Imagine a woodcarver with a chunk of wood. To turn that piece of wood into a vessel, a cup or a bowl, he must carve out of the center, stroke by stroke hollowing it out into usefulness. So it can hold something.
Our Creator uses our sufferings as a woodcarver’s tool. He doesn’t see suffering as we do. We see it as something to avoid at all costs, instruments of evil, or bad luck. He sees sufferings as tools for sanctification and future glory.
Through our sufferings, God hollows out greater depths in us, his vessels, so we can hold more of the grace and glory of Christ. Those who have never walked through hard valleys may struggle to have grace for suffering people. They haven’t yet been carved out by pain.
But those who know the shadow lands, and walk through them in the companionship of Christ, come out on the other side deeper — carved out, hollowed and filled to the brim with grace. When they meet a suffering companion, they brim over with grace and compassion, spilling it onto the hurting person. And He will walk us into paths to intersect with those who have suffered similarly to us.
Our strengths can be used for God’s glory but they can also lead us to pride and to self. But our humanity will always cause us to long for a Savior, and our weakness will always lead us to Christ. My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness (1 Cor. 12:8).
When I am weak, then I am strong. The end of self can be the beginning of deeper intimacy with Christ, as I fully comprehend my need for a Savior, now and forever. I wish I could be stronger, healthier, wiser, kinder, better. But I can only be me, here and now, where the present intersects eternity, and I’ve been given just a patch of grass on the great lawn of history.
Once I confront this knowledge, shake hands and agree to be friends with my limitations, I find that I am happier and healthier. I’m growing in grace.
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S Lewis wrote that God takes some of his special favorites through the hardest and darkest valleys because that’s where he transforms their character and teaches them to trust him.
We, too, can trust in times of suffering, that they are hand-picked for our sanctification and Christ’s glory.