Learning to Cling to God in Suffering

Whenever my youngest son, now about 18 months, gets scared or hurt, he runs to mommy—or daddy, if he’s really desperate—and clings to her with a vice-like death grip. You can literally feel the shaking terror in his body, and he sinks his normally tender little fingers into our skin like miniature daggers.

It’s an interesting thing to ponder: When he’s most grieved, most frazzled, most terrified or upset, he doesn’t run to his sippy cup, his blankie or his toys, and even his pacifying fingers won’t do the trick. In fact, those things seem to disappear, as if they didn’t even exist. No, he runs for a person—usually mommy—because he knows the one who comforts, heals, holds and makes it all better.

Even if you took away all he had, he’d still cling to mommy that way. It’s his instinctive reaction to pain or fear or sadness. He places his faith—more relational than intellectual, but genuine nonetheless—totally in his mommy. And he clings.

In Job 1, God tells Satan (“the accuser”) that Job is “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (v. 8). Job is a faithful, choice servant of the Lord, in other words. Satan’s response is this: Job only loves you because of all the blessing you’ve poured out on his life; take that away and he’ll spit in your face (v.9-10).

Likewise, when we suffer and go through trials of many different kinds, one of the central questions God is forcing us to answer is this: Would you still love me even if many or all of the blessings in your life were taken away? Or to put it another way, Would you still cling to God in the midst of loss, pain or tragedy, even if all outward means of comfort were stripped from you?

When big, long term suffering and trials hit in my life, I usually spend the first 3-6 months trying to distract myself (not clinging). I’ll run to movies, books, coffee, food, exercise or any one of a thousand different distractions to avoid what’s going on. After the distraction phase—which never works, by the way—I get angry (still not clinging). Once I realize I can’t avoid this and can’t run from it, I get frustrated, depressed and I despair (not clinging, even still). I’m grouchy and surly, and I respond harshly when the kids or my wife says or does pretty much anything.

After that I hit a wall, sink into a pit, and realize there is absolutely nothing in my power I can do to fix this. I come apart emotionally, even physically, and it’s hard to want to get up in the morning. I have to force myself to walk through the motions of daily life, reminding myself of duty and obligation, as well as the promise of joy to those who remain faithful in heartache. It’s not a process of days or weeks, but months and years.

In dust and ashes, finally, there’s nowhere left to turn, nothing left to do. Nothing, that is, but cling to God, to fall on my face in prayer, to wear out my teary eyes with cries to the Lord of all comfort, that like Job I might see a day of joy again, and my time in the dust will finally yield gladness (Job 42:6). And then, finally, I learn to cling again.

Somewhere in the midst of all my wrestling with God, I find myself clinging to him, just like my young son. He’s growing me up, using this trial to teach me how to rule like a king—like Him. By his grace I will learn to lean into the suffering, embrace the suck as God’s loving discipline, and find comfort in my clinging—even if the blessings don’t return to me in the time frame I desire.

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself, and am comforted in dust and ashes (Job 42:2, 5-6).

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