Is All This Suffering for Nothing?

In October 1987, I was invited to participate in a women’s seminar at Nyack College, where I sat on a panel of pastors’ wives for a Q&A. I had only been a pastor’s wife for four years, and under my name it said, “Brand New Pastor’s Wife.”

I was at one end of the panel of four, and at the other end sat Elisabeth Elliot. I was 31 years old, and it had been 31 years since her husband, Jim, and four others had been speared to death by Waodani tribesmen of Ecuador, leaving her alone to raise their 10-month-old baby girl. Elisabeth returned and spent two years as a missionary to the very people who had killed her husband.

I was young and inexperienced, but Elisabeth was the age I am now, had married and lost two husbands, and was ten years into her third marriage. This woman, who had grieved much, once gave a seminar to a small group of women entitled “Suffering is Never for Nothing,” which was recently compiled into a book with the same title.

As I read this book, I was compelled to ask myself, “Is all this suffering for nothing?” When I suffer a loss, I feel like everything normal, everything I expect to stay the same, has either radically changed or disappeared. It feels like I was putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and someone crumbled up a section that was already pieced together and threw it across the floor. Life feels scrambled, chaotic, out of control. But is it?

When you and I as believers face our own personal episode of chaos and destruction, that is our moment to choose what we believe, to look at our lives with something other than our own eyes, to affirm our trust that there is One who is in control of everything. This is a challenge to lean harder on the One on whom we have already been leaning, to overcome feelings that our suffering is for nothing.

In the words of Elisabeth Elliot, “There have been some hard things in my life, of course, as there have been in yours, and I cannot say to you, I know exactly what you’re going through. But I can say that I know the One who knows. And I’ve come to see that it’s through the deepest suffering that God has taught me the deepest lessons. And if we’ll trust Him for it, we can come through to the unshakable assurance that He’s in charge. He has a loving purpose. And He can transform something terrible into something wonderful. Suffering is never for nothing.”

“And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Romans 9:33b

Barbara Linn

Barbara Linn

Barb is the national secretary for Alliance Women; she currently serves with her husband David, who oversees the churches of the Northeastern District. They visit a different Alliance church in upstate New York almost every weekend.

11 Responses to “Is All This Suffering for Nothing?”

  1. Thanks Barb. Every believer needs this reminder that everything has purpose, especially the difficult times. I’m encouraged by your article.

  2. Hi Barb – it’s hard to think of suffering as having a purpose. We just want it to end. This was so encouraging to read. Thank you.

    • Agreed, Dawn.

      Here’s another thought-provoking quote from E. Elliot: “If your faith rests in your idea of how God is supposed to answer your prayers, your idea of heaven here on earth or pie in the sky or whatever, then that kind of faith is very shaky and is bound to be demolished when the storms of life hit it. But if your faith rests on the character of Him who is the eternal I AM, then that kind of faith is rugged and will endure.“

  3. Thank you for sharing Barb! What comes to mind is that old potters wheel and being that piece of clay. The transformation it goes through to become an exquisite piece of pottery. I feel like if we trust during these times we too can become a more beautifully refined soul.

  4. Oh, Elaine, thank you for sharing with us – and from the hospital! The Lord always uses your words to challenge and encourage me. Be the Light!

  5. Amen! Suffering has purpose. As I sit in my 17th day of isolation in a covid hospital wing and pray daily for and with every medical care person, I see the Light God uses us to bring to the darkness. Shine on ladies!

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