During this season of Lent, we’ve journeyed together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.
I’ve shared stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry.
I’ll share a few more with you in this week before Easter, known as Holy Week in the Christian Calendar. As we reflect on these stories of suffering, let’s also remember our Lord, the Savior who suffered in our place. Remember that we are healed and given an eternal inheritance by the scourge marks on his back and the nail prints in his hands. Here is a testimony from a Sojourn East member:
Over the last five years, these have been my milestones:
-Losing my job in Colorado when the company I worked for closed after a fatal accident took place.
-Moving my family to New York, entering the Army National Guard as a combat medic and spending six months in training away from my wife. We saw each other for four non-consecutive days during the first half of 2008.
-Two weeks after returning home from training I was indicted on multiple felonies in Colorado in relation to the fatal accident, and was named in a 32 million dollar lawsuit (despite being ridiculously innocent of any wrong-doing). The details surrounding this are complex, but – in brief – despite being unemployed and nearly bankrupt the Lord worked in my favor to help me acquire a $1500/hr legal defense team, which included the Denver Broncos’ corporate attorney. I’m nobody and I have nothing but the Lord rescued me from wrongful criminal accusations in a powerful way.
-This period in time led to a season of immense repentance in my life and marriage. Many deeply rooted sins in my heart and my wife’s heart were confessed to each other and forgiven. I decided to pursue seminary rather than medical school. We recognized that all of our reasons for waiting to have children were sinful, based on doubting the Lord’s provision for us. So my wife became pregnant with our first child shortly thereafter. It took felony charges to awaken me from my spiritual stupor and sinful selfishness.
-At the same time, our church in New York went through a schism over a doctrinal disagreement amongst the elders. Many of our friends left the church, effectively ending contact with us as well. Our efforts to keep in touch with them were futile. We lost many people whom we thought were our good friends.
-A couple months later I got a phone call from my mother while I was at work (for my dad’s small business), asking me to come check on my father who wasn’t feeling well. My lawyer called while I was driving to my parents’ home and told me that all the criminal charges against me had been dismissed “with prejudice” (meaning the lawsuit can’t be brought against me again)!
I arrived at my parents’ house to share the good news with them, but recognized that my father was having a stroke. I carried him down the stairs of the house where I had grown up and into an ambulance which would take him to the hospital. He died there, just days later – Dec 19, 2008.
-I was the only one with my father through his last conscious moments, praying with him and reading Scripture to him and holding his hand as we walked together through his death. He was a believer and I was overwhelmed by gratefulness before grief, and I spent the last moments with him thanking him (and the Lord) for being my father, rather than saying goodbye.
-Since I worked for my dad at the time, I quit taking a paycheck so my mom could have the money while I shut down my father’s business; the only job I could find after that was pressure washing out garbage trucks and street sweepers to barely make ends meet for my family.
-Our first daughter was born a couple months later. We named her “Abigail,” which means “a father’s joy,” because the news of her conception and her birth were some of the only purely joyful moments in 2008-2009. We viewed my wife’s pregnancy and Abby’s birth as signs of the Lord’s favor in the midst of deeply trying circumstances. (It’s really hard not to spoil her now as she gets older!)
-Then we moved to Louisville so I could attend seminary; I worked 40-70 hours a week for an ambulance company while going to school full time for the first year in order to pay our bills. I couldn’t sleep much, I didn’t eat well, I didn’t exercise at all, I saw a lot of death and suffering, and I was away from my family nearly all the time. It took a toll on us.
-Before the end of the first semester I found out that I would be deploying to Iraq, so I would have to be away from my family for an extended time again and my education would need to be put on hold.
-My wife suffered a miscarriage shortly thereafter. It was heartbreaking.
-A few months later, she gave birth to our second daughter alone (on Father’s day) while I was deployed, then the baby was rushed to intensive care immediately for respiratory issues, and I came home on emergency leave to support my family and see my little girl covered in tubes and wires. We were not able to hold or touch her for days. I was home for six days then had to return to the deployment, though she came home on the seventh day (Hallelujah!), so I didn’t even get to see her meet her sister for the first time. Then I missed the first six months of her life while I was in Iraq.
-Last fall, my son was born and taken to intensive care as well, with a rare viral meningitis. We spent a week in the hospital watching over and praying for him before bringing him home as well.
Throughout all of these circumstances, I was not as faithful as Job. I sinned with my mouth. There was an extended period of time, particularly after my father’s death, in which I was very angry with God about the circumstances of my life.
Just as with Job, the devil bets that he can make us curse God. “I bet I can make them hate you. I bet they don’t love you like they say. I bet I can make them curse you.”
For a time, I believed God to be sovereign, but not good. In 2010, through counseling with pastors in our local church and through some of my required reading at seminary I was led to earnest repentance of this sin and was freed from anger directed toward God. I firmly believe that He has done all things well – even in my worst experiences – and “I have set my face like flint and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Is 50:7) by sinning against God again in this way. By his grace, anger is not a life-dominating sin for me any longer, and he kept me faithful throughout the trials of miscarriage, combat deployment,and the illnesses of my newborn children (among others).
Throughout this suffering the compelling story of the cross of Christ has been driven home to me and my family in unshakable ways. I realized that the ugliness of my sins of anger were things which Christ took on himself. He absorbed my anger and the punishment my anger deserved, and has only ever responded to me with the severest mercy. So my sins of anger killed him – there’s a real sense in which anger kills.
But then he rises again to new life — and in the power of the Spirit which raised Christ to new life, I can live a new life as well. I’m not only free from the guilt and the shame associated with my past sins of anger, but I am free to respond in the future like my Savior has responded to me. When I perceive an offense to me and I would normally become angry, I can absorb that offense just as he absorbed the offense of my anger, and I can respond with mercy to others, just as he has responded with mercy to me.
So in the cross and the resurrection of Christ I find the pardon for my anger and the power to overcome my anger. “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!”
More than anything else, what I have learned through these trials can be summarized in 2 Cor 4:17-18,
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”