Sorrow, Suffering, and God’s Severe Mercies

So much for assumptions. My daughter and I were attending a parent/transfer student weekend at a university she’s been planning to attend. We assumed things would be sweet and simple; however, things were not so sweet and simple.

Due to misguided direction, she was told she would have to reapply and would not be able to attend that fall semester. We were both devastated, and I wanted to ring a few necks! But wringing necks wouldn’t have been wise or kind. It’s hard to be wise and kind when life has just fallen apart.

After resting and readjusting our expectations, we headed out for dinner.

The restaurant was packed with starry-eyed students and stressed-out parents. We settled into a cozy corner booth just as the waiter came by with menus and water. He kindly asked how we were doing, and we replied honestly. Throughout dinner, he came by several times and seemed to genuinely care about our experiences of the day and our evening dinner. I thanked him several times for his kindness.

Then something happened that surprised us both: he bent down on one knee and said he understood difficult, unexpected life changes because he was fighting cancer. CANCER! Cancer was the last thing I would have assumed about this young man. He appeared upbeat, healthy, strong, together . . . but he was waging an invisible fight for survival in his body.


Once again, I was hit with two truths: we often assume so much about a person, and we are often so wrong in our assumptions . . . which we could also call judgments.

  • We see an expensive car and assume the person driving it is successful and perhaps powerful.
  • We see a large home and assume the family is wealthy and happy.
  • We assume higher virtues to the talented kids and disregard the courage and determination of the disabled ones.

If I may be so bold, some of our worst assumptions about others happen in the church.

  • We see a well-dressed, smiling person and assume he or she must have it together.
  • We assume that the ever-present volunteer has greater spiritual maturity, and we assume that the depressed-looking, disheveled person sitting to the side has little faith.
  • We assume that the single parent with the screaming kid must need parenting classes, the teen with tattoos must be a rebel, and those with mental struggles must need to pray more.

And let’s not even touch on admitting our own addictions or doubts.

God’s Gracious—and Severe—Mercy

I must confess I know much about this because I was that assuming, judgmental person for many years. Then it all fell apart: depression, a disabled child, divorce, and other losses swept across the landscape of my life.

I totally fell apart, which I look at now as God’s gracious and severe mercy. I had no choice but to walk through the suffering; it was humiliating, painful, dark, and anything but perfect. I became the one on the receiving end of harsh judgments and incorrect assumptions. The fullness of my hurting, handicapped, and human condition was laid out; however, slowly but surely, God grew me into being real. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect—it means I’m content to accept my brokenness and the brokenness of others.

Robert Browning Hamilton says it so well in this little poem:

I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.[ref]Robert Browning Hamilton, “Along the Road,” as quoted in The Best Loved Poems of the American People, ed. Hazel Felleman (New York: Doubleday, 1936), 537. (Accessed on Google Books, May 12, 2014.)[/ref]

Finally, heed this reminder from the apostle Paul:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. . . . Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. (Ephesians 4:31–32; 5:2 NLT)

Let Me Hear from You

In the days and weeks ahead, I have some questions for you to ponder. Pick a few, and let’s get real in our comments and conversation. I promise, you will never be judged here.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do I make assumptions or judgments of others? What are they, and why?
  2. Am I terrified to let others see my real self . . . my struggles, doubts, disarray, and difficulties?
  3. Am I walking into sorrow or running from it?
  4. Why am I so afraid to fail or to let go of control . . . what is the worst that could happen?
  5. Do I trust God to help me heal, to shape my character, to love me as I am?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Recommended Resources by Charles R. Swindoll:

Special Needs Ministries Blog Articles: