The Sweet Mercy of Suffering

He approached at the close of the conference, after the crowds had dispersed and headed home. Only a handful of us remained in the auditorium, tearing down booths and tables and book displays.

Moments before, he’d heard me share a sliver of my complicated story. Cancer three times over. An inability to eat and speak normally. The months of treatment that took me to the brink of death. The years of physical trauma that assaulted body and mind with a suffering I didn’t know any human could endure.

“I know you don’t really know me, but…” He seemed both unsure and determined. “Do you mind if I pray for you?”

It wasn’t a hollow offering, not a passing “I’ll pray for you” muttered in the awkwardness of not knowing what to say.

His question—his offer—was sincere. He wanted to pray for me. He needed to. And so I smiled and received the gift.

But as he poured out his heart, as He pleaded with God to bring complete healing to my frail and broken body, as he begged the Almighty to restore the months and years I’d lost, I felt the tiniest stirring of rebellion deep within.

But what if healing isn’t the greater gift?
What if the losses have delivered an acute awareness of God?
What if the suffering is forcing a grip tight on Christ?
What if the daily physical struggle is finally subduing the internal one, the pride and insecurity I’ve long fought?

If so, is a prayer for healing what I need after all?

I didn’t expect these questions to bubble to the surface while a kind stranger prayed a beautiful prayer. More often than not, I fight against my new reality. I mourn what I’ve lost. There is no part of me that relishes the pain or cares to revisit it.

And yet.

As the man prayed, a Holy Spirit revelation pushed against the healing prayers I’m often so desperate for. What if relief from the struggle isn’t the gift we think it is?

Instead, what if the sweeter mercy is found in the presence of it?

“I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name,” Isaiah said (Isaiah 45:3).

So that you may know it is I.

The question of the place and purpose of struggle and suffering is not an easy one. It brings into question the motives and love of God.

And yet, after years of more pain than I ever imagined I’d endure, I can tell you I’m starting to see suffering as a gift delivered in cover of darkness:

Suffering softens my tendency toward self-sufficiency.
Suffering bends my knees to a place of humility.
Suffering opens me up to deeper compassion.
Suffering ignites an inexplicable craving for God’s Glory.  
Suffering stirs a greater longing for eternity.

As leaders and believers, we claim a desire for these things day after day, in all sincerity. But then we proceed to work ourselves to exhaustion in an effort to make it happen. However, I’ve yet to find anything that accomplishes that sacred work quite like the reality of God in a season of suffering. There is something holy about God’s presence and purpose in our pain.

If you’re in a sea of suffering, you likely want to throw something at me right about now. I understand. I still weep tears while delivering beggar prayers. I still demand answers to my questions and relief to my doubts. And I still plead with the Healer to restore my body and life once again.

But I cannot ignore the work God has wrought through my suffering. It’s an unexpected mercy, an uncommon gift.

Allow yourself the questions, give space for your heart to anguish. Mourn the losses and rage against the pain.

But don't be afraid to lean into it, either. And don't be surprised when God delivers glorious, powerful, unparalleled work in you through it. Healing is a worthy gift.  But suffering just might be, too.

Michele Cushatt

A storyteller at heart, Michele Cushatt has spoken nationwide with Women of Faith and Compassion International, and is co-host of the popular leadership podcast This Is Your Life With Michael Hyatt. Her first book, a memoir titled Undone: A Story of Making Peace With An Unexpected Life, released with Zondervan in 2015. Michele and her husband, Troy, live in Denver, Colorado with their six children. You can read more about her incredible story at www.MicheleCushatt.com.

Join the discussion

June January 11, 2017 at 5:21pm

I have been struggling with clinical depression for a couple of years now. I, too, have learned that there are sweet mercies in our pain. I believe I've received sweet comforting assurances from the Holy Spirit whenever the deep sorrow comes. God has assured me that He's in the trenches with me. I've learned that looking forward to my eternal home is not the only blessing that comes from my pain but a deeper need and longing for God while I'm still here is, too. Thanks so much for sharing this. Blessings to you and to Propel Women readers.

Carol February 14, 2016 at 4:22pm

Beautifully put and a timely reminder as I've just recently passed the 3 year mark of constant pain that has been severe for a majority of that time period and is just the latest bout in a 16 year cycle of intermittent health crises!!! Also helpful for my heart as I am still adjusting to a recent brain tumor diagnosis to add to all the other health issues in my body!!!!

Belinda February 5, 2016 at 12:17pm

Thank you for being honest about suffering ! As a member of His body , I have gotten a lot of flack from those who name and clams that healing is the only way and anything less is not acceptable ! If one is suffering I'm told it's got to be sin , unbelief or something because God never wants us to suffer ! He dosent make people sick , HE heals ! Yes He does , yet I know HE allows much suffering for many reasons and many we may never know , but as you wrote , treasures out of darkness , oh how true it is to those who have known this path paved with pain that for me has lasted over five years now of cronic pain ! As Job spoke so wisely , although HE slay me , yet I will trust Him for I know my redeemer lives and after HE has tried me I know I will come forth as gold ! Let it be I pray to you and all who press into Knowing Him more !

Belinda February 5, 2016 at 12:05pm

After Reading everything you have written, I can tell you that Sufferig is a teacher to the wise soul . As Job suffered and spoke so well : I know my redeemer Lives and I know when HE has tried my I will come out as Gold ! I pray through my own many years of chronic pain and suffering , that I can choose to be bitter or better . As a Pastor , it's expected to walk in faith and be healed or you must be in sin ! This message is another arrow that shoots at anyone that is being take. To the Fires of afflictions or Refining . I don't allow myself to question Gods Will . I do cry out for healing , yet I accept His will to grant me grace to overcome evil with good that I may minister through deep compassion to others who are suffering ! How could I say I understand if I have not suffered ? How can I mourn for others if I'm never touched by agony ? Love is cultivated through great suffering and humility comes to bring us lower as Christ is lifter higher Through it all ! I am pressing through great floods and fires that burn my soul , pressed on every side , yet I live after dying from a knee replacement ! God said no and brought me back from the dead . I had no pain just before I died and the Words cane : oh death where is thy sting ? Oh grave where is thy victory ? Then I smiled as my daughter said and I died ! Coded , minutes passed then I was revived by the Hand of God and pain returned that quickly reminded me that in this world we will have tribulations , but be of good cheer ! He has overcome the world so should we not follow His steps ? He is faithful to us at all times ! I am thankful for my pain that had taught me to trust God and use my pain to help others on my path . Thank you for sharing your story. Mine is far too much to write in this space . But I have told many of Gods goddess and how He truly brings treasures out of darkness , like all of my children are my treasures ! God bless your life of faithfulness to Believe no matter how you feel or what you endure . I'm with you in Christ Body , all members suffer together .

Jennell Woods February 5, 2016 at 8:41am

Our pain is not wasted! Thank you for this beautiful testimony of unexpected grace!

Laurel Lee February 4, 2016 at 3:14am

I have to disagree with you Catie. There are many places in the Bible where God directly sends physical illness to various persons (Both old and New Testament.). There are so many infact you should read about them. Go to ichthys.com and call up "Does God use disease to disapline us? One quick scripture I read is 1 Cor 11: 27 - 32. I am not saying God has purposely afflicted Michele but God for whatever his reasons allows physical and spiritual suffering to the most faithful of his believers. Yes he can choose to heal or He might want to use that persons suffering to teach that person to have more strength and courage or even to teach others the same thing through her. We are his instruments to do with as He chooses for whatever reasons he deems necessary. I believe Paul told us in many of his books about God sending and/or allowing us to suffer, he calls them trials. Through trials we gain strength, courage, and character so we might go out to show others how we grew from our affliction. Its part of witnessing. Didn't Paul also write his best books in the Bible in Jail while suffering? He chose to remain strong and faithful through his long suffering. Didn't Jesus directly on the spot blind him so he would see? I get and agree 100% with Michele. A quote I like is: "God does not put us in the water to drown us, He puts us in the water to cleanse us."

Catie February 2, 2016 at 4:04am

Thank you Michele, for your bold article. I agree with you that suffering can result in a blessing (James 1:2-4 Count it all joy!) After a difficult season in my life, I wrote up the following "Only if you have walked through hell yourself, you will know what hell feels like for others. Only if you have experienced pain yourself, you will know what pain feels like for others." And those times have definitely brought me closer to God. But I still believe that sickness and disease are not from God but from the enemy. We need to be careful to distinguish where those tribulations come from, and yet embrace them knowing that God shows himself strong in our weaknesses. Knowing that the victory is ours in Christ! Knowing that healing belongs to us, and that God wants us to be well!

Danielle February 1, 2016 at 10:14pm

This is such a powerful truth that I have experienced in such a small way yet agree with you wholeheartedly!
Thank you so very much for opening up and sharing this treasure out of darkness with us!
May God bless you and strengthen you!

Bonnie J. Russell January 31, 2016 at 1:59am

Thank you for your words of wisdom! I've had heal problems for the past 3 years with different maladies each time. This year was a cancer scar, but the tests were benign. I have question God more than I probably should have, yet through it all He has drawn me closer. I've had my pities parties probably like everyone else. Suffering is gift............ My testimony of how God is faithful through life's sufferings has been a blessing to others. Your testimony has given me hope to continue to remain faithful, 'and to fight the good fight' that Apostle Paul declared!

Letitita January 29, 2016 at 9:17pm

Beautiful words, such truth. Blessings xxx