“Splash-Over of Heaven” in the Midst of Suffering

splash overSuffering is a weird bedfellow.   Having grown up in the family where my mother’s mental illness has been relentless for my entire life and having experienced infertility and the inability to have a child of my own, I’d known what I thought was my share of suffering.  But then at 59 to be diagnosed with advanced invasive breast cancer … well, I entered a new and deeper relationship with suffering.  Double mastectomy, six months of rugged chemo, six weeks of daily radiation and now a painful year of five surgical procedures to reconstruct my chest.  Yes, I’m well acquainted with suffering. 

So as a pastor and a bit of a scholar, I have done with suffering what I have done with many subjects in my life:  I’ve studied it.  And my study has taken me to the Bible, to books, teachings and personal testimonies of those who know suffering.  I  have found that sometimes suffering comes into people’s lives as a short-term guest.  It stays for a few days or weeks and then moves on, the memory of its visit dimming rather quickly.  For others it seems that suffering moves in, takes up residence and no matter how much you ask it to leave, pray that it will leave, beg God to make it leave, it just hangs out and hangs on.  For some it becomes a permanent bedfellow and it is always there – every minute of every day.

Joni Eareckson Tada, Christian speaker and author may possibly be North America’s greatest expert on suffering.  As a teenager in 1967, she took an innocent dive into the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay and broke her neck, resulting in permanent, life-long quadriplegia.  She is paralyzed from the shoulders down.  But Tada is a shining example of what happens when suffering moves in to stay and yet life can become extraordinary in spite of the worst of disabilities.  As if quadriplegia weren’t enough, the last 15 years Tada has suffered from debilitating chronic pain.  And as if that weren’t enough still, three years ago Tada was diagnosed with advanced, invasive breast cancer … like me.  And like me, she endured a mastectomy and radical chemo.  During her chemo she got pneumonia, a really bad case, which is a common cause of death for a quadriplegic.

In their book Joni & Ken:  An Untold Love Story (Zondervan, 2013), Joni and her husband Ken Tada share with great frankness and authenticity what it’s like when suffering is your strange and threatening bedfellow.   They call it a “splash-over of hell”.  And anyone who has encountered great suffering, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, mental or in some other sense … well, I’m guessing we’d all agree that suffering is indeed like a splash-over of hell.

The dark and frightening times of suffering can be overwhelming and for some, the only option they seem to have is defeat, complete and utter despair.  They give up to the suffering and suffering wins – body, soul, and spirit.  Having been through my own splash-over of hell, I certainly have no criticism or judgment for those who give up in the face of its power.

But I have found there is another way to respond to resident suffering.  It’s the same perspective you’ll hear reflected in the life of Joni Eareckson Tada and others who’ve stared down suffering, called on the name of God and asked Him to show up in the darkest and most terrible of nights.  Tada and I would tell you that the promise found in the Bible in James 4:8 is true.  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

You see, there is a message that needs to be proclaimed louder and more often from pulpits in churches around this nation.  It needs to said to more people over coffee at Starbucks.  It needs to be shared at the side of more hospital beds, in more nursing homes, and it needs to be whispered in the ear of suffering people everywhere.  It is this:  God loves people who are suffering and when invited in, He will always come to them.  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  A promise made by God … and God always keeps His promises.

So what Joni Eareckson Tada found in the deepest of her suffering was Christ coming to her in a way that brought hope and strength for the very hard journey.  What I found in the deepest of my suffering was the presence of a Kind Savior who reminded me of His love and shined His light into my darkest moments.  And somehow, when God is there, suffering can’t win.  Tada calls this the “splash-over of heaven”.

Yes, suffering is a strange and sometimes threatening bedfellow.  Suffering is a splash-over of hell.  But in times of suffering when God shows up, we get a splash-over of heaven in the midst of our splash-over of hell.  If you or someone you know is suffering right now, remind them of that little Bible verse from James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  Who knows?  They just might receive a splash-over of heaven when they need it the most.

Suffering

9 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I follow Joni’s emails daily and her wisdom and strength always shine through..Even with this disability ,she has done beautiful paintings and travels to places for speaking engagements,where the traveling itself is grueling..Today Joni talked about her recent sailing experience .This post here reminded me of that..The experience of pain and suffering is so different from one person to another and the level to which it can be withstood..But I think I have learned this: while all the suffering may not go away,if we just talk to God in true belief that He understands our limits,loves us,is always present to us,somehow we will get through it and that will be the “splash over of Heaven”..

  2. AMEN to that Rev. Cathie! And you do exhibit a ‘Splash over of Heaven’! And God has ‘drawn near to you!’. We can see it in your life! You’re a living example of that scripture.

  3. I love that the splash over of heaven is way bigger and much more powerful than the one from hell. I have experienced suffering for an extended period of time and yes,it has changed me from the inside out. What I have taken away is a much deeper dependence on my merciful and gracious Lord, a much more intimate relationship with Jesus because of that dependence, and a much greater compassion for those who are in the midst of suffering. I can honestly say God has transformed my heart through the years of my Momma’s dementia,infertility,chronic depression, a mentally ill daughter, the loss of my mother and father within one year, a strained and difficult relationship with a family member and just recently my husband’s serious accident resulting in 10 weeks of medical disability. My heart has been broken into many pieces and then very carefully and gently put back together by my Jesus into something new and transformed. It’s also very easy to talk about Him because the outside world wonders how someone who suffers for so long is still standing and sane. I take no credit but I sure do love to tell anyone who asks how I’m better than still standing because of the power and love of Jesus Christ.
    Bravo to you,sweet sister Cathie for letting all who will listen know how suffering has changed you through Jesus drawing near!!! Your words continue to inspire me and bring hope to my heart.

  4. Thank you Rev. Cathie! Sometimes the caregiver can feel the “backwash” from the Splash-over from Hell. When your loved one is suffering you question why, here we are begging for bread and getting a stone? Where are you? Yesterday I prayed with a shaky voice in church, “If it be your will Elijah needs immeadiate relief!!”. We were all feeling desparate but at the same time close to Him and those who love us in the body of Christ. We came home to a calm Eiljah who was having a good day. The first one in a while. Relief. Trust. He hears. The One we are praying to is close.

  5. Reblogged this on Gold in the Road and commented:

    Yesterday’s pre-surgical procedure was the most painful yet. Hours of piercing pain yet in the midst, the Kind Savior. At one point when the pain was at its worst I heard Him ask me if I would go on a train ride with Him. It happens that one of my favorite memories of a trip Philip and I made to Italy a number of years ago was the train ride from Florence to Venice. Even in my pain-fog, I quickly said “yes” and Jesus and I sat down together, His loving arm around me, and while the pain pushed on, He and I watched out the window of a train moving through a mountainous region with gorgeous scenery and the sweet and soothing rocking motion of the train underneath us. Pretty soon, the pain was no longer the star of the show. Instead, Jesus, His loving arm around my shoulders, my face snuggled against His chest, and our lovely, lovely train ride was center stage. It wasn’t a restful night, but I made it through. A “splash-over of Heaven” in the midst of suffering. God is so crazy good.

    • Glad to hear that in the heat of your pain,Jesus sent you a cooling splash of Heaven and then even took His girl for a beautiful train ride where pain was not invited…Love it and you. Praying today you are strengthened and pain minimized..

    • That’s the key — the pain was no longer the star! Jesus is always our bright & morning star, & his light shines so bright that in God’s fulfilled kingdom there will be no need of sun or moon! Praying for you, for God to relieve the burden of your pain, & for showers of blessings in the midst of the suffering.

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