All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all our comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT)
Ten years ago, I had no idea how precious these words would be to me.
I was raised in the church and had really great “head knowledge” about who God is, but I never had to really put it into practice. From a young age, my parents taught me that a two-way, intentional relationship with Christ was the only way to eternal life in Heaven. I easily believed what my parents taught me and believed that God was good because my life was good.
In 2005, the summer after I completed sixth grade, I had my first interaction with death and my perspective on life began to shift dramatically. My mother’s father went to the hospital one day, was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis the next, and within a total of 48 hours later had passed away. I had declined visiting him in the hospital because I was sure that he would pull through and I could just visit him at his house in a couple days. He had defeated cancer more than once. What made this any different?
Shortly after my grandpa’s passing, my mom’s youngest brother, Greg, announced that he had been diagnosed with a late stage of cancer and didn’t have long to live. Eleven months after his father’s passing, at the age of forty-six, my Uncle Greg followed. He left behind his wife, the church they had planted together, and his five-year-old son.
Shortly after, my Uncle Jim and Aunt Maralyn, who had served as missionaries to Belgium and Finland for twenty years, let us know that they would be moving back to the states permanently. By this time, I was a freshman in high school and I was so excited to have them close by again. I was once again shaken by bad news when they told our family the reason they were moving home: my Aunt Maralyn had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as ALS. A year later, the disease took her.
I attended my first three funerals within a span of five years. Again and again, I was taken aback by bad news full of disease and hurt and death. During this time and for some years after, I felt like I was walking around in a daze. I was always on guard, waiting for the next phone call saying that someone was sick.
I don’t ever remember feeling anger toward God, and if I did, it was fleeting. I believed He was with me while I was hurting. I believed that I could talk to Him about anything. And I ran to Him for comfort often, but that was about the only time I thought about God. He wasn’t tangibly in front of me, so I really didn’t trust that I could find complete solace in Him. I also didn’t believe that any good could come out of so much death and pain.
In the years that have passed, I have had time to mourn my losses. There are still hard days. My grandpa was one of my closest friends, and sometimes I still wish that I could go to his house to escape the world for a little while. I wish my uncle was here to sing and play his guitar at my coming wedding. I wish my aunt was here to give me relationship advice. But I think I’m finally learning what God was teaching me, and it’s this:
God doesn’t waste our pain.
I can’t think back to an exact moment when I learned this, but looking back, I have been given so many opportunities to help others who are in situations similar to mine. I can be the person that I didn’t have when all this was happening years ago. Realizing that I can use the hard times in my life to comfort someone else was life-changing for me. It has completely shifted my outlook on life.
Today, I urge you… keep your eyes open. There are people in your life (or maybe even complete strangers) who need to hear your story. To know that they aren’t alone. To know that there is a God out there who loves them.
Leah Mancl is a recent college graduate, sinner saved by amazing grace, soon-to-be-wife, and blogger at My Favorite Adventure. She was born and raised in Wisconsin, and all the stereotypes are true: she bleeds green + gold, cheese is a staple in her diet, and she can withstand temperatures of thirty below zero without missing a beat. She loves in-depth conversations about TV shows, reading books for hours at a time, and discussing zombie apocalypse theories with her fiancé. If you would like to see more from her, find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Bloglovin’.