Why suffering makes you stronger than before: Life throws us all curve balls sometimes. The loss of a job. A painful divorce. The death of a loved one. Loss of a limb. These are common enough for them to be described as “everyday”. But when they happen to you, they knock you sideways. But the amazing thing is that whether it’s unexpected, uncalled for, expected, or unfair, suffering does the opposite to what it feels like at the time. It makes you stronger.
Here’s how it happened to me, one week after I turned 16. You could also read about what happened on my 16th birthday >>>
I Woke Slowly That Morning
I didn’t want to properly face this day, and stirring warily, I realized I felt numb all over. Surprisingly I’d slept heavily, even though I knew the night before that my mother’s life was all but snuffed out.
As I’d dropped off to sleep, I’d imagined she was holding on with just a thread. Had the thread broken? Like the spoiler of a horror movie, I really didn’t want to know.
I didn’t want to properly face this day, because deep down, I didn’t want to grasp hold of any of the knowing.
But then Dad crept in and whispered gently, “Jen, your mother died overnight.”
And just like that, a part of me died too.
I didn’t want to properly face this day with words I didn’t want to bring to life. But now they were there. With this solid knowing I could no longer say,
“I’ll go and talk to Mum about that.”
Or, “I wonder what Mum thinks?”
Or, “I have a mother.”
I felt sick. Parts of the 16-year-old “me” solidified in that moment. And I felt like I had no more life, and no more hope. Now, there were no more prayers for healing.
And with this solid knowing, I was shattered into pieces.
My mother was gone.
What Trauma is Like
Have you ever had to face trauma? Deep down in your bones, terrifying, gut-wrenching trauma?
Trauma breaks you. Just like that it whizzes you round in a damaging spiral of suffocating despair and hopelessness, and rips you apart.
You either internalize the trauma, as I did. Or you lash out, spitting in loud bursts of fury, rebelliousness and angst, like others in my family.
I had one anchor point; and two lifelines. I was anchored by God, my rock. And my two lifelines were my friends: Jesus, and my girlfriend Jan. These were both new-ish friends. To them I talked, and I wrote.
Only six months earlier, I’d said “Yes” to Jesus alone in my room one night. From that time, I’d felt his friendly presence with me all the time. Not only did I talk to him, I’d write my inner ponderings to him in my journal.
My other friend, Jan, and I had formed a friendship over the previous two years, especially since my family moved to a house just around the corner from hers. When Jan went away camping with her family, as she often did, she and I wrote each other long letters.
As I talked and wrote to my two friends, words tumbled out. And the words were often jumbled together, messy. But sometimes they were lucid. With a clashing of emotions, I was both sad, and relieved. My mother’s suffering was over. But I was bereft. I processed my all this as best as my 16-year-old brain could. However, funnily enough I didn’t realize my own suffering had begun. My. Broken. Life.
Why Suffering Makes You Stronger than Before
Sometimes, the results of trauma are so gut-wrenching you cannot see how anything could ever be fixed. I recently spoke to Lysa TerKeurst in an interview due out soon on the Treasuring Mothers podcast. Lysa suffered debilitating trauma, when her husband of 27 years walked out on her.
She says, “What do you do when you can look around and there aren’t broken pieces. What do you do when you look around and life has got so shattered there’s nothing but dust?” Thankfully, she says, we serve a God who happens to like dust! But how on earth do you fix dust?
Here’s the places in the Bible she quotes from in the video:
Then the Lord God formed a man. He made him out of the dust of the ground. God breathed the breath of life into him. And the man became a living person.Genesis 2:7
The first man came from the dust of the earth.1 Corinthians 15:47
And, Lysa says, when you add dust to water, you can make clay. And clay is malleable and can be re-formed. As the Bible prophet Isaiah so clearly alluded to:
Lord, you are our Father.Isaiah 64:8
We are the clay. You are the potter. Your hands made all of us.
The good part about all this? Clay in the potter’s hand is the beginning of ANYTHING.
How I’ve Recovered from Trauma
So OK, at 16 and one week, I was a broken mess. Perhaps you could say I was like dust even.
And what’s happened during those years since? What happened to those broken pieces?
I know a lot of my inner workings have recovered. And you would hope so, after so many decades. But the truth is some people don’t recover. Unfortunately, some people carry the brokenness and bitterness way into their future. So how do you NOT do that. I can only tell you about my experience. My thoughts about why suffering makes you stronger than before.
My experiences listed below are not a formula for your recovery from trauma. But I hope and pray the things I learnt might help you understand your journey back to wholeness. And yes, wholeness is possible! Even when you feel broken beyond repair.
A friend was recently telling me about the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, where broken pottery is lacquered together, sanded off and the cracks covered with gold by a master craftsman. The resulting pot is not only more beautiful and stronger than before, it becomes exquisitely unique.
When it comes to people, the repair process is the work of THE Master Craftsman. God. The gluing together and sanding off can be painful. But you can be confident that if you submit to the Craftsman’s work in you, you will become stronger and more uniquely beautiful than before.
My Deliberate Choices
Your future is determined by the choices you make. If you eat poorly, you will feel awful. Or if you don’t exercise, and you will get unfit. Maybe you drink too much, and then do stupid things. But you can make good choices too. Here are some of the choices I made over the years, and still make today, to be the person I am.
· I choose not to blame God
Yeah, I know. It’s easy to raise your fist at God and blame him for your suffering. Being honest, I did it. I blamed him for taking my mother away. (Later on, I had to forgive him for doing that, and forgive myself for thinking it!) But I know God is not the one at fault. My mother’s death was not his doing. It was the consequence of bad things, namely cancer, in this world. What would I gain by blaming God?
I had to decide that in the end, God knew best. Even though there are still no answers as to why.
· I choose to say soft to grief
Grief is the pits. And it still strikes at odd moments, even all these years later. But if I reject grief, or hold myself tight as a drum against it, or ignore it, and deny its existence, then it wins. The grief then implodes within. This means it can have a physical effect causing long-term depression and illness. That’s not for me.
So, while I truly dislike those moments when grief kicks me in the guts, again, I let it happen. I let the tears flow. I know tears are the escape route to freedom. This is one of the reasons why suffering makes you stronger than before. It takes strength to let grief have its way with you.
I consciously choose to stay soft to grief.
· I choose to stay open and expectant
In some surprising ways, God “spoke” to me. Not that I ever heard an audible voice. But I knew God was sending me messages. Odd snippets of other people’s conversations would resonate. Or parts of the Bible jumped out at me. I also remember sitting in a church service, and having an incredible awareness that Mum was now in a better place. In another revelation as I walked in the early morning, I just knew a glorious skyscape was a promise of better things to come.
All these things happened. But I only heard God speak in these ways because I put myself in a place of openness: I was in church, I prayed, I read my Bible, I let my spirit listen, I watched and waited. God will speak to you too. But it’s your choice to look out for him.
Choose to stay open and expectant.
· I choose to be vulnerable and pray with others
Over the years, I had opportunities to be counseled and prayed for by some experienced people. It meant I could review, reassess, confess, let go, and be released from the things that were causing my suffering, so I could look to the future, instead of the shattered past.
This was one of the decisions which resulted in my being aware the broken pieces and dust, were washed, cleansed and gently restored with professional help. The work of the Master Craftsman required me to be vulnerable to others.
Slowly, slowly, the broken pieces were glued back together again, and sanded back smooth. This sanding process was a very difficult, but an important part of the journey. This is also where the suffering makes you stronger than before.
But it could not have happened if I hadn’t been ready to let other people see my grief and pain.
· I choose to let time heal
Recovery from trauma does not take days, months or years. It takes decades. It’s a long, slow process. And I’ve only recently realized it will be never-ending. I will never truly recover to the point of being that 16-year-old girl waking up the morning my mother died. Instead, this trauma has shaped me into a better version of myself. and it’s why suffering makes you stronger than before.
The application of gold to the repaired cracks takes time. It’s not simple. It requires a lot of patience. It often feels unfinished and messy. And it’s the final part of the process which makes the beauty happen. And it’s why suffering makes you stronger than before
Choosing time to heal is the best thing, because it doesn’t have to all make sense today. And also, the very worst thing, because you want it to all make sense. NOW!
The Beauty of Brokenness
In all this, even though I know the tragedy of death, good things happened. Very early on, I could empathize with others in their grief in ways most teenagers cannot. I listened to those in pain and struggling, and offered comfort. Sometimes it was when words were not possible. It’s why suffering makes you stronger than before.
And it’s all because I’ve known suffering and brokenness. Much of me is now restored to wholeness, but the process continues. I’ve had other trauma along the way which is also being restored.
Amazingly, like a clay pot repaired using the Japanese technique of kintsugi, the restored version, with gold-edged cracks, is so much better and stronger than the original.
It’s not what you would first think, but in reality, suffering makes you stronger than before.
How have you managed trauma? Do you have any ideas for recovery? Do you know why suffering makes you stronger than before? Let us know in the comments, below.