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