When it comes to life, any stage of significant growth naturally means that not everything fits together just perfectly in the middle of such transition. Sometimes it makes for awkwardness, like with the teenager whose voice creaks during the onset of manhood, laughably caught somewhere between being a boy and an adult.
For my two-year-old, it’s the age old problem of hearing. I call it the TV-regulated five second delay. From the time you give a shout or order with his name, it unfolds like clockwork that he’ll continue doing whatever he was doing for approximately five seconds before he recognizes that you’ve spoken. Walking toward the street, taking his brother’s car from him, or reaching for an object he can’t afford to replace with the money in his piggy bank.
I think something similar happens to us when we’re going through significant growth in our lives as a result of suffering. As the psalmist put it, “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you” (Psalm 73:21-22). It’s as if we too, like my two-year-old son, develop a delayed reaction when God tries to get our attention in the midst of our pain.
David Powlison puts it this way,
Left to ourselves, we blindly react. Our troubles obsess us and distract us. We grasp at straws. God seems invisible, silent, far away. Pain and loss cry out loud and long. Faith seems inarticulate. Sorrow and confusion broadcast on all channels. It’s hard to remember anything else, hard to put into words what is actually happening, hard to feel any force from who Jesus Christ is. You might mumble right answers to yourself, but it’s like reading the phone book.
You pray, but your words sound rote, vaguely unreal, like pious generalities. You’d never talk to a real person that way. Meanwhile, the struggle churning within you is anything but rote and unreal. Pain and threat are completely engrossing. You’re caught in a swirl of apprehension, anguish, regret, confusion, bitterness, emptiness, uncertainty (Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, 149).
All this gets to the heart of our suffering, which is to hear God speak. “A sufferer’s primal need is to hear God talking and to experience him purposefully at work. That changes everything.”
One of the most unique things about the last few months and my own personal struggles has been the way God has spoken, changed my perspective, and forced me to listen to his voice. It’s as if the pain I have felt has been the opportunity for him to teach me the preciousness of God speaking. A final quotation and reflection,
God’s voice speaks deeper than what hurts, brighter than what is dark, more enduring than what is lost, truer than what happened. You awaken. You take it to heart, and you take heart. You experience that this is so. The world changes. You change. His voice changes the meaning of every hardship. What he does, has done, is doing, will do, alters the impact and outcome of everything happening to you… you grow more like Jesus, the man of sorrows acquainted with grief, the man after God’s own heart, who having loved his own loved them to the end (150).