Our pilot had, up to this point, been cheerful, announcing himself a “smooth ride advocate” and promising little in the way of turbulence.
Two-thirds through our trip, however, he came back on the intercom. “Thunderstorm cells are gathering,” he said, “and the weather might beat us to landing. We’ll try to beat them but, if we can’t, don’t worry – we have plenty of gasoline and can just stay in a holding pattern.”
A half hour ticked by – and then, a third announcement. “Folks, we’ve been given permission to land. But because of the storm cells, there’s going to be intense turbulence. Do not remove your seatbelts and do not get up to walk around the plane. Flight attendants, please sit down and buckle in.”
No. No no no no no. I’m flying-phobic as it is, and “intense turbulence on a plane” is my own personal worst nightmare. Still, it’s not like there was anything I could do to escape it – and so I gritted my teeth, and prayed, and God got me through the pitchy bumps and shuddering and shaking until we landed in the middle of an all-out storm that shook the jet-way as we disembarked.
Because of that storm, our final flight of the evening was delayed by almost two hours until there was a brief gap in the weather. When we boarded the next plane, a much smaller regional connector, the pilot came on as we taxied to the runway. “The good news,” he said, “is that our destination has wonderful weather. The bad news is that right here, we don’t. Expect fifteen minutes or so of severe turbulence until we’re out of this system. Flight attendants, buckle in.”
I was indignant. And scared. I had expected God to deliver me from severe turbulence like he had on almost every other flight before, but this time it seemed I was going to have to face it not once, but twice.
The second time was worse. In a smaller plane, you feel everything more, and I focused on the wing of the plane that I could see outside my window as the plane shook, pitched, and dropped in minuscule increments that were barely visible to the eye but felt like a roller coaster to the stomach. I prayed, and the praying went something like this: God, You wouldn’t have put me here if You couldn’t get me through it. So please help get me through it. Only fifteen minutes.
It felt like forever. But it wasn’t. And the fifteen minutes passed. I was able to face a tremendous fear of mine both because of God’s presence and because God had intervened to package that fear into a bite-size portion that I could endure. Think of something that sounds painful or difficult or challenging to you. I’m sure the thought of enduring it ad infinitum sounds miserable. But could you endure it for fifteen minutes? For ten? For five?
Suffering, large and small, trivial and profound, becomes more bearable when we know that there’s an end in sight. You’re able to put away your rage and irritation about the crowded highway when you see the exit ramp sign only moments away. You can visit a suffering friend at the hospital and feel cheer when you know that soon they’ll be on their feet again. Your child’s cries from the boo-boo he just received tug at your heart, but it’s comforting to know in two minutes he’ll be crawling back up the monkey bars.
The great news of our faith is that all our suffering has an endpoint. There will be an conclusion to all the pains and frustrations we endure. God promises it – over and over and over again. In fact, He makes a point to promise it over and over again, as though He knows we need to hear that our suffering in this life will have an endpoint and that eventually everything will be okay.
Jesus, who cried at Lazarus’ grave and who suffered the emotional gut-punch of John the Baptist’s brutal death, surely understood the scope of human sickness and sadness. He saw and lived and breathed grief and hurt. He himself suffered and knew pain. We know He was able to endure it because He knew what waited ahead; touchingly, He wants us to be able to endure our own hurt hearing knowing what waits ahead.
Matthew 5:4 tells us that those who mourn will be comforted. John 16:20 reminds us that grief will turn to joy. And then this gem, from Revelation 21:4:
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
Your suffering is time-limited. Yes, it may seem like a lifetime. Yes, it may be for a lifetime. But in the span of God’s plan, a lifetime is small. Your suffering has an end-date. It will end. And for the length of time that you are required to endure it, God will provide whatever it is that you need to get through.
So when you are in the middle of suffering and it feels like forever, take some small comfort in knowing that it isn’t. God won’t permit it to go on without end. Your hurt and your struggles have an end date – and beyond them, there is the promise of nothing but sheer joy and calm.
Hang in there.