The Joy Found In Suffering

Written by guest writer Gabbie Nolen-Fratantoni, wife, mom, musician, and blogger.
We are honored that she has shared her story with us.

 

For the JOY set before Him, He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2)

Jesus endured the pain and agony of the cross considering the joy to come. Our Lord, beaten, bruised, and battered, set His focus on eternity knowing what awaits the believer is beyond comprehension and ultimately there are no more tears or death (Revelation 21:4). Surely, if our hope is in the Resurrected Jesus, then we who claim the name of Christ will live in light of our future, because “our momentary suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

It was nearly one summer ago when the salty sea billows rolled onto the shore of my stereotypical suburban life. I vividly recall sitting on the walkway leading to our front door, the hot pavement against my skin. As I sat not so much basking, but rather baking in the sun, I breathed in the sounds of three small children just on the other side. They had no idea I was there, much less how life as we knew it was changing–and wasn’t asking for our permission to do so. While I was hearing their laughter carrying from inside those four walls, I was also hearing a much louder voice on the other end of the phone I was clutching. The voice (the one I will never forget) said, “lesion”, “no cure”, “not enough research”, “metastasis”.  My heart sank knowing my husband of nine years was alone with the specialist in that cold, dark office, learning firsthand what might be the way God leads him from this world to the next.

As the gravel dug deeper into the flesh of my hands, I realized I was still on the ground. I knew then and there that I needed to rise quickly or I might stay down longer than I should. The only way to keep my knees from buckling as I stood was to white-knuckle the One who wasn’t marked by gravel, but was marked by nails–and those nails didn’t merely leave imprints, they broke the skin and the heart of the very One who promised to never let me go and who I could all but hear shouting out, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

When I was asked to share what the Lord has taught me over the course of these months, I had no idea where to begin, as streamlining the rapid-fire thoughts I have into something semi-coherent is quite challenging. The reality is God takes all my moments, magnifying and solidifying what I already know to be true of Him. In all that is taking place, He has gifted our family the ability to witness and minister in new ways. So, as I share what God has impressed upon me during this new season, I will call these “truths” as they are for everyone and I truly pray they might encourage you now or in the future.

TRUTH NUMBER ONE: GOD DOES NOT CALL THE EQUIPPED, HE EQUIPS THE CALLED. I have no idea who first coined that phrase, but it is so very rich. God loves to provide vibrant opportunities for His people to share the Good News. The reality is that people are often more apt to pay attention to those whose circumstances are not what this world deems “good.” For me, that looks like a husband who might leave his three small children sooner than I, in my flesh, would desire. It also looks like having a little boy with a rare clotting disorder which landed him under full anesthesia and multiple surgeries this past summer, while all I could do was pray. I did not feel equipped to handle watching my child and my husband both physically suffer, but God did equip me then and, by His grace, continues to do so now. And for my husband, he physically lost one of his eyes due to this cancer. It was gut-wrenching, and yet God has called him to literally bear witness that it doesn’t take physical eyes to see spiritual realities, and there are plenty of people who have both their eyes but never see what truly matters.

TRUTH NUMBER TWO: IT REALLY IS OKAY TO BE OKAY. There is a lot of talk these days about it being okay to not be okay. While this is true, it is also a gift to be content, and that God-given gift is received through many circumstances where we ultimately learn to trust the Giver. “I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13) and in the really hard moments, I still have His peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). This brings me to the next truth I want to share.

TRUTH NUMBER THREE: GOD USES WHOM HE CHOOSES. God has brought so much beauty from mounds of ashes over the course of my life, to deny that would be taking two steps back. Instead, I know because of the Lord’s consistent faithfulness through past trials, that we are walking through the valley–not staying in it (Psalm 23). Often it is those who don’t pour into you, who will be the very ones prodding you for details. Pastor Chuck once said, “God uses whom He chooses.” In this case, God chose to use our family through a means and mode we likely would not have chosen on our own. Cancer. Rare, incurable, can’t see it but it’s still there cancer. God answered our personal prayers for the opportunity to share the Gospel in bold ways quite concretely. God has moved me to understand that the prodding of those who don’t pour out should not immediately be seen as fodder for their gossip, but as an opportunity for me/us to pour into them. Perhaps certain people prod because they are in more pain than I/you will ever know. If I/we look at these types of situations through the Word of God, we can better love our neighbor as ourselves and be all the more mindful that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” 2 Corinthians 1:4. 

TRUTH NUMBER FOUR: DOCTRINE MATTERS. Jesus did not die so we would have pain-free lives in the here and now, though my husband and I were told that verbatim. We know this is not biblical, but not everyone does. It is this type of false teaching that leads many people away and further fans the belief that God is distant or the Christian faith is a “mental health crutch.” We knew from the moment we shared with others that my husband has a rare cancer, we also had a rare opportunity to share about the God of the Bible in such a way that others found hope. I have jokingly (or not so jokingly) said over the years that it is the local church who is quite possibly the greatest mission field due to the rampant false teaching and cherry picking of Scripture that abounds. If, in the middle of your perceived crisis, you make it known that the God of the “name it, claim it” camp is not the One of the Bible, non-believers might not stand mocking, but might stand in awe as you trust in God’s plans and purpose for your pain. It is up to believers to rightly divide Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15) and to always have an answer for those who ask about the hope you have (1 Peter 3:15). For the sake of all those we love, we wanted to let everyone know from the very beginning, that God does indeed always heal–He just does not always do so on this side of eternity! And, regardless of His plan for how this ultimately plays out for my husband and our family, our faith is one that is looking forward, and in that we celebrate! “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” Romans 8:18.

TRUTH NUMBER FIVE: PRUNING IS PAINFUL, BUT THE FRUIT IS GOOD. Not one person gets out of this world unscathed by something. We all experience pain on some level. It is through the experience of suffering, however, that the fragrance of eternity touches our souls, pleading with us to turn to the One who–for the joy set before Him–endured the cross. The Triune God sweetly reveals Himself to us in His Word, and to all who believe, we will not perish but will have eternal life with Christ! While pruning is painful, you appreciate and savor the delicacies it later produces. The Lord is faithful to tend to those who are His. I want to shout out from the mountaintops that this world is not our home and if we are to grow in Christ, we will experience suffering, but in our suffering, we get to grow in our walk and love for Jesus.

The valley we are walking through is not a permanent residence in which to set up shop, but a hallway leading us from one living space to another. It is here, in this great in between, we can still focus on joy. And, since God laid it on my heart to begin with how Jesus set His focus on the joy set before Him, I want to leave you all with these soothing words from James 1:2-4 and remind you that no matter what your circumstances say, your Maker has the final say. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords defeated the cross and rose from the grave. He is alive, and you can be alive with Him too.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

Gabbie Nolen-Fratantoni loves Jesus and is passionate about serving Him through the arts by leading worship and writing for various ministries. She is married to Greg, her hard-working, iron-sharpening-iron spouse. They are opposite in personality but equal in dedication to their marriage and family. Gabbie and Greg are the proud  parents of three active, sweet, and fun boys and one gentle, joy-filled little girl. An Aggie and graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, Gabbie is a small-town country girl trapped in the city. She loves getting to know people and encouraging them as they seek to know Jesus and make Him known.

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