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How does pain materialize in each of our lives? What forms can it take? Elder Robert D. Hales described several categories of suffering: suffering that tries and tests us, self-inflicted suffering, suffering to develop our spiritual strength, suffering to humble us and lead us to repentance, suffering from infirmities of our mortal bodies, and suffering from separation by death. I would also add, suffering due to the agency of another.
These categories may seem broad and overgeneralized, perhaps even a bit heartless, until they are given a human face. Exploring sorrow is of little benefit if it is only applied in clinical, general terms. It is when we touch on the reality of their effects on individuals and apply these experiences and lessons learned to our own lives that they gain true value.
Just as your story, your pain, and your healing are significant. Your stories are important to the people who know and love you but, most important, they are meaningful to our Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ. Your trials, and subsequent growth, matter to Him because you are of infinite worth to Him. He is there for us through all variations of suffering, ready to offer strength and comfort, healing and hope whenever we turn to Him.
It’s surprising how often suffering “to test and try” us is represented in the scriptures. For biblical women in particular, this is played out in examples of barrenness, or what we would term today as infertility. Hannah, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Elisabeth dealt with the sorrow of being unable to bear children, but eventually they each gave birth to special sons who would mature into men of God. Although the eventual desired blessing was realized for these women in mortality, that does not take away the years of heartache and (for Sarah and Elisabeth) decades of what may have felt like unanswered prayers. Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel pleaded in bitterness of soul, “O, Lord of hosts . . . look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me” (1 Samuel 1:10–11).
To some, from the outside looking in, our suffering may seem inconsequential. Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, though perhaps trying to comfort his wife came across as dismissive of her pain when he asked, “Why weepest thou? And why eatest thou not? And why is thy heart grieved? Am not I better than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8).
You may have experienced this. Sometimes, when a person’s sorrow is not obvious to the visible eye, it may be easy for others to overlook just how badly someone is hurting. Several of the women I interviewed, who themselves dealt with infertility, mentioned the misery they felt when other mothers would complain about their children without realizing how desperately these infertile mothers wished they had any child at all.
Perhaps one of the most difficult things about our trials is not so much that we suffer them, but that we must deal with added layers of pain as a result of the actions, words, or judgments of other people on top of it. For these biblical women, the agony of their barrenness was compounded by the social expectations of their day. In their time, it was believed that infertility was a punishment from God and that having children defined the worth and value of a woman.
Sarah (wife of Abraham) and Rachel (wife of Jacob) were both so desperate for their husbands to have posterity that they offered their hand-maids in their place in order to bear children. When Sarah was eventually visited by an angel of God to inform her that she would at last have a child, her reaction was one of disbelieving laughter. She was ninety years old and “the manner of women” (Genesis 18:11) (her menstrual cycle) had stopped long before. How could the promised blessings of the Lord be realized at her age?
How many of us feel we are beyond the point of saving or that the blessings we should have received are far behind us? The great hope that these scriptural stories bring us is that although we may be tested to our limits, nothing we endure is beyond the power of our Heavenly Father to make right. As He gently rebuked Sarah, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).
No matter how long or hard the road, the Lord will be by our side the entire journey. Despite all doubts, an elderly, barren Sarah became the mother of nations. God’s covenants will be made sure.
What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments!
The following was taken from the book Is There No Other Way currently on sale at cedarfort.com.