Suffering is a promise of God. You, dear reader, will suffer. Everyone will suffer. The world brims with suffering.
As an OB/GYN physician, I often hear that I must have the happiest job in the world. And it’s partly true. I cherish helping new life enter the world. Hearing the newborn cry still ranks with me as the most precious sound in the world. But sharing in suffering, real life suffering, dominates my days.
Recently, I met a young woman and her husband who came in for an early ultrasound to confirm her new pregnancy. Newly married, she was about 8 weeks pregnant, her first pregnancy. As the scanner revealed the contents of her womb, my trained eye immediately recognized a problem. The pregnancy sac had an irregular shape instead of the smooth, round shape I would usually see. Further scanning showed the baby–but the baby clearly had no heartbeat. Her baby was dead. She would miscarry. “I’m looking at the baby right here on the screen,” I said softly. “But I just do not see a heartbeat. I’m afraid this is a miscarriage.” The shocked, stunned look on her face said it all. Tears followed, lots of tears. I spoke with them in my office after she dressed. I discussed miscarriage at length and assured her she was not to blame. After talking a while, I asked if I could pray for her. She readily consented. I asked God to wrap His warm arms of love and comfort around her, to help her family and friends provide her love and support, to grant an uncomplicated, safe miscarriage with good healing. I asked God to bend his sovereign arm and mercy and grant my request, if it be His will. My eyes watered. I promised to see them through this event and encouraged them to get whatever comfort they could from family and friends. So young they were. Such a surprise trauma and possibly their first encounter with suffering and loss. I prayed as they left that my words provided comfort and helped them find the path, the right path, through this suffering. Age matters.
My next patient also came for an early ultrasound scan. She was older with half a gaggle of children at home. My scan revealed the same thing–a miscarriage. The process started again, but it was different this time. She had experienced a miscarriage before. Tears, talk, prayer and promise followed. Sadness, yes; more suffering and loss, yes; but this time, no deer-in-the-headlights look of disbelief and shock. Experience matters.
The next day I saw back a patient with infertility. I remembered her surgery from two years earlier. “She has terrible pelvic pain and has been trying to conceive without success for five years,” I said to the OR team after my patient was asleep. She so wanted a family she had told me. When I looked inside, I saw severe endometriosis and scarring, her tubes damaged. Her surgery took almost four hours as I carefully tried to restore her normal anatomy. She and her husband were morally opposed to in-vitro so this was her only hope for a family save adoption. Her pain was less, but over those two years, she had not conceived. We discussed her situation and plotted a new course. As we prayed, she started to weep. But as she dried her eyes, she smiled and said, “I haven’t given up hope, Dr. Anderson.” Hope matters.
I saw a 62 year old new patient with pain. She came from the radiologist’s office where she had undergone a pelvic ultrasound, a test ordered by her family doctor. I obtained her history and performed her exam. Clearly, she had a large ovarian mass on her exam which was suspicious for ovarian cancer. After she dressed the ultrasound report came over the fax confirming my suspicions. We talked in my office after she dressed. “Your ovary is quite large,” I told her. “Based on my exam and this report, it’s very likely this is a cancer of the ovary.” Tears. sadness. Questions I couldn’t answer, but I saw no despair. She suspected something serious she told me. I arranged an appointment with an oncology surgeon for her. She called her husband and I talked with him as well. I asked if I could pray for her before she left and she consented. I asked God to give her peace and strength in the coming months. Then, through her tears, she prayed, too. I promised to help with her care however I could. She hugged me and thanked me before she left. When I saw her for a follow-up visit, her prognosis was uncertain, but she told me about her dependence on God and the value of her church family. “I don’t know how anyone could go through what I’ve gone through without Christ,” she said. Faith matters.
My list is not complete, I know. Our responses to bad news–infidelity, depression, pain, stillbirth, the list is endless–are as individual and varied as each of us.
Through the years, I’ve seen Christians and non-Christians shake their fist at God and become bitter and angry when confronted with suffering. But without a doubt, my patients who trust Christ and the providence of God are the ones who endure suffering with the most grace, dignity and peace. Even if our only hope through suffering is death and the blessed Hope of seeing Christ face to face, I know and I’ve seen–God is good. All the time. God is good.
In His providence and good pleasure, God visits us with suffering for our good, even if that good is to die. Since I’m older now and have lots of experience with suffering, my own included, I take comfort that Christ suffered so that I “may not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb 5:3) I have faith God is sovereign and is good, always good. I take heart in the blessed Hope that one day the dark glass will be removed and I will see Him face to face.