Suffering Tests Our Friends and Families

John Perkins  and Karen Waddles
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Suffering doesn’t just test the sufferer. It tests the entire family. When we suffer, our family suffers with us. Every parent whose child is suffering suffers right along with that child. Every one of those parents would eagerly take their child’s suffering and put it on themselves if they could. To have to watch your child suffer is torment.

Many times, marriages fall apart because of intense suffering. It’s easier to blame the other person and walk away than to stay together and work through the pain. Job’s wife’s words reveal a lot: “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Her words are an indication of the stress that Job’s suffering had put on their marriage. She also had lost all her children—all ten of them—and all her worldly possessions. She was angry. She was bitter. Husbands and wives have to make the hard decision that they will weather the storms of life together, “in sickness and in health . . . for richer, for poorer.”

I’ve been so blessed to have had a wonderful wife by my side through one storm after another. The first storm almost destroyed us. I’ve not talked a lot about it, but early in our marriage after I came back from the Korean war I was not true to my vows. Vera Mae left me and went back to her family. She was pregnant with Spencer at the time. She came back to me when Spencer was six months old. When I first laid eyes on my son my love for her grew so deep. She forgave me, and we worked hard to restore trust in our marriage. Since that time, she has never wavered in her love and her devotion for these seventy years. And now, as we near the end of life, it’s my turn to care for her. It is a labor of love to make sure all her needs are met. And somehow in our caring for one another in our difficult moments our love has grown deeper still.

“Each new day offers the opportunity and time to heal the hurts that linger.”

As I am closing in on the final chapter of my life, I see things clearer than I did before. One of the hardest things about getting to this point in life is looking back and experiencing regret. Wishing you had done things differently. That’s its own kind of deep pain because you can’t change what is past. You can only learn from it and move forward. I wish I had been more present as a father. I wish I had expressed more love to my daughters when they were growing up. They’ve said that because I didn’t grow up in an intact family I never learned how to give them the love they needed. That’s their experience, and it’s painful in how it affects our relationship today. I believe that I worked hard to provide for them, to give them the things they needed. Maybe I gave too much of the things, and not enough of myself.

Family pain can be a deep, deep pain. When David wrote Psalm 3 I think this may have been the lowest point in his life, other than the incident with Bathsheba. I think these psalms were written so they would never be forgotten. They remind us that life is hard. And when we are in the hard places we can call out to our Lord. David is fleeing from his own son, Absalom. He had a mixed-up love for this son. He had spoiled Absalom and overlooked the things he was doing. Absalom had killed his own half-brother to avenge the rape of his sister, Tamar. He was a good-looking guy and used his deceitfulness at the city gate to win the hearts of the people. Now David’s family had been wrecked, and his own son was coming to kill him. In his pain he wrote, “Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him’ ” (Ps. 3:1–2).

It’s hard when the person who is causing you to suffer is someone in your own family. Families suffer when they don’t deal with issues and heal from them. Parents hurt children and children hurt parents. Each new day offers the opportunity and time to heal the hurts that linger. David found healing as he looked to the Lord: “But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high” (Ps. 3:3).

Suffering Tests Our Friends

Suffering tests friends as well. It shows us who our true friends are. It’s been said that it’s okay to get sick; but don’t stay sick too long because people will fade away. It’s just human nature to want to see an end to things. We want to set limits—not just on other people’s suffering, but also on how long we will hang in there. Job’s friends’ patience ran out after they realized that he wasn’t going to admit to any big sin that would explain his suffering. They figured that they would help him identify what sin he had committed that caused his great downfall. And then they expected him to repent and God to forgive him. But it didn’t work out like that.

When we are suffering, many friends may come alongside us—in the beginning. But some of those friendships may not last through the long haul. I’ve been trying to be the kind of friend who hangs in there with my friends when they are going through the valley of suffering. God has blessed me with some of those kinds of friends and it has meant the world to me. It seems like they have pulled even closer as we have struggled to continue to care for Vera Mae at home.

I talked earlier about psychological pain. It’s fearing what you don’t know. I’ve been tormented with fear about whether we have enough resources to carry us into the future if the Lord allows us to remain. My friends have come alongside us and shown themselves to be faithful, faithful friends. This has been so precious to me.

Are You Passing the Test?

James Hewitt said, “Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends upon what you are made of.”[1] I do believe that suffering is a test. God uses it to grow me up in my faith, to help me trust Him more. Sometimes He uses it to discipline my behavior, to correct me when I move outside of His will. And every test is an opportunity for the enemy to tempt me to seek relief through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life. Job was clear that he had not mistreated the poor or done any of the things that his friends accused him of doing. But when confronted by Elihu and then the Lord, he had to admit that pride had gotten the best of him. His suffering helped him to see himself differently: “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” ( Job 42:6).

I think that pain and suffering get under us in a way that causes us to confess. It humbles us. It breaks us. And maybe that’s the secret. That’s how we pass the test. It’s through brokenness. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth writes, “Brokenness is the shattering of my self-will—the absolute surrender of my will to the will of God. Brokenness is the stripping of self-reliance and independence from God.” I become broken when I realize that no amount of money or influence or status can fix my situation. I cry out to Him because I realize that He is the only one who can change my circumstances, heal my hurts, fix my dilemma. I pass the test when I realize my desperate need for Him. Oh, how I need Him! The songwriter Annie Sherwood Hawks said it best when she wrote, “I need Thee, Oh, I Need thee. Ev’ry hour I need Thee. Oh, bless me now, my Savior. I come to Thee!”

[1] James S. Hewitt, Illustrations Unlimited, quoted in Charles Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 67.

For Further Reading:

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by John Perkins with Karen Waddles

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book cover for Count It All Joy