Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

God’s Lessons During Suffering

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I have to admit that I was afraid of the COVID-19 virus from the beginning. My wife Tammy and I both have underlying conditions which would have made it hard to recover from the virus, and so we were very careful (wearing a mask, social distancing, not eating in restaurants, watching the live stream of our church services, using Zoom for meetings, etc.). My Dad already had shortness of breath from congestive heart failure and I knew it would be very difficult for him to recover from the virus if he contracted it.
For months, the coronavirus vaccines were in very short supply in our county. Tammy and I got ours in a city about an hour away from our home. When my brother and his wife were ready to get their vaccines there were no appointments available during the entire month of May, so they scheduled an appointment for May 4 in a town about forty minutes away. Unfortunately, a few days before their appointment they contracted the virus. The day after they were to get the vaccine my sister-in-law went into the hospital with pneumonia. Two days later my brother was hospitalized. My sister-in-law recovered quickly, and was able to go home the day my brother was admitted to the ICU. My brother’s condition was much more serious, and he was put on a ventilator on May 8. The nurses were not optimistic about his chances for survival, but the Lord showed mercy to him and our family, and he is now on the long road to recovery.
During this time, the Lord has been teaching and reminding me of many things about myself. Here are a few of the main ones.

  • Faith. This crisis has brought me closer to God. While my faith has never been stronger, I greatly feared losing my brother. I knew that God was able to heal my brother, but I didn’t know if it was His will. A few hours before he was put on the ventilator, my brother and I were communicating via Facebook Messenger. I told him to fight and that I didn’t want to lose him. His response was simply “God’s will”. This short article by R.C. Sproul recounts the time that Jesus prayed to the Father to remove the cup from him in the Garden of Gethsemane. In complete submission to the Father’s will, Jesus prayed “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42). That was how we approached God’s healing of my brother, “if it be Thy will”.
  • Fear/Anxiety/Worry. I mentioned above the fear of losing my brother. This was an overwhelming fear that gripped me in the pit of my stomach. It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning and it was with me all day. This fear would lead me to tears often. I’ve read that fear is a lack of trust in God. That’s not the fear that I was experiencing. It was the fear of losing my younger brother, no longer being able to enjoy time with him. I trusted God, but didn’t know if it was His will to heal my brother, as I mentioned above.
  • Waiting/Patience. As Tom Petty once sang, “The waiting is the hardest part”. I admit that I am not good at waiting, or being patient. My sister-in-law would normally call the nurses for updates twice a day. Tammy and I tended to live from update to update. Our spirits rose when we got a good update, and sunk when he had a setback. There would be baby steps forward, setbacks and many “uneventful days”, which the nurse would tell my sister-in-law were actually good days. Even though we were told over and over by doctors and nurses that it would be a very long road, demonstrating patience and waiting for my brother to wake up and be able to get off the ventilator was very difficult, as well as waiting with a hopeful spirit. You can relate to how easy it is to have every negative thought pass through your head while waiting for news.  You have to really make an effort to be patient and hopeful.   It’s a challenge to believe what Paul Tripp said, “When God calls you to wait, the wait itself is a tool of his grace.”  You can also read one of his articles:  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/5-reasons-why-god-calls-us-to-wait/
  • Scripture/Music. During this time, I turned to comforting passages of scripture (Psalm 46, Isaiah 41, Psalm 56:3, etc.), and music. I enjoyed listening to Keith and Kristyn Getty’s album Evensong Deluxe: An Evening at Hidden Trace Farm. My favorite song of comfort was their version of “Be Still My Soul”/“He Will Hold Me Fast”.
  • Family/Friends. During this time, we drew comfort and strength from family and friends. After our sister-in-law was released from the hospital and recovered, we could spend time with her and after 21 days visit my brother in the hospital. We got closer to her than ever before, and leaned on each other. We were encouraged by the many people who said that they were praying for my brother, including many of his softball community friends who I may never meet, but will always be thankful for.
  • Prayer. I’ve never been so intense in prayer. I would get on my knees each morning and use my forty-minute afternoon walk to offer up thanksgiving and more requests to the Father. This season is as close as I’ve ever gotten to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:27). I read once that for every request you make to the Father that you thank him ten times, and I tried to be mindful to do that. We hoped and prayed for my brother’s healing, but were realistic to know during the early weeks of his time on the ventilator that we may very well lose him. Our intent was always that God would get all of the glory. Soli Deo Gloria.
  • Life. I was reminded of how things that seem to mean a lot to me most of the time meant very little when you are facing a life and death situation. We eliminated many things in our schedule, keeping just the basics of life. Time almost stood still during my brother’s time in the ICU. As when my Dad died just seven months before my brother and sister-in-law got sick, I was again helped by Elisabeth Elliot’s advice to “Just do the next thing”. Don’t think too far ahead. Just do the next thing.
  • Appreciation.  When the death of my brother was a very real possibility (the nurses were not optimistic to my sister-in-law, and repeatedly told her that he was very sick), I spent time reflecting on my brother, the times we have shared together and how much he meant to me. This was a good reminder for us not to wait until it’s too late to tell your loved ones that you love them.
  • Self-Centered. During this time, I found it hard to enter into the joy of others as they enjoyed vacations, going to baseball games, shared what they were reading, etc. I know that’s wrong, but that is how I felt. It was the way I felt looking out of a hospital room twenty-five years ago as my Mom was dying. As cars drove by and people went on their way, I wanted to scream, “Don’t you know that my Mom is dying in here?” I know this is not the proper perspective to have, but I’m being honest with you on what I felt. I was reminded by scripture that the proper perspective is to be able to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), as friends and family within our circle will be experiencing both each day.
  • Control. I like to feel that I’m in control. I say “feel” because when I really think about it, I’m never in control of my life, God is. I was reminded of this again during this trial. As much as I would have liked to fix my brother’s situation, I had to wait on and trust in God, and I’m continuing to do that.

These are things, and I’m sure the Spirit will reveal others to me, that I’ve been taught or reminded of, during this time. In addition, there were two “side benefits” of my brother and sister-in-law’s illness’s illness:

  • Seeing what COVID-19 did to my brother convinced a few family members who had not yet gotten the COVID vaccination to do so.
  • After my brother and his wife tested positive, a dear doctor friend told me that we needed to get them a pulse oximeter, and if their oxygen level got to or below 90, they would need to seek medical assistance. Without that device, my brother may have not have taken his wife to the hospital, instead thinking that they could just ride it out. I strongly recommend that anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 get a pulse oximeter to monitor their oxygen level.

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence ~ married to my best friend for more than 40 years and a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Before retiring I served as a manager at a Fortune 50 company; I'm a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary and in leadership at my local church. I enjoy speaking about calling, vocation and work. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop to their fullest potential and to utilize their strengths more fully. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinders themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony and Achiever, and my two StandOut strengths roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book and 2 Corinthians 5:21 my favorite verse. Some of my other favorite books are Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, The Prodigal Son (originally titled A Tale of Two Sons) by John MacArthur and Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I enjoy Christian hip-hop/rap music, with Lecrae, Trip Lee and Andy Mineo being some of favorite artists.

3 thoughts on “God’s Lessons During Suffering

  1. Love this article! I’ve heard it said before “why does God allow suffering?” or some variant. I’ve learned to think of our suffering as a way for us to experience the love and service of others, and give others the opportunity to minister to us. Glad to hear your brother is on the road to recovery.

  2. Just finished reading all of this. With you in all of it. Thank God for our dependence on Him, for each breath we take, for healing even in very little steps. Hugs and blessings to all my Pence Family! Pat

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