Can I make a confession? When I am suffering, the first thing I want to do is wallow in self pity. I cry. I get angry. I question. I struggle with God’s goodness. And you know what? God knows our frame – He can handle it.
In my self pity, He meets me with compassion.
In my tears, He comforts.
In my anger, He calms.
In my questions, He reassures.
In my struggle over His goodness, He shows me time and time again that it’s true: God is good.
But I cannot stay in those hard places, ignoring where God meets me, letting bitterness and unbelief take root. In times of intense heartache and struggle, I do little more than read the Psalms and pray. God’s Word truly is the best place to start and meditate on His truth.
But when the fog is lifting, and you can’t quite reconcile your circumstances with your faith, I’ve found several books that have encouraged and challenged my weary heart. I’ve provided excerpts below, most of the them recorded in my journals over the past several years. (I go back and forth between writing and highlighting in books themselves and just recording excerpts in journals. I’m torn – anyone else have this struggle?!?)
I know there are tons of resources out there on grief and suffering – the books listed are ones that I have personally read since my VEDS diagnosis six years ago. If you don’t know where to start, I highly recommend these four. (affiliate links*)
A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty
by Joni Eareckson Tada
A quadriplegic due to a diving accident at the age of 17, Joni Eareckson Tada is no stranger to pain. She has been a hero of mine since I first learned of her testimony and read one of her books during my own first lengthy illness at age 20. Her ministry is worldwide, and 50 years in a wheelchair hasn’t been her only battle – she’s overcome stage III breast cancer and suffered with horrible chronic pain in recent years. When it comes to suffering, she knows what she’s talking about. I love how Joni’s writing always points back to Scripture and the hope of Heaven. And pressed in these exact pages of my journal were “flowers” (aka weeds) from my then-four-year-old (two years ago!) – how sweet is that?
“Will we allow the truth of God’s promises to change the way we see life, with all its challenges and obstacles? To ease our fears and calm our anxieties? To give us hope and confidence when there doesn’t seem to be any earthly reason for either?”
“God won’t always change our circumstances, but if we ask Him, He will often step in to change our perspective! He will help us catch a glimpse of life through the eyes of faith, as He sees it. And that glimpse is worth everything.”
Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy
by Nancy Leigh Demoss (now Wolgemuth)
This book gave me a much-needed boost for a spiritual discipline that I’d neglected far too long in my life – gratitude, an especially hard practice when walking through a valley. I began this book about a year after my VEDS diagnosis, still reeling with what that meant for my faith and my family. Each day in my journal, I wrote a “thankful five” to make practicing gratitude more deliberate; some of those included being able to swallow and talk, and not hooking up to IV feeding for 12 hours a night, things that were different just a year before.
The book comes with an easy-to-follow 30-day devotional, plus a list of hymns of gratitude (yes, please!). I’ve since abandoned my “thankful five” practice, but I think I might just start up again. This book does not ignore that thankfulness is a sacrifice of praise – but oh, how it changes us and glorifies our Father!
“Do we only give glory to God for the part of our life that’s going the way we want? Or do we worship Him, trust Him, and give Him thanks, just because He is God – regardless of the dark, painful, incomprehensible places we encounter in our journey?”
“Resolve not to let your joy level be determined by the presence or absence of storms, but by the presence of God.”
Anxious for Nothing: God’s Cure for the Cares of Your Soul
by John MacArthur
(Note: There is another recent book by this title by a well-known Christian author, but I haven’t read that one yet; I can vouch that this one is a good one!)
Anxiety can be paralyzing. It can stem from a variety of sources – health crises, financial stress, relationships, social situations, the unknown, and more. MacArthur says praise involves two things: 1) Reciting God’s attributes and 2) Reciting God’s works. I’ve learned that if I take my focus off myself, and reflect on God and His eternal purposes for me and my circumstances, then I can handle the hardships of life much better. This book also talks about praise as a prescription for anxiety.
Friends, I’m not claiming that this book or the others are a cure-all (sometimes other helps like counseling and medications are necessary; trust me, I’ve been there) – but there is a reason God calls us to renew our minds and set our minds on things above. Nothing has changed my perspective more on my incurable diagnosis and the certainty of God’s goodness than His Word and the resources that point me to it. This book also features an appendix “Psalms for the Anxious” – awesome! So if you don’t know where to go in your Bible, start there!
“When you grow weary in the race, focus that much more on Jesus. Remember that His life of faith led to joy and triumph, and yours will, too.”
“Some people assume worry is the result of too much thinking. Actually, it’s the result of too little thinking in the right direction. If you know who God is and understand His purposes, promises, and plans, it will help you not to worry.” (Added by me: Even if we don’t fully understand His purposes, promises, and plans [right now], we can trust His Person!)
Off Script: What to Do when God Rewrites Your Life
by Cary Schmidt
This book was recommended to me by my good friend Lisa, who survived cancer twice while in her 40s. Lisa and I “get” each other, and while I’ve never had cancer, I trusted her recommendation fully. I’m so glad I did! I read this book when I was still struggling with my story. I consider myself an adaptable person, but I certainly didn’t “bounce back” when I learned of my condition that causes aneurysms and ruptured organs. Definitely not in my version of my life script! The author is a pastor, and he wrote this book during his cancer journey, so it offers a unique perspective on suffering, while not knowing how his story would end. (I won’t leave you hanging – Schmidt is still pastoring and still writing.)
Pastor Schmidt highlights 10 decisions that can transform you life in times of trial – these are needful and practical; there’s just a certain credibility when hearing instruction from someone who has also walked through pain, loss, and uncertainty. He also ends each chapter with an appropriate hymn – oh, how the truths in those songs can minister to you when you are hurting! This book also gave me perspective on loving those close to me who faced cancer.
I cannot find my journal from when I read this book, and I didn’t mark in its pages (arghh, why?!?). The cover is scribbled on, so I’m guessing a certain son of mine was probably around two years old. I reviewed the book again to find these gems:
“The Cross settles every doubt that could ever be aired about God’s nature or character…When the enemy attacks God in your mind and starts demanding Divine explanations – when your heart starts wanting to throw out spiritual ultimatums, commanding God to prove Himself good or to ‘get you out of the mess He’s created’ – look again to the Cross.”
“Off script times, especially those that involve suffering, require endurance…God doesn’t intend your trial to take you to the brink of sanity. He intends it to bring you into His presence, and thus His strength.”
This is not an exhaustive list, but these books are precious to me. I just got back last week from a CT scan and positive doctor’s appointment – stable aneurysms mean no planned surgeries this year. But an unpredictable illness means that I must hold these truths close, so I will not be shaken if something does come up. (Psalm 62:1-2) I hope that you can, even in your hurt, say with me, “Oh His Goodness!”
*Note: This page does include Amazon affiliate links, which means that at no cost to you, if you purchase a book from the above links, I will receive a small stipend. The Oh His Goodness blog is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to www.amazon.com.