What is God’s relationship to our tears and sorrow in our own suffering and affliction? Psalm 56:8 says, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” God knows our suffering and tears. He sees how we suffer, and He is near to us in our suffering. No tear that you have cried has gone unnoticed by your heavenly Father. John 11:35 says very succinctly that “Jesus wept.” He has entered into our suffering and the God-man has shed tears with those whom he loves. He has suffered with us. Revelation 21:4 finishes the story: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Tears will not last forever. There will come a day when He wipes away every tear from our eyes and remove every cause of sorrow and grief. God is not calloused nor indifferent to our suffering. He does not throw us into suffering and turn away while he waits for it to have its good effect in our lives. He is with us in the suffering. That is why the Psalmist said in Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” and in verse 75, “I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”
Each of our stories is full of trials, temptations, and suffering. I want to share about a few specific instances of suffering and affliction and how I saw God’s goodness and faithfulness.
Julie and I met at Faith Bible Church in 2002 and were married in 2004. After five years in Grand Rapids, Michigan where we attended seminary and continued being trained by Todd and Julie Dykstra at Maranatha Bible Church, we went to Tenerife to be missionaries in 2010. We went into a period of questioning and sadness in 2013 when we had to suddenly leave Tenerife because of a situation in our family with our daughter, Eliana. After the sadness of having to leave Tenerife, our outlook on life was looking brighter through the 2014 year. We were getting help understanding our daughter’s needs. We were getting more involved and connected at Faith Bible Church, starting to find a new church family that was replacing our family in Santa Ursula that we had left. I was working as FBC’s youth pastor and really enjoying the youth ministry staff and the students.
On January 21, 2015, I thought maybe I had a kidney stone as I started feeling a very sharp pain in my abdomen. After many hours of waiting in Holy Family’s Emergency Room waiting area, the doctor was telling me that I had cancer. As a healthy 35-year-old, that was not what I was expecting to hear. I remember Julie and I going home that night, not knowing what kind of cancer it was or what the prognosis would be. We were wondering if would I get to raise our children with Julie, or if I would be leaving the family? In those next couple days of uncertainty, it was so clear to me that the Lord was with us. The things that normally cloud my vision and clutter my life all fell quickly away and I was so aware that Christ was with me and that He was my Savior.
Thankfully, after a few days of uncertainty and a lot of pain, we figured out that it was a very treatable testicular cancer. Three months of chemotherapy and one surgery later, I was well on the road to recovery. I lost a lot of hair and gained 50 pounds, so physically I felt and looked like a marshmallow. However, the cancer faired even worse than I did, and it didn’t make it. As far as physical trials go, it was very short-term. Many of you have faced chronic pain and suffering that has lasted for decades not months.
It was so clear to me that the Lord was with us. The things that normally cloud my vision and clutter my life all fell quickly away and I was so aware that Christ was with me and that He was my Savior.Nathan Thiry
Through those months of dealing with cancer, I remember moments where God filled my heart with joy and thankfulness. I remember one time when Julie and I were sitting in a restaurant thinking, “Thank you, Lord, for giving me cancer so that I could know you better.” Through that time I got to know the Lord better. I saw that He was with me, that He was good, and that I could trust Him. We saw His love so clearly through the body of Christ at FBC loving us and caring for us also. In the midst of suffering, the Holy Spirit helped us to believe and see God’s love and goodness through our fellowship with Christ and through the love of our church family. Christ Himself and His body, our church, were two strong pillars holding us up in the midst of our suffering.
The suffering of cancer felt very minor compared to the ongoing trial of trying to help our daughter and not being able to figure out what she needed. We spent hundreds of hours shepherding Eliana, sharing the gospel with her, praying for her and with her, disciplining and comforting her, and seeking counsel.
Through the help of our Biblical counselors and the confirmation of experienced social workers and doctors, we discovered that children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) can sometimes be helped through being adopted by a new family. Our situation with our daughter was getting so severe that it seemed like the next steps for her would probably be some kind of institution, because of how serious her violence was. Stories of other kids with RAD who had not received any kind of intervention ending up in jail or worse did not give us a lot of hope. The stories of kids with RAD who had been helped by an adoption agency called Second Chance did give us a lot of hope.
The process of deciding that we needed to pursue another family for our daughter through Second Chance was the most painful and hard process we have ever gone through. The pain of coming to terms with relinquishing your child because that is what is best for them is excruciating. The shame, the sadness, and the sorrow were all overwhelming. For me it was the closest I have ever been to feeling a little, tiny bit of what Jesus must have felt in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was crying out to His Father about what He was about to do. “Is there any other way? Anything but this Father…”
But even in the midst of those very dark and difficult days, the Lord kept showing me that He was near. He helped me to cry out to Him and to believe that He is good, and that I can trust Him. I saw again that knowing Christ is better than anything else. Julie and I could truly say to the Lord, “It was good for me that you afflicted me. In your faithfulness, Lord, you afflicted me. Thank you for purifying me and drawing me near to You!” We saw the Lord provide a Christian family who were well equipped to care for Eliana. She went to join their family with a smile on her face on June 17, 2017. We have not seen her since that day, but we continue to hear wonderful reports about how well she is doing. She has had no problems with violence and has been able to thrive with her new family. God has been gracious to her. Not every story turns out like that. Even so, God is good, and we can trust Him.
My days have been few, and my suffering has been minor compared to so many others. But in these few days with my Lord, I have seen that knowing Him is enough. He is good. He is with His people. Nothing we go through can take Him away from us nor us away from Him. On the contrary, the hotter the suffering gets, the more we know that He is with us. If that is not your experience in the midst of your suffering, I beg you to consider a few things. Draw near to Christ through the gospel. Behold the person and saving work of Jesus Christ. Draw near to God through lament. If you are not crying out with the difficult complaints and questions, you will not be able to get to the point of praising and trusting your Father in heaven. Draw near to your brothers and sisters in your church family. I don’t think we would have experienced the nearness of God in the same way in the midst of our suffering, if we had not had our church family so near to us loving us and helping us.