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There’s more to our suffering than meets the eye

Meet Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton, the authors of Hope When it Hurts, the winning book in our 2018 Readers’ Choice Award.

Life hurts. We’re no strangers to this fact. But there’s hope, even when it does.

If you are currently suffering, we are sorry. We feel for you. But we will not say, “we understand” because, most likely, we don’t. We don’t know your particular situation or the years of struggle and darkness you’ve endured.

Perhaps our stories share common threads, and if we were having coffee together, we might be so bold as to say, “Me too”. Even though your suffering looks different from ours, and may be far greater and harder than we could imagine, we are walking through pain along with you. Pain of different sorts, but pain and suffering nonetheless.

When we are hurting, the pain affects our view of everything – including our view of God. Perhaps yours made you doubt God for the first time, or think about him for the first time. It may have made you grow in your love for him, or in your anger or disbelief. It may have caused you to pray for the first time, or the first time in a long time, or to stop praying at all. Most likely, it caused a conflicting set of feelings toward, and questions about, God.

In all our pain, we have found hope in turning to him, not away from him, and in wrestling with reality rather than trying to ignore it. And, through the writing that has spilled out from what he’s taught us in our lives, we’ve seen the difference it makes to find real, lasting, Jesus-centred hope in the trenches and the pain.

As we wrote Hope When It Hurts, we were really writing it to remind ourselves of the truths and comforts of God’s words as much as anyone else. There are moments when we marvel that we ever finished the book at all, because of how our own sufferings were woven throughout the process.

And we’ve been amazed, and utterly overjoyed, at how God has chosen to use these 30 biblical reflections, based on 2 Corinthians 4 and 5, to bring hope to tens and tens of thousands of women, around the world. Here’s a brief picture of our stories.

Kristen’s story

By my first year of university, the healthy, pain-free life I had known began to slowly disintegrate. Over a period of six years, I went from running races, performing theatre and energetic days to perpetual weakness, inhibited movement, and chronic fatigue that put me in bed at 8:30pm.

I had grown up near Chicago, and had moved to New York to pursue my dream of being a professional actor. And soon I moved back home again, exhausted and in pain. I knew something wasn’t right, but no doctor could give me an answer. Every new visit left me with the question mark of defeat, as the easy answer would be repeated: “You’re fine. You’re young. Go home.”

Yet the problems worsened as the years passed. After a long day of typing at work, my arms and hands would ring with aching pain, to the point that I couldn’t perform simple tasks like opening jars, doing laundry, even holding a pencil. My knees and feet raged with a similar pain, and my ability to exercise – even take short walks – vanished completely. The fatigue felt like waves of heaviness, like crawling through a dense fog, that would keep me from focus and any sense of normality. There were days when I wondered if my health was completely slipping away.

After six long years, my husband Brad and I saw a Lyme-literate doctor because my symptoms matched those of Lyme disease. The day the nurse called with confirmation was bittersweet: so good to have an answer; so scary to realise the road ahead of us. But by God’s grace, and after two years of treatment, we have every reason to believe the Lyme is gone (I stay up later than Brad some nights!).

But still, as we sometimes say to people, “The war is won, but the city is ravaged”. My body has been left weak and has years of rebuilding to do; some days are long and hard, and strewn with discomfort. My struggle with pain looks different now, but it’s still an everyday fight: discouragement stemming from dashed dreams, the frailty of a broken body, and the fight to persevere in hope.

Sarah’s story

Without going into detail, during my four years of high school, I experienced bullying along with a form of abuse from peers. At the same time, circumstances that were out of my control brought some devastating redirection in my life, the most difficult being the end of my athletic dreams.

It all sent me into a downward spiral, leading to an eating disorder, a broken relationship with my parents, and depression that resulted in my being admitted to hospital. It was there that I gave up my attempt to live both for Christ and for the world, and committed myself to following Christ.

Life seemed to become smoother for a time. I met my husband Jeff at 20, and to my great surprise I was married and a mother by 23. That was a decade or so ago – and the last 10 years have been greatly marked by loss. From a young age, our eldest son began displaying behaviour that was defiant and destructive, and has caused a decade of confusion and chaos in our home. Countless doctors, tests, and evaluations seemed to leave doctors shaking their heads, and all we were left with in the end was an increased financial burden and growing fears. Everything was affected by his illness.

Along with that, my own health grew worse and, with each of the four children I bore, I found myself increasingly unable to function through my chronic pain and illness, along with an ankle injury that left me unable to do much of what I used to love.

As my son’s disorder continued to intensify, confusion and hurt began to grow in our other children, and our marriage began to suffer under the weight of it all. When we were at our lowest point, convinced that we couldn’t endure anything else, my husband lost half of his income and we were forced to sell our dream home and rent a much smaller home as our medical expenses continued to pile up (there’s no NHS in the US…).

Our family was in crisis. We were broken and wondering where God was and what he was doing. I found myself battling despair, hopelessness, and deep questions of faith that I had never had to face before.

Three years ago, Kristen and I were introduced to each other at church and became fast friends as we shared both a joy of writing and the painful realities of walking through a long season of suffering.

Several months after we met, Kristen approached me with the idea of writing a book on suffering, with the purpose of sharing the truths that God was teaching us on our own journeys and the hope of Christ amidst our heartache. After my initial hesitation, it became clear that this was something God was leading us to do and we began the hard, but rewarding process of writing Hope When it Hurts.

As wonderful (and stretching) as this process was, circumstances in my personal life continued to intensify. That same year, I was referred to a group of doctors who finally diagnosed me with Lyme disease. It wasn’t long before this led to testing which revealed that the increasing illness in all four of our children were the result of Lyme disease being passed on from me.

While we have clarity on one of the enemies we are fighting in our home, now we have a new battle before us: costly, time-consuming treatments, with continued confusion and no guaranteed certainty of complete healing. And then there is the loneliness – because my son’s illness causes him to exhibit aggressive behaviour, it keeps us from many normal parenting activities and leaves us feeling weary and broken by its multi-layered effects.

Every day is still a day of uncertainty as I endure the ups and downs of my son’s challenges, all four children’s Lyme disease, my own chronic pain and fatigue, and the layered effects it’s had on our family. It is a moment-by-moment choice to press on through the trenches or give way to the crushing burden of my surrounding circumstances.

Though our trials seem to have no end in sight, we trust that God is not wasting our pain. He is not only lifting our eyes to a hope that is beyond this world, but he’s using our suffering for his purposes and glory.

Currently Jeff and I are excited about the opportunity we’ve been given to write a sequel to Hope When It Hurts for married couples who are enduring the storms of suffering (which all do at some point). We’re going to work through the book of Job to encourage couples who are navigating life and marriage with the added strain of suffering. It’s fun, and daunting, to be starting the writing process all over again!

Hope for the year ahead

Sisters, suffering is an awful thing. In our hurt, we react in many ways: trying to hide ourselves from it, raging against it, melting down, attempting to numb the pain, even steeling our resolve to beat it. But there’s more to suffering than merely getting through it with gritted teeth. Affliction invites us to wrestle with what God might be doing, to seek him right now in the midst of the pain. The wrestling doesn’t come easily – but it does bring hope.

The truth is, there’s more to our suffering than meets the eye. We serve a God who offers hope, even joy, in suffering. He wants to give us hope not just beyond our hurts, but also in our hurts; and he wants us to see how he is able to work in and through suffering and ultimately give us himself.

If you are a Christian then – whether you feel it or not – these things are true of you and for you. If you are not, then they could be. Our only hope and joy in suffering are found in giving our life over to Jesus, to walk with him as our ruler and trust him as our rescuer.

As we enter a new year with all its uncertainties, our prayer for each one of you is that you would be drawn closer to the suffering Saviour, Jesus, who is also the risen, death-defeating Lord, able to give the most enduring hope there is.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (NIV)

  • Parts of this article are adapted excerpts from the introduction to Hope When It Hurts

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