Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Edit: The sermon mentioned in this post is now online in video and mp3

Sundays are the hardest days for me. It was the same when Lydia was in the NICU. I’m not sure exactly what it is…maybe it’s seeing all the families together at church. Maybe it’s all the babies being held by their mama’s when I don’t get to have mine with me. Partly, I think it is the worship songs. Songs that we sing during church are full of deep truths about God: His lordship, His holiness, His sovereignty. They confess that God is in control, that He is good in all He does, and that we are joyfully, willingly surrendering all and worshiping this God. On a typical Sunday these are all fine and wonderful things. However, when you’re struggling through a trial, those truths hit a little deeper and a little harder. You think a lot more before you sing something out loud. Surrendering to God’s control carries a new weight to it because you know that it might mean going through something hard and still confessing God’s goodness.

Anyway, whatever the full reason is, Sundays are my hardest days. When our kind friends at church ask “How are you doing?”, half the time I start crying. Then I have to reassure them that Abby is doing fine, great, in fact. “So, what’s wrong?”

Dan asks me the same thing when I get down sometimes at night, right before I go to sleep. “What’s wrong?” And he is usually rewarded with a drawn out list:

Our sink won’t drain. The garbage disposal is broken.
The handle just fell off our laundry room door.
My peanut butter spatula** is gone.
I’m tired.
Our house is a mess.
And my baby is in the hospital.

**my peanut butter spatula, which I was thrilled to re-discover when we moved after a summer of being packed away, is a thin “icing spatula” that I use to clean out jars, mainly peanut butter jars which we go through multiple times a week. Since the first time I got to use it in this apartment, it has mysteriously disappeared.

The list varies, depending on what new stressors have come up, but I always end it the same. My baby is in the hospital.

And then, at other times, I feel perfectly fine. Sometimes I can prance into the NICU like it’s “just another normal day” and smile and hear an update on Abby. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a big deal at all. She’s stable, doing well, doctors are pleased, and will be home in a month or two.

Is this suffering?

Prior to our latest discovery during Abigail’s birth, I never really had a reason to grieve. I’m sure I’ve heard loads of sermons, and plenty of Biblical teaching on grief and suffering, but I must never have had enough motivation to really pay attention. Starting the night after Abby was born, I began to wonder what the Bible really says about grief.

Since I know others have suffered far more than me, is it ok for me to be sad?
Do I deserve to be rebuked for being so down?
Is it wrong for me to be hurt when people act like this is all “no big deal” and tell me it will “be over before you know it”?
Am I overreacting?
How much of this really is just postpartum hormones?
Will I offend those people who have suffered greater things?
How do I respond when well-meaning people say things that don’t comfort me at all?
Since our troubles are small to God, is He annoyed that I can’t just “get over it”?

How fitting it was yesterday, when our guest speaker at church preached a sermon on “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”. Not only was it a fitting sermon, our speaker was a pediatric heart surgeon who operates on babies, has operated on preemies at the very hospital where Abby is, and knows all of her doctors and much of the other staff there. And he is one of those people who has suffered greater things than I have.

But at the same time, he was full of compassion. He spoke with gentleness and kindness and wisdom and truth. Early in the sermon, he made the point: we should never trivialize the sufferings of others. And we should never claim to fully know God’s purpose in allowing suffering into someone else’s life.

And so, in perfect timing, God answered many of my questions. No matter what trial I am going through at any given time, it is the trial which God has allowed into my life for a reason. It may not be hard in someone else’s life, but it will be hard in mine. And God, who created me, knows that and has compassion. God, who sees all and knows deeper love, joy, hope, and pain than I ever will, isn’t offending by my suffering. He offers comfort. And He uses suffering to fulfill His purpose in my life.

As far as others are concerned, it isn’t a ranking system of suffering. Just because someone has suffered more than someone else, doesn’t mean they are special, or stronger (or weaker), or godlier than anyone else. As Christians, we aren’t supposed to compare or belittle anyone’s sufferings. God only asks us to enter in to their suffering, to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

I hope that, through this time in the NICU and the disappointment of never being able to have a full-term baby, Dan and I will become more compassionate Christians who are equipped to enter in with others who are suffering.  Even if the suffering seems small in our eyes. Even if the suffering seems like something harder than anything we’ve experienced, something with which we could not honestly relate.

And now, because I know Abby’s fans, followers, and prayer warriors need their update…

Weight: 3 pounds, 6 ounces
Feeding: 30 milliliters fortified to 24 cal every 3 hours given over the course of 1 1/2 hours

Abby had another pleasing weight gain last night. She has been struggling to digest lately, having more leftover milk in her tummy at the following feeding times, and going whole days without a dirty diaper. She has also started spitting up again. For now, we are just waiting it out. She’s still young and small and will, hopefully, outgrow these problems.

Now that Abby is 32+ weeks old, she will start receiving iron in a couple of her feeds. Lydia, when she was in the NICU, hated her iron and it always made her spit up. Preemie’s aren’t able to produce red blood cells on their own without receiving extra iron, because most babies get their iron stores built up from Mom during the last weeks of pregnancy. Abby never got that. So we’ll see how she does with these supplements added to her “salted caramel lattes”.

On a brighter note, the physical therapist stopped by today and took a look at little Abby. She was impressed. Her feet may or may not be improving, it’s hard to tell. However, Abby is “very social”. Most babies favor either their hearing or sight, but apparently Abby is excelling at both. When Dan talks to her, she will turn her head and look at him. At the same time, when she’s awake she is “bright eyed” looking around at everything. Tonight we’re going to bring in some family pictures to put above her in the isolette, so that she can “look at us” even when we’re not there.  (Just a side note: Dan and I recently learned that Lydia’s isolette, her “bed”, costs $45,000.  Yikes!)

Lydia remains the NICU’s favorite toddler. A while ago one of the neonatologists (there are five that rotate) tried to befriend Lydia a little unsuccessfully. Dan informed the doctor that Lydia likes stickers (which are available in ample supply at the reception desk). Yesterday the doctor was back on and brought us two packages of stickers that she had gone out and bought just for Lydia. Originally she bought her some other toy but it was for ages 3 and up, and she didn’t want us to sue her. Lydia happily took the stickers and ignored the doctor. Dan says you just can’t buy her friendship.

Praise the Lord
We are thanking God for:
-Abby’s development: seeing and hearing
-Lydia slept in this morning, which meant Dan got to work a little more and I got to sleep at little more
-answers to my recent questions regarding suffering
-that God is compassionate and gracious to us all

Please Pray:
-that Abby will stop spitting up, start digesting more regularly, and that her feedings will be able to be reduced from 1 1/2 hours long to just 1 hour
-that Abby will tolerate the iron well, and it won’t cause her to spit up more
-that Abby would continue to gain weight and that her exercises would work to straighten out her left foot
-that Dan and I will figure out a better routine now that I am (close to being) able to drive (starting Wednesday)

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5 thoughts on “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

  1. This is beautiful, Justine..appreciate your honesty. But don’t ever feel our troubles and suffering are small in God’s sight…if they are big to us, they are big to Him! My heart felt so many things as I read this, and I want to listen to that sermon. Isn’t God good to give us exactly what we need! — We praise HIm for Abby’s progress..she’s a little dynamo, isn’t she! Doing great. Church friends still ask about her, and assure me they are still praying for all of you…. Thank you for sharing your heart…I’ll write more, privately!!!! Love you all so much.

  2. This morning I searched “sovereignty of God Michigan” hoping to find a church that really believes it – in thought, word and deed. Your letter was the first on the list of search results. While reading your heart felt, honest letter, trying hard to hold back the tears, we realized there are those who believe and honor God in the midst of suffering. If possible, can you please tell us where you attend church? I will leave you with the following quote, to possibly bring some comfort which you have already given to others . . . “God has an over-arching purpose for all believers: to conform us to the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). He also has a specific purpose for each of us that is His unique, tailor-made plan for our individual life (see Ephesians 2:10). . . . our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God; our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good.” – Jerry Bridges, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts – A Study Guide (NavPress, 1993), p. 21.

  3. Pingback: 2013 in Review | MI Taylor Family

  4. Pingback: NICU Survival Guide | MI Taylor Family

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