When my 18-month-old daughter, Dana, awoke from her nap, she didn't seem bothered by the mysterious bruise on her forehead. But I was. It was the tenth unexplained bruise I had found on her body in the last two days. When I called the doctor and was told to bring Dana in immediately for some tests, I was concerned. But when the doctor, after reviewing the tests, instructed me to take Dana to the cancer/leukemia ward of a children's hospital to see one of the best blood specialists in the country, and said I should plan to spend several days there, I knew we were facing something big.
As my husband drove the 60 miles to the children's hospital, Dana slept in her car seat and I stared out the window, praying that the Lord would carry us through the uncertain days ahead. I knew my husband and I were being asked to trust God -- trust Him with our only child's life, trust Him with the medical bills we would be accruing, and trust Him with the process He was bringing us through for His purposes.
A verse I'd memorized in high school echoed through my mind over the hum of the car engine: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-3).
Consider this joy, Lord, how? I prayed. This is my only child…and I might be losing her!
My first concern was for Dana's health, but I also prayed that God would strengthen me through the situation and help me to pass whatever test I was being given. Although I truly wanted to grow through whatever God was doing in our lives, I didn't consider it "joy". The next three days were emotionally draining as I watched nurses wake my daughter in the middle of the night for blood tests, and observed young children who were experiencing uncomfortable chemotherapy. After a bone marrow test and a lot of waiting, we learned of Dana's condition. Her immune system had suffered a rare reaction to an antibiotic she had been taking, by attacking her body's blood platelets. The low blood-platelet count had caused the bruising, the only evidence of what was happening inside her body. Her treatment consisted of blood glucose injections to raise her blood platelet count and signal her immune system to stop the attack. The blood specialist was hesitant to predict whether Dana would experience a normal recovery (which takes six months to three years, on the average) or have a chronic condition in which she would need to be hospitalized on weekends for treatment throughout her lifetime.
Lord, you know what I can handle. Don't give me an inch more, I prayed throughout those few days, trying to remind myself that He was in control.
Miraculously, Dana was released from the hospital three days earlier than anticipated with an immediate recovery. Two months later, her doctor said he'd never seen a child recover from this type of disease so quickly and completely.
God was gracious. He took us only to the edge of a full-fledged crisis and let us look at it from a distance, before leading us peacefully back to our comfort zone. He gave us a glimpse of what He spared us from and a greater appreciation of His mercy, provision and grace.
As I carried Dana through the doorway of our home, four days after discovering that bruise on her forehead, I found that I also carried with me some priceless treasure. I had a greater appreciation for my daughter's health and life, a greater realization of God's intimate work in my own life, and a greater knowledge of His comfort and peace. I had also learned a valuable lesson about trusting Him with our finances after seeing financial help come in from everywhere and leaving the hospital without owing a cent!
Looking back now, did I consider it joy? Not the experience. But the fact that I had been transformed in the trial from an independent, self-sufficient woman to a woman of utter dependence on God was reason to celebrate.
You may never experience a close call in the life of your child. But you may experience the death of someone you love, the pain and bitterness of divorce, the disappointment of hopes never materializing, the absence of love from the man you wanted the most. Your trials may come during certain seasons of life, like when you're newly married and find you can't have children, or when you've been married 20 years and find your husband has become a stranger. Or your trials may consist of frustrations that bombard you on a daily basis: experiencing hassles at home, not having enough money to pay the bills, being asked to do the impossible, or seeing your plans fall through.
Whether they be complicated or simple, with long-term effects or temporary, trials and frustrations can hinder our spiritual growth, causing bitterness, self-pity and emotional hang ups, or they can be catalysts for growth and maps to finding eternal treasure.
The Bible says "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)." The following verse lists the reason we can confidently say that all things -- including trials and frustrations -- work together for our good: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son...." (Romans 8:28-29).
Those whom God "foreknew" are the believers who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. And those believers, the verse says, were chosen before the foundation of the world to become like Jesus in every way.
That is how all things work together for good in our lives. That is the silver lining in our sufferings -- the fact that God is using our pain and frustrations to conform us to the likeness of His Son, Jesus.
Jesus experienced many trials. The prophet Isaiah called him "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). He experienced poverty (2 Corinthians 8:9), homelessness (Matthew 8:20), criticism (Mark 2:16), rejection (Matthew 11:20), betrayal by a friend (John 18:15), temptation (Matthew 4:1), and a need to be alone (Luke 6:12; John 6:15). He was also grieved (Matthew 26:38), falsely accused (Mark 3:22), conspired against (Mark 3:6), and beaten and humiliated (Matthew 26:67). Yet with all the frustration He encountered, He never sinned. He never doubted His Father's love. He never threw up His hands and called it quits.
In facing difficulties and frustrations, we can better relate to Jesus by learning how to respond to our situations as He would have. That is conforming to His image. And that conforming, that transformation of our character, is the treasure that lies buried within our turmoil.
Isaiah 45:3 says "And I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, in order that you may know that it is I, the Lord... who calls you by your name."
Be comforted knowing there are "treasures of darkness" and "hidden wealth" in the secret places of your pain … and be encouraged that it's all so we will really know God and become more like His Son.
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and author of several books, including ‘When Women Walk Alone' (more than 100,000 copies sold). For more on her ministry, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.