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The Long Road of the Valley

The Long Road of the Valley

Article by Matt Scheuneman
Why does God allow us to stay in a place of suffering for extended periods of time? Is God good? Is it about my sin, or is something else going on? Does he even care or hear me? These are just a portion of the questions we continually ask as we face the most difficult aspects of this world. Death. Loss. Pain. Grief. Unwanted desires. Unmet expectation. Unfairness. All feel more than we can ever bear.

As a man who has both suffered and sat with the suffering, I wrestle with these questions.

As one might notice from time spent with me, I often ponder songs and their meaning. Songs seem to capture the essence of a thought with the weight of the emotion. Recently I have been captured by the simple phrase of one written by Taylor Leonhardt and Jess Ray of Mission House. The song is called "Take Heart." In the bridge, the words are written as such:

Our joy is born in labored pains
Love suffers long, but not in vain

This counter-cultural message strikes at my heart and understanding of joy. As one who has experienced the birth of my children, but not the pain of childbirth, I can say I do not fully understand the pain-to-joy relationship that my wife has experienced. But I have seen it. I have seen the light immitted from my wife when those children were placed on her chest after hours of anguish. I saw deep, unrestrained, and unfiltered love come from my wife to those beautiful children.

I find it so interesting how joy and love are connected to pains and suffering, almost as to say that one must experience suffering to truly experience joy and love.

This topic seems too lofty for me. Even in my experience sitting with those who have suffered and suffering myself, I find myself becoming too simplistic in my writing—almost feeling insensitive in attempts to connect dots of suffering and joy.

Yet, through that fear, I find myself being drawn to a passage in 2 Corinthians. Paul comments that suffering has a unique purpose in the life of a follower of Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

We often go to the comfort of this passage, but maybe not as quickly to the calling of empathy towards another. "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation…"

Empathy is born through suffering. Sympathy and pity can be given by witnessing the pain of another. But real empathy sits in the intimate knowledge of the pain. If you have ever experienced the opportunity to comfort another in their affliction, you will hopefully understand these next sentences. To share empathy with another produces joy in you. To share empathy with another shows love to the person suffering. Empathy is not a one-time act. It is a long road of "withness" with one who is suffering.

Love is a long road.

I cannot fully answer the questions posed at the beginning. I still have so many questions. What I can say is that long-suffering produces a love that is not in vain if one will use their suffering for the good of another.

If love is a long road, then the valley's road is a road of love. I deeply believe that the truest of loves happen in the valley. May we see the call ahead of us, and may we take the road less traveled.

Matt Scheuneman

Counselor in Biblical Life Ministry
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