Romans 5:2-5 (ESV)
 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (italics, mine)
When pain or grief returns, sometimes like a revolving door, I return to the comforting words of the above verses. Consider the richness of Paul’s language: faith, grace, hope, glory. If I am to make sense of suffering in this life, I must look beyond circumstances and self, not an easy task in the midst of difficulties, but a necessary one as I search for purpose and meaning in my anguish.
My first personal tutorial in grief came before my 30th birthday. Pregnant with our second son, I received word that my Dad had lost his battle with brain cancer. My Daddy, the one who had held me when I burned with polio fever, hauled me in and out of a neighbor’s station wagon when I lay cocooned in a plaster body cast, walked me down the aisle on my wedding day, would not meet his new grandchild. The tears flowed, tsunami-like, as my grief for my Dad mixed with fear that the child I carried in a touch-and-go pregnancy would be lost to miscarriage.
Elisabeth Elliot, a favorite author, wrote words that broke through my grief and lethargy.
“When you don’t know what to do next, just do the thing in front of you.”
So I returned to teaching and caring for our two-year-old son. We brought Mom to our home during her winter break so she didn’t have to spend a February week alone in the house that had been home to her and Dad for over 30 years.
Brent had been my Dad’s shadow for all of the boy’s walking months, and I hoped Brent might grow to love my Mom as he had adored my Dad. When I came home from school the second day back, Mom calmly told me she had bitten Brent! Then she showed me the teeth marks our 2-year-old had left on her bruised arm. My hope for a transfer of affection took flight!
But before I fell apart, Mom explained that she had told Brent he hurt Grandma very badly, and then in a gentler manner, demonstrated. While Grandma’s arm showed the dried blood and toddler fangs of her attacker, Brent’s arm showed only a bit of redness. My prenatal hormones tore at my heart, wanting to console both Mom and Brent, and yet wanting to reprimand both. I ended up thanking Mom for correcting Brent’s unacceptable behavior, and Dave and I disciplined Brent for his unprovoked attack. That night I foolishly believed our son and my Mom would never be close. But God…
Literally, from the day of the bite, all the adoration Brent had demonstrated toward my Dad transferred 100% to my Mom. She and Brent took walks, baked cookies, played Old Maid, created homemade Christmas decorations, and built Legos together every time she visited. They remained buddies until her death during Brent’s freshman year of high school when Mom lost her battle with bone cancer. Then came the a greater realization about the Romans 5 passage: endurance leads to perseverance and then to hope.
This next connection I observed in Scripture involves hope and steadfastness.
“O, Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous salvation.” Psalm 130:7
“…if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…” Colossians 1:23a
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.” Hebrews 6:19
Steadfast, just the unwavering staunchness and stability of the word, bolsters the situations of life like the flow of a river. Hope carries me along, murmuring that I need not stagnate in shame, for I have seen endurance lead to character and onward to hope.
Whatever comes around the bend next, I anchor my soul with the psalmist who writes, “Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we put our hope in you.” Psalm 33:22. And I look to Job, arguably the human who suffered more pain and grief than any other earthly human, and say with him, “I know that you (God) can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
Then I gain yet another measure of understanding grief and suffering because they bring endurance, refine character, and confirm hope.