Contributed by Vic Kohring
Nearly everyone experiences tragedy in life whether from injury, sickness or the loss of a loved one. It can induce great suffering. I'm no exception, having endured tragedy first-hand in recent years. What's important is one's reaction to such a dire circumstance. Do they crumble under pressure, or pick themselves up and perhaps use it to create something positive?
As a Christian, I've relied heavily on God for comfort when faced with life's trials. Without Him, I'm not sure I could have survived the loss of one family member to Alzheimer's and another to injury, both heart wrenching tragedies. Losing them was almost unbearable and it made it difficult to move forward as the pain was deep and awful. But through God's grace, I found strength to rise out of my survival mode. At least some pain will always remain however, until I see my loved ones again in heaven. Until then, the Holy Spirit walks beside me as promised in 2 Corinthians 1:4.
Pope John Paul II, who endured much suffering including an assassin's bullet and Parkinson's disease, once said that suffering, while a trial in itself, can become a source of good. He reminded us that Christ's crucifixion was the ultimate in suffering as His sacrifice opened the door of salvation to millions.
Despite the most horrible physical circumstances, Jesus showed us the way. "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps," as 1 Peter 2:21 states.
Following my own personal losses, I've found myself drawn closer to God - a blessing in itself - as a stronger, more conformed Christian with a greater desire to work on behalf of the church to advance the Gospel and reach lost souls. I pray frequently for wisdom and God's guidance as well as fellowshipping regularly with others. Philippians 3:10 says, "I want to know Christ - yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death." In other words, a person who lives through suffering as a Christian, becomes more fully conformed to God.
Although suffering develops holiness and closeness to God, getting there is painful. It's a difficult, yet worthwhile process if you're resolved. Being stricken with tragedy is also humbling and opens one's heart to God. And it helps strengthen one's character and produces greater maturity as a Christian. Suffering has allowed me to minister and give comfort to others who are hurting, walking beside them as the Holy Spirit does me. It has given me a greater understanding and softened my heart toward others because I've traveled through the same dark valley. My experience has been powerfully meaningful to others who see that I've walked in their shoes and have experienced the same burning pain.
One of my favorite church pastors, 95-year-old Harold Salem of the Christian Worship Hour, said in a 2015 sermon that, "We are blessed when the Lord gives, but also blessed when He takes." As painful as it was to lose family members, I consider myself blessed as I now realize they were very special gifts from God. When they were taken from me, it was initially impossible to see how anything good could come from it. But in time, God opened my eyes and revealed the truth.