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Keeping Your Family Strong in Times of Suffering

You cannot avoid the storms of life. But you can learn how to withstand them.

By Dennis Rainey

The older you become, the more you realize that trials and problems and even calamities are inevitable—they are a normal part of life. Things may be peaceful in your life right now, but be assured that, at some time, a storm will hit. It may be an accident, a health issue, a death in the family, or an unexpected financial problem. Or, as we learn on days like September 11, 2001, your world may be suddenly changed by a national tragedy.

You cannot avoid the storms of life. But you can learn how to withstand them.

Suffering has certainly not been a stranger to the Rainey family. In the spring of 1993, for example, our family began to experience the force of a storm that would change all of us—and especially our son, Samuel—forever.

For a few weeks we had seen some warning signs that something wasn’t right with Samuel’s body. Then, one night as our family was hustling through an airport to catch a plane home, we noticed that Samuel could not keep up with the rest of us. This was puzzling, because he was a good athlete—just the year before he had been ranked seventh in the state for his age in novice tennis.

The next day we found ourselves in a neurologist’s office. After testing we learned Samuel had a neurological disorder. The good news is that it was not fatal, and we were assured that he would most likely never be confined to a wheelchair. The bad news was that Samuel’s athletic days were over. It was the death of a dream for a boy who wanted to play tennis in college. And for a mom and dad who thoroughly enjoyed watching him compete.

The foundation of our home

Barbara and I knew that our marriage was strong even before this particular storm hit us. From the beginning of our marriage, we have resolved to build our lives and our family upon God’s Word and upon daily prayer together. When I hear of couples who buckle under the storms of life, my suspicion is they have not put down a firm foundation for their home.

In Matthew 7, Jesus says that those who act upon His words are “like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).

But those who do not hear God’s words and act upon them are like those who build their home on sand. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:27).

God is the Head of our home, and the foundation of our home is the truth of God’s Word. We have found that, as we make God and His Word the focus of our relationship and home, the trials and tribulations strengthen rather than weaken our relationship.

Our experience with Samuel reminded us of a number of important things we need to do in order to stand strong when a storm hits.

1. We need to use times of trial and suffering as an opportunity to draw close to God.

Nothing happens in our lives apart from what He allows or ordains. As 1 Chronicles 29:11 tells us, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.”

Yet this same sovereign Lord also seeks a close relationship with us. As the following passages tell us, He is our Comforter during times of distress and suffering. Look at these verses:

Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Isaiah 41:10: “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Psalm 23:4: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

2. We need to be there for each other when we’re dealing with suffering.

A husband and wife must be involved with each other during a crisis. During our experience with Samuel, I remember it took a deliberate act of my will to move toward Barbara and the pain she was experiencing, because I wasn’t at the same place she was. I wasn’t as ready to talk about it as she was and she needed to talk about it. So I took the initiative to talk with her.

3. We need to resolve to make our marriage a priority.

We knew that if our marriage remained on solid ground, our children would feel stronger and more secure as well. Not long after Samuel’s diagnosis I scheduled some time when Barbara and I could get away and just be by ourselves to talk with each other.

4. We need to allow the body of Christ to minister to us.

The biggest way our friends helped during the situation with Samuel was in writing letters. These letters really broadened Samuel’s perspective of the body of Christ. I don’t think he had any idea that people cared like they do.

5. We need to learn to hold to the truth of God’s Word no matter what our emotions tell us.

We can’t deny our emotions, but we can’t allow them to control our responses, either. We’ve got to hang on to the truth of Scripture and let that be the foundation of our home.

Even when we don’t feel that God loves us, we know from Scripture that He does. When we don’t feel like any good can come out of a trial or calamity, we know from Romans 8:28 that all things really do “work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose.”

During the initial period of adjusting to his new reality, I think Samuel learned how to trust God even when he doesn’t understand His plan. I remember one evening a few months after the diagnosis, when he and I were driving home from the grocery store. We had been talking about his limitations, and I shared how God has always used people regardless of their situation. My feeble efforts to comfort him seemed shallow. A moment of silence filled the car.

Then Samuel turned from looking out the window and said resolutely, “Well, Dad, I guess you don’t need legs to serve God.”

Tears filled my eyes. My son was teaching me a lesson on trust. And as I drove home I prayed silently, “Lord, increase my faith and use our son for Your purposes.”

Copyright © by FamilyLife. Used with permission.

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