Much to my surprise, I couldn’t fix the problem. This wasn’t at all what I expected.
When I befriended a young mom who recently moved to our city and was homesick, I was sure I knew how to fix the situation. After all, I had been there myself. I know what I wished for then.
When my husband went to school years ago, I had been in that same place. Far from everything and everyone I loved, I was stressed, homesick, lonely, and hurting. I wrangled our pack of tiny people in a tiny apartment, often by myself while my husband slogged through his ridiculously packed schedule. Perhaps hardest was how difficult I found it to connect with others—to make friends. Repeatedly, I pleaded with God, “I know you can make this easier…so why aren’t you doing it??” I told myself so many times, if I ever met someone else in this same place, I’d make sure she didn’t struggle the way I did. I’d be there.
So I was surprised to now find that, while friendship is lovely, it doesn’t make my friend’s toddler sleep any better. It doesn’t make her husband’s work schedule any less grueling. It doesn’t stop the ache of missing beloved family who are now so far away.
And friendship doesn’t stop God’s sanctification in her life. Why would I even want it to?
Walking with her in her struggle caused me to look back on mine for the first time in a while. With the passage of time, I’ve realized that sanctification is what God was doing during that time. Sanctification is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, and all believers experience it. It’s the Spirit’s work in us, and often God uses suffering to do it. I had never recognized the good that came from my own hard season until I had reason to look back and reflect. I was totally surprised to find that I could now genuinely thank him for that season, and for the work he did in my heart then.
I now see so clearly how the Lord developed in me greater perseverance, humility, and empathy then. How he displaced idols I was never even aware of in my own life, including “good” ones like friends, family, and home. I had taken these good gifts from God and placed them above him, making my happiness and satisfaction dependent on them, never realizing the problem with that. Through my struggle, God made me more aware of my desperate need for a Savior—and more aware of how utterly faithful and sufficient Jesus is to meet that need. Before those hard years, I never truly understood how brightly the light of Christ shines to those in darkness.
One of my favorite verses says, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other” (Ecclesiastes 7:14). I have seen this played out in my own life, and it’s a main the theme of the entire Bible —that what was meant for evil, God intends for good, to save and redeem his people (Genesis 50:20).
Our God redeems. That’s what he does. That’s what he’s been doing throughout the Bible, throughout human history. It’s why God sent his Son down to dwell with us. It’s what Jesus was doing when he bonded his divine honor and glory with human frailty and suffering, and succumbed to death in order to transform what has corrupted us from the inside out (Hebrews 2: 14-15). And now, he lives and intercedes to redeem all who trust in him. He makes us new—makes us like him—not despite, but through our own fragility and suffering (Romans 8:28-29).
And that’s what he was doing with me in that tiny apartment years ago. It’s what he’s still doing in me, and what God is doing in your life and the lives of those you love as they trust in Christ. Just as I have seen God’s redeeming power in my pain, I can trust him to do beautiful things in my friend’s struggle as well. It should have been obvious to me all along, but apparently I’m not the rescuer she needs—he is. And she doesn’t need rescuing from the things I thought she did. Christ rescues us, not just from pain and loneliness, but from our own sin, from dark things within us that we never even knew existed.
Meanwhile, I can praise God for the first close friend I’ve had since I was uprooted from home eight years ago. She is an answer to many prayers. I can love her and pray for her, especially from my place of relating. I can thank God for whatever he’s doing in her life, as hard as it is to see right now. And I can proclaim to her the goodness I’ve seen of our loving God, who faithfully redeems even our hardest seasons.