I was recently with some friends, and we were sharing with one another how the hardest things in our lives—the really hard things—are the things, in the end, that we are the most deeply grateful to God for.
This was no list of “privileged” suffering. This was raw, painful stuff: abject poverty, abuse, barrenness, deaths of spouses, and real struggles that make most people uncomfortable to even acknowledge the existence of. Yet this group, through tears, rejoiced and expressed gratitude for what God had allowed—or perhaps, more specifically, what God had withheld.
Who among us doesn’t want food and shelter? Who doesn’t want love and safety in their relationships? How many of us plan to lose a spouse before we’re old? And while I know there are some exceptions, how many women do you know who don’t long to bear and raise children?
These are things so basic to our human existence that most people can’t really imagine what it is like to live without them. And yet, there we were, not having even realized all this about our little circle (it’s definitely not why we were together), sharing how God, in his providential care, had chosen to withhold things from us in various ways. It was an intensely beautiful time together.
There was real grief shared of sorrowful and hard experiences. And yet, all of it was accompanied with rejoicing for the deep and profound lessons that God has taught through them. There was no sugar-coating of the realities involved. The experiences of grief and suffering can feel harsh, unrelenting, and even cruel. But shining through the lines of story after story were beaming, glorious, wonderful realizations of the light of God’s goodness and kindness in withholding the good things that we had each longed for and providing lack instead.
How do we learn that God is our provider if we never have to look to him for provision? How do we learn that God cares for his children if we never know what it is like to lack care? How do we know how long-suffering God is with our sin if we never face long-standing patterns of sin in those we love? How can we know the sweet comfort of the Comforter if we never need to be comforted?
We can’t. And so the truth is, God orchestrates lack into our lives in order to fill us with something infinitely better than what even those very good things can bring—himself. When we lack food and shelter, he is our portion and our cup, the bread of life. He is our strong tower, our refuge, and he would rather allow us to hunger and thirst for him than to have a full belly and no taste for Truth.
When we are victims to the horrible evil that dwells within men’s hearts, we find a suffering Savior who knows what that is like because he suffered unimaginable abuse at the hands of the deepest evil the world has ever known. And through it, he demonstrates how he delights to make beauty that can only truly be appreciated through seeing and knowing and living in the ashes.
When we are devastated by tragedy and loss, we come to know the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief who would rather let us experience the searing pain of loss than let us miss out on what a Perfect Bridegroom can provide in the midst of all that pain. And when we long for something so badly that our chests ache and our souls burn, we find the tender, compassionate Shepherd who would rather give us what he knows we ought to long for in order to shape us into a better reflection of his goodness and care, than allow us to become arrogant or proud in the fulfillment of our lesser desires.
It’s so contrary to what we want. It’s opposite of what we think. We want good things—and they are good—but the problem is that they are not good enough. That’s what our lack reveals to us. Not having what we long for reveals our real needs, and not having the things we want refines our tastes for the things we need. Suffering the loss of what is precious to us helps us value the One who is most precious of all.
Our lack, especially of good things, ends up making room for the best things. Praise God for being willing to bear our sorrow and broken hearts in order to fill us with joyful, thankful hearts that know him better and love him more because of it.