changed. Instead of asking for a different kind of suffering, or for the suffering to stop altogether, my prayers have dramatically shifted. Desperate for more of God right in the middle of things. Begging him to be near and enough. Focusing instead of changing my circumstances on the outside to changing me on the inside. Asking him to make me more like him in the midst of it all.
I used to think God sent or allowed certain specific suffering to touch me because he needed to teach me a lesson. He was the "teacher" in the sky and I was the student on the ground. And the "lessons" would just keep coming until I finally passed the test. Although I think there can be seasons like that, I see God much differently now. More as a loving Father, heartbroken beside me as the suffering in the world impacts me and my family. Walking with me, holding me through it.
I don't think I'll ever embrace or cherish the specific suffering I've walked through (or have yet to walk through). But I can cherish a sweet Savior who promises to walk with me. Who promises that he works all things for my good and His glory. And who promises that nothing ever happens outside of His sovereignty and care.
I don't have to pray for a different kind of suffering. I just have to pray for more of God in the midst of it.