While driving one day, I was stopped at a busy intersection, and I looked up to see a beautiful vibrant rainbow arching across the sky. Awed by the sight, I scanned the other drivers to see if they shared my appreciation, but none saw it—not a single one.
I wanted to roll down my window and shout, “How are you missing this? It’s beautiful!” But they were so concerned with the road and the traffic that they never noticed the giant display of color above all the busyness.
I often thought about that day as I traveled a different kind of road—one of tragedy and suffering. On an ordinary September afternoon my husband was driving his normal business route when he was hit head-on by a passing driver, instantly leaving me a widow with a newborn and a 2-year-old.
What was once a calm, stable life violently changed into a hurricane of emotions and actions. There were life-altering decisions to make, paperwork to gather and fill out, and my children to care for, including nursing the baby full-time, not to mention the personal grief and loneliness to face.
But somehow God’s Holy Spirit showed me the rainbow of graces above my circumstances. That vibrant display of love gave me hope and reminded me that there was someone larger than this life who is in control.
The apostle Paul was a man who understood trials and suffering in many ways, including physical illness, persecution, and injustice. He gives this advice to those who are experiencing hardship:
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. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, emphasis mine)
It’s so easy to focus on the grief and the sadness and the self-pity because that’s what we can see—the absence of a loved one, the overwhelming increase of work load, the reality of a new life that we didn’t want. It takes discipline to make yourself step back from the immediate circumstances and pay attention to the blessings that come from the sorrow. But if we will only lift our eyes to heaven, to what is unseen, we will find peace there, just as Jesus promised in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
My personal graces
When you look for the graces that take place in your life from tragedy, you will find them. I’m not talking about pretending that the pain doesn’t exist, or putting on a “happy face,” a mask that hides your true feelings. All of the negative emotions must be dealt with and paid attention to. As a driver at that busy intersection, I couldn’t stop in the middle of the road and stare at a rainbow in the sky. I had to attend to the task at hand. But I caught glimpses of it, and I was able to experience its beauty, if only briefly.
We can be honest about how much the wounds hurt and at the same time be thankful for all that God is doing in our lives through suffering. We don’t have to choose one over the other. Both are true. As a matter of fact, knowing that God was using this tragedy in my life to help others and build my character helped me through it. To me, that’s what made the journey of sorrow worth enduring.
In my situation, the graces came in many ways, the first being the outpouring of love from the body of Christ. It was a remarkable experience to be so loved and cared for. I wanted for nothing. For the first six months, I had constant company, meals, gifts, cards, and letters. My neighbors joined up to buy me a deep freezer. Several men in a church I don’t even attend winterized and manicured my lawn, which took several long days of physical labor. I was shocked and humbled by the amount of thoughtful attention I received.
The second show of grace was in the tender and patient love of God for me. I had many questions and fears, even of God Himself. I wondered if He still loved me. I wondered if He had removed His hand of protection and blessing from me. But in response to each violent question He had a gentle answer. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart with loving-kindness, like a caring father who had compassion for my pain but knew that this was the road that I must travel. The answers often came to my heart in almost a whisper.
The third show of grace has been the amount of ministry that has occurred as a result of this tragedy. There isn’t enough room in this article to explain the many ways God has used my husband’s testimony and mine to reach hardened hearts, troubled marriages, and encourage believers. Second Corinthians 1:3-5 says, “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.”
Would I have chosen this painful road to see such graces? No, but I feel privileged to have seen life from this point of view. There are many who will never experience the kind of love I’ve been shown or the kind of faith it takes to walk this journey, so I’m honored to receive such gifts even at so great a cost.
How to find these graces when you just can’t see
There are times when we are so handicapped by heartache that we just can’t open our eyes to see. You may even feel like you are paralyzed or blinded by it, like it’s impossible to look beyond yourself. But there are some things you can do to help find the display of grace around you.
For me, the first thing I had to do was pray. I believed that God was in control and I trusted His word in Romans 8:28, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But because I was very weak, I begged Him to please show me how He was using this in my life.
I knew it wasn’t God’s obligation to prove anything to me, as He chastised Job, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” (40:8-9). I didn’t demand anything from Him, but I pleaded for His mercy. And I believe He has graced my prayer with many answers that I did not deserve, but am grateful for.
Another helpful step was making a list. For some reason, writing things down helps me think through situations and broadens my perspective. I began with a list of all I had lost. That was the easy part. Then I made a list of gains. It started out small, but once I began to look outside of myself and see how others were affected, the list grew faster and longer. As my heart softened in response to the evidence of God’s work, it became clear how I had personally gained treasures as well. For example, my youngest brother came to live with me and my children. Whereas I used to see him mainly at holidays and birthdays, he is now a close, dear friend. That is something that never would have happened had my husband not died.
Last and most importantly, in order to see beyond your grief to the blessings, allow me to admonish you to read the Bible. There is so much comfort in the words of Scripture; I honestly don’t know how anyone can endure the grieving process without a steady diet of God’s Word in his life.
There are so many passages of Scripture that comfort the bleeding heart. The book of John forces our attention to Jesus Himself, who suffered more than anyone on earth, and who embodies the hope of eternal life. The book of Job chronicles the story of a man who endured tragedy and grief and God’s response to him. The book of Psalms, with poetic expressions of fear, sorrow, hope, and joy! Throughout the pages of Scripture, you can find the understanding and meaning that one seeks during times of such great sorrow that will point you to the graces that you are having trouble seeing.
There is a rainbow in your situation
If you are in the middle of a difficult or tragic situation, you may be skeptical that any good has come from it. But if you are a believer, God has promised a purpose, even if that purpose is something you cannot see. Consider the words of Peter: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
This concept of suffering as a value to your character is repeated in James 1:2-4: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Just the act of enduring suffering is a treasure in and of itself so that we might grow and become stronger as believers. As Isaiah 61:4 reminds us, when a life is redeemed by the Messiah, beauty comes from ashes. A life that has endured destruction is a fertile ground that grows faith, perseverance, and character. Cultivate the unseen treasures, and God will reward your faithfulness with an abundant life.
Copyright ©2012 by Sabrina Beasley. All rights reserved. Used by permission.