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.
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.
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.