It’s interesting how we often desire to grow closer to God, and others we love, but we avoid hardships at all costs. Avoidance, denial, blame, or closing off from others can happen when difficulties come, only serving to complicate our relationships, hurt others around us, and keep us in a state of pain.
No one welcomes hardships. They hurt. But they can also refine us, renew, and re-prioritize our hearts, and restore us to the healed, whole individuals God created us to be.
No matter what your difficulty is, here are four ways hardships can lead to your healing:
1. Hardships can usher you toward the truth of Who God is.
Are you struggling with your hardship because you feel God – or someone else – is to blame?
Sharon was a woman who wanted nothing to do with God. She outright rejected that He was loving or kind because she believed He was as cruel as her earthly father, who abused her in every way possible. Although she remembers crying out to Him as a child to rescue her from threatening situations, she always believed God must be mad at her for not coming to her rescue. Then after marrying a man similar to her father, she endured more abuse before discovering she had a rare form of incurable cancer and her husband left her because of it. Feeling alone, rejected, and with years of anger seething in her, she walked into a church one day and handed a pastor a bucket filled with a shredded Bible and said “This is what I think of your God.”
Thankfully, Sharon had walked into a Bible-teaching church with a pastor full of grace and love who wisely asked her what it was about God that she was believing. After Sharon described to the pastor all she had endured as a child and as an adult, the pastor told her about Job, David, the Apostle Paul, and others in the Bible who had experienced hardships, but clung to God in spite of them. He then handed her a new Bible and challenged her to read every verse in it that described who God is.
Sharon accepted his challenge and discovered, through the Bible, that she had been believing a lie. The God of the Bible was nothing like her abusive father. She began to heal emotionally and spiritually as she learned He was a God of love, tenderness, forgiveness, and restoration and He wanted to make her new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Sharon surrendered her life to Him and began to pray Psalm 139:23-24 over the still wounded areas of her heart: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”
Sharon asked God to cut out of her anything intrinsically wrong and distorted and replace it with truth and an understanding of Who God really is. Today, she is a woman who is whole, healed, and complete and ministers to other women suffering from all kinds of cancer and all kinds of misconceptions about God. Her hardship and suffering led to a turning point in which she discovered the true Healer of hearts, who ended up healing her physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Could your hardships be leading you toward a deeper understanding of the God of grace who isn’t to be blamed for your hurt, but is there to hold you close and help you through it?
2. Hardships remind us that we need a Healer.
When I had a tiny spot of basal cell carcinoma removed from my forehead, the outpatient surgery wasn’t tiny at all. In fact, the incision was so large and the skin on my forehead so tight, that the stitches kept popping open, requiring multiple staples to close the incision. That caused excessive bruising, swelling, and facial trauma that had me in pain and literally unrecognizable for the next several days. During that time, I had to continue to be still or lie down lest my forehead begin bleeding again in between the staples. I couldn’t read or focus on work. I missed my aerobic workouts. I felt useful. I was hurting all over. And, being that it was my first surgery ever, I gained a new appreciation and compassion for people who deal with chronic pain, persistent health problems, or disabilities that limit their day-to-day activities.
In addition to praying that God would heal my forehead quickly and restore my bruised and swollen face back to some form of normalcy, I also prayed that just as the cancer was thoroughly removed from my body that God would begin removing from my heart and mind anything else that was toxic and growing into something damaging. As I began to pray that, I realized I needed to be healed, not just physically, but spiritually, as well.
That time on my couch, in God’s Word and in prayer, I set my mind on things above (Colossians 3:2-3) so God could do a work in me on things inside. While recovering from a minor facial surgery, I experienced a precious time of allowing God to perform a heart surgery…exposing to me what was toxic in my attitudes and actions. My prayer was that by the time I was able to get off the couch and leave my home, I would have experienced more removed from me than just a clump of skin cancer.
Could your physical pain make you aware of some emotional or spiritual pain that God needs to heal, too?
3. Hardships can make us more like Christ.
Not all hardships can make us more like Christ. Sometimes they can make us bitter, unforgiving, and doubtful. But if we allow God to do what His Word promises He will do if we surrender to His purposes, then we can be confident that He will make us more perfect and complete like His Son, Christ Jesus.
James 1:2-4 exhorts: “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” To become “perfect and complete” means to become more like Christ, who is our example of perfection and completion.
Furthermore, Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” We tend to think that means God will cause whatever we go through to bring us to circumstances that were better than when we first experienced the hardship. Sometimes God does that. But that is not the promise He makes in His Word. That verse is followed up by the clarifier as to how God works our circumstances (and hardships) for good: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” (verse 29). That means when we surrender our hardships to Him, He promises to use them to conform us to the image of His Son – to make us more like Jesus in every way.
Do you want to become more compassionate, more humble, and more aware of the sufferings of others? Do you want wisdom, discernment, and a more heavenly perspective? God says that is yours if you surrender to Him that hardship. And therein is healing. When we become more like Jesus, we become more whole and complete.
4. Hardships can expose wounds we didn’t realize we had.
I recently reached out to a friend via email. The response I received from him was entirely unexpected. It was actually hurtful. My first thought was what happened to him just before he got my email? In many ways, it felt like my friend was lashing out at me.
My flesh reared up and I wanted to fire back a response that would put him in his place and make him aware of his rude and careless response. But then I realized I would be doing the same thing to him that hurt me. So I prayed about it. For two days. And during that time of venting with God about how I had been treated, complaining about how unfair his response was even though I believed my motives were right, and considering not reaching out to that friend at all anymore, I became aware of a wound in me that needed to be healed. Not the wound my friend had inflicted, but the wound of needing to be liked, hating to be misunderstood, and feeling desperate to control another’s response toward me, rather than surrender it to God.
I ended up repenting to God of my need to be liked, my desire to be apologized to, and my tendency to run from anyone who might hurt me like that again. I asked the Lord to make me aware of the times I put expectations on others and then expect them to apologize when they’ve disappointed me. I felt that friend had placed expectations on me that I couldn’t meet and yet how many times have I unknowingly done that to someone else?
Through that hardship with my friend, I was able to recognize a personal struggle with pride, and areas of my heart that were still depending on others for my contentment or affirmation. I realized I needed to surrender those areas of my heart to God to be healed of my pride, my insistence upon being right, my desire to defend myself, and my focus on myself and my feelings. I was also given the strength to respond kindly to my friend and prayerfully heal what could have been a gaping wound between us.
Pain and hardships often come when something unexpected touches our lives. But could you start praying that God would touch your life in such a way that exposes wounds in your heart, mind, and soul that you didn’t even realize were there so you can pray for spiritual healing, as well? Anyone can ask God for contentment and a pain-free life. But when we ask for spiritual healing and wholeness and opportunities to become more like Christ, that is a prayer that, according to 1 John 5:14-15, reaches His ear and delights His heart.
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker, Bible teacher, and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is also a mother, pastor’s wife, and author of 17 books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 150,000 copies sold), When God Sees Your Tears, When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, and When Couples Walk Together:31 Days to a Closer Connection, which she co-authored with her husband of 35 years. For more on her speaking ministry, coaching services for writers, and books to strengthen your soul, marriage, and parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.