When Vaneetha Rendall Risner was a baby in India, she contracted polio before her inoculation. The doctor had never seen a case of polio before, misdiagnosed it, and prescribed a wrong treatment which left Vaneetha paralyzed. Vaneetha had twenty-one operations from age two to thirteen. She spent much of her young life in the hospital and felt safe there and at home, but was “openly picked on at school.”
She wanted “nothing to do with God because he had allowed all this to happen,” but when she was a teenager, He drew her to Himself.
Vaneetha’s trials weren’t over, though. After her first daughter was born, she had three miscarriages. Her son was born with a heart defect which surgery corrected, but a doctor’s mistake led to her baby’s death at the age of two. Then she contracted post-polio syndrome, which causes “increasing pain and weakness, which could potentially result in quadriplegia.” There is no cure. Then her husband left her.
The magnitude of any of one of those trials weighs heavy, but all of them together are crushing. How does a person cope with all of that?
Vaneetha tells her story in short order in The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering and then spends the rest of the book sharing what God has taught her through her trials. Her words, like Joni Earecksn Tada’s, carry weight because they are based on Scripture and they’ve been tried in the trenches.
It’s hard to summarize a book like this, so I’ll just share a few quotes:
Our faith is not a facade we erect to convince ourselves and others that pain doesn’t hurt—it is an oak tree that can withstand the storms of doubt and pain in our lives, and grow stronger through them.
I’ve often been devastated when he tells me no, but as I submit to his will in those situations—even with disappointment and tears—he assures me he’s working for my good. I see only part of the picture. He has a purpose in his denials. The Father said no to the Son [in Gethsemane]. And that no brought about the greatest good in all of history. God is not capricious. If he says no to our requests, he has a reason—perhaps ten thousand. We may never know the reasons in this life, but one day we’ll see them all. For now, we must trust that his refusals are always his mercies to us (emphasis mine).
In this life, I may never see how God is using my trials. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.
This is the most precious answer God can give us: wait. It makes us cling to him rather than to an outcome. God knows what I need; I do not. He sees the future; I cannot. His perspective is eternal; mine is not. He will give me what is best for me when it is best for me (emphases mine).
Replacing “what if ” with “even if ” in our mental vocabulary is one of the most liberating exchanges we can ever make. We trade our irrational fears of an uncertain future for the loving assurance of an unchanging God. We see that even if the very worst happens, God will carry us. He will still be good. And he will never leave us.
So what do we do when we feel drained and empty? When no one understands our suffering and no one seems to care? When we feel discouraged and tired and unbearably lonely? Read the Bible and pray. Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall. Does it sound simple? It is. Does it also sound exceedingly hard? It is that as well. But reading the Bible and praying is the only way I have ever found out of my grief. There are no shortcuts to healing.
When I say read, I don’t mean just reading words for a specific amount of time. I mean meditating on them. Writing down what God is saying to me. Asking God to reveal himself to me. Believing God uses Scripture to teach and to comfort me. To teach me wonderful things in his law (Ps. 119:18). To comfort me with his promises (Ps. 119:76). Reading this way changes cardboard into manna. I echo Jeremiah who said, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” ( Jer. 15:16).
I mentioned yesterday the concept she brought out that what we think of as the lowest points of our lives are actually the highest, from God’s viewpoint, because that’s often where the most change and growth occurs in our lives. Another concept she described was that we often feel our prayers have not been answered when God doesn’t deliver us out of a situation, but His grace sustaining us through a trial is just as much an evidence of His power as a miraculous deliverance.
In waiting for the huge, monumental deliverance—the kind where I can put my issue to bed and never have to pray about it again—I’ve overlooked the grace that keeps drawing me to him. The prayers that may appear unanswered, but actually are fulfilled in ways that keep me dependent, tethered, needy.
I’ve often wondered about the difference between Biblical lament, such as what we see in the Psalms and other places in the Bible, and complaining. These thoughts helped:
Scripture never mandates that we constantly act upbeat. God wants us to come to him in truth. And so the Bible doesn’t whitewash the raw emotions of its writers as they cry out to God in anguish, fear, and frustration when life ceases to make sense. People like Jeremiah and Job, Habakkuk and David have all poured out their honest feelings of sadness and disappointment to God.
The Bible is shockingly honest. And because of that, I can be honest as well. I can both complain and cry, knowing that God can handle anything I say. The Lord wants me to talk to him, to pour out my heart and my thoughts unedited because he knows them already.
This conversation is different than the grumbling of the children of Israel. They complained about God and Moses to each other. I am talking directly to God. Telling him my doubts. Asking him to help me see. These saints I quoted all talked directly to God, which was the first step to healing. They named their disappointments and voiced their struggles before him. They needed to know that God understood them. And that they could be truthful with him. No pretense or platitudes. Just raw honesty, acknowledging their pain before God.
Like most of us, I would rather learn from others about suffering than have to go through it myself. But some portion of suffering is allotted to all of us, and I am so thankful for a godly example like Vaneetha’s. Much of what she said spoke to my heart even though my trials have been different.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)