Twenty-one surgeries by age thirteen. Years in the hospital. Verbal and physical bullying from schoolmates. Multiple miscarriages as a young wife. The death of a child. A debilitating progressive disease. Riveting pain. Abandonment. Unwanted divorce.Vaneetha Rendall Risner begged God for grace that would deliver her. But God offered something better: his sustaining grace.
The folks there also put together a video introduction in which we can glimpse Vaneetha and her family and hear her own voice: http://www.desiringgod.org/the-hardest-part-of-my-pain.In The Scars That Have Shaped Me, Vaneetha does more than share her stories of pain; she invites other sufferers to taste with her the goodness of a sovereign God who will carry us in our darkest of days.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner's occasional blog posts at DesiringGod.org had already won my respect and provided me much help, so even without those introductions I knew that her first book, The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering, was one I wanted to read, and soon. The book, adapted from material first presented on her personal blog, did not disappoint.
If you have found encouragement in the words of Joni Eareckson Tada or Amy Carmichael, writing as they have from suffering into suffering, you will probably appreciate Mrs. Risner's words as well. If you are groping for a candle in a dark season of pain, you will find one here.
My eBook is replete with highlights. At some point, the markings lose some of their meaning and the question becomes, "Okay, what's not highlighted?" Here are a few of my most favorite passages, in the prayer that they will encourage you and pique your interest enough to read the whole book.
Lamenting keeps us engaged with God. When we lament, we invite God into our pain so that we can know his comfort, and others can see that our faith is real. Our faith is not a façade we erect to convince ourselves and others that pain doesn’t hurt—it is an oak tree that can withstand the storms of doubt and pain in our lives, and grow stronger through them (Kindle Location: 409).On knowing God:
God is valuable not because he makes our lives easier. He is valuable because he is the Lord of the universe and knowing him is better than anything in this life. Knowing him is the ultimate joy. Knowing him is worth any ordeal we may endure. This is a God worthy of worship (Location: 918).On how to work through the spiritual deserts:
So what do we do when we feel drained and empty? When no one understands our suffering and no one seems to care? When we feel discouraged and tired and unbearably lonely? Read the Bible and pray. Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall. Does it sound simple? It is. Does it also sound exceedingly hard? It is that as well. But reading the Bible and praying is the only way I have ever found out of my grief. There are no shortcuts to healing. Often I wish there were, because I’d like to move on from the pain. But in many ways, I am thankful for the transformative process I undergo. A process requiring that I read the Bible and pray (Location: 1039).On suffering for the kingdom and glory of God:
God’s glory is on display for the angels and demons when people demonstrate that their hearts are satisfied in God alone rather than in his gifts. When we declare that God is more precious than our health, our happiness, even our very lives, we highlight his supreme worth to an immense, invisible audience. That message helped me through years of struggle. I speak and write about suffering, and sometimes my words inadvertently make it sound wistful and romantic. Almost noble. Talking about “crying myself to sleep” sounds a lot more beautiful than what it really is—feeling nauseated in a dark, lonely room, with an empty box of Kleenex and a raging headache from sobbing. There’s nothing even remotely appealing about raw pain. When no one sees or knows or even seems to care. When morning brings a cold numbness that permeates your soul and makes you feel completely dead inside. When every day seems harder than the day before, and you wonder how much longer you can go on. When life seems grueling and gritty and even gruesome, and death seems like it would be a welcome relief. And yet, in the midst of crushing circumstances, we know something else is going on. Something bigger than we can imagine. Something that puts our pain into a larger context (Location: 1192).On the merits of grace that comes daily like manna:
Delivering grace or sustaining grace. Which is more precious? We Need Both
In delivering grace, we see God’s glory. Everyone can see the miracle he has wrought for us. And usually our lives are easier as a result. We have what we asked for. And we thank God for it. But after a while, we go back to the business of living. New difficulties come up. And we may even forget about what he’s done because we aren’t continuously going back to him. Sustaining grace also showcases God’s glory. But with sustaining grace, people can see the miracle he has wrought in us. Our lives are easier because our perspective is different. With sustaining grace, we must continually go back to God. This grace is not a one-time thing, just as manna was not a one-time event. We need it every day. And it keeps us dependent on God. With sustaining grace, we get more of Jesus. His comfort, his nearness, his very presence. Both delivering grace and sustaining grace are essential in the Christian life. They are interconnected. Delivering grace is vital. We need to pray for it. It’s biblical. Life can be relentlessly hard, and we need to know that deliverance is possible. That our prayers are effective. That our situation can change. Without the possibility of deliverance, we’d lose hope. We might stop praying. We could succumb to total despair. But it is in the asking, even begging, for deliverance, and in the subsequent waiting for it, that we get sustaining grace, the grace to press on in the blazing heat. And this grace is accompanied by the intimate presence of the living God. So when I am sustained but not delivered, God is inviting me to see the miracle I have received. It is a more precious answer to prayer than I ever realized. Manna, my daily bread, the Bread of Life himself. He alone sustains me in the desert (Location: 1329).My only (and very minor) quibble with this book was that there were some formatting issues in the Kindle book. For me these were not deal-breakers, but I mention it because I know there are some readers for whom that would be enough of a distraction that they would prefer the paperback because of it.
In short, Mrs. Risner is a bell sheep, one who has listened to the heartbeat of the Shepherd who sustains her and who now rings her bell to point others to His presence, even in the darkest valleys. My heart goes out to her and her family in the intense suffering they have endured and are enduring, but I praise the Lord for the miracle of His sustaining grace in her life and the bell-ringing testimony in this book.
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