Finding Hope and Purpose in the Midst of Your Suffering
By Christina Meredith
Suffering is an unavoidable part of the human experience. If someone tells you that all you have to do is a, b, and c and no harm will ever come to you, you’re being sold a bill of goods. Demand your money back and run away as fast as you can. Each of us will at some point experience loss, heartache, trauma, depression, anxiety, and misery. Suffering is not reserved for just some people; it comes to us all. Sometimes it comes at our own hand, and other times at the hand of another. However it comes, I encourage you to accept this fact of life rather than try to resist it or avoid it. In fact, I encourage you to embrace the idea of suffering, because it is coming—with or without your permission.
If you are in the midst of great hardship in any form, know this: the trial you are enduring may well lead to your purpose or be the stepping-stone that enables you to achieve greatness. Have you ever read heroic stories of those who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds? Or cheered for those who have suffered great loss but persevered and claimed victory in the end? Or rooted for the underdog? If so, then you have what it takes to be the hero in your own story—to overcome, to persevere, to be the underdog who beats the odds.
If we are willing, even the most severe suffering can produce character in us—the kind of character that emerges only from the fires of intense grief (see James 1:2-4). Great duress forms unwavering integrity. Insurmountable odds create unshakable convictions. Dark nights of the soul give birth to a humble heart.
Suffering is not sent down from God above to crush us frail humans. It is a gift in disguise that unlocks the hero within us.
Whether your suffering takes the form of sickness, grief, or violence isn’t what matters most. What matters most is knowing that you can find safe ground again and a renewed purpose after pain has swept you off your feet. You can write the next chapter in your story in any way you wish. You can be the underdog who doesn’t quit, no matter the cost. With every decision you make, you can choose to be the hero—or not. Never give up on your God-given purpose!
My suffering took many forms. One of the most devastating was being raped by my uncle for many years. God didn’t do this to me. I do not shake my fists toward heaven, cursing the Almighty for my wounds. A man took his free will and used it for evil instead of good. Do I believe that God could have slayed my perpetrator in the act at any moment? Yes, I surely do. I don’t know why God didn’t intervene, but I trust him. I have a rock-solid faith in his unending love for me, and I believe he can do all things. Which means that nothing is impossible for those who believe (see Mark 9:23). Small and big miracles happen every day. I also know this: all of my suffering in the end has brought me to this place—a place of victory. I am the hero in my own story because I have hope and a purpose.
I am afforded opportunities today not because of a privileged upbringing, but because of all the unbelievable grief I bore. Trust me when I say that suffering does not have to be a dead end. If you’re willing, it can be a door that leads you into a whole new life.
It’s not hard for me to write these words now as I sit in a cozy farmhouse miles away from civilization. No one is more thankful than I am to have this moment of peace. There are no words in the English language to articulate how deeply grateful I feel simply for this moment. All of my suffering has enabled me to enjoy life—to relish it for the precious gift it is—a hundred times more than I would have if I’d never suffered. A simple walk outside among the trees, the hug of a friend, a meal from my fridge, a shower at any time—the smallest things are my greatest joys because I know what it is to suffer.
Bad times deepen our capacity to thoroughly enjoy the good times.
Nothing can prevent pain from entering our lives, but we must never give up hope. God is for us, not against us (see Romans 8:31). When the seas of life rage, he can tame the winds, calm the waters, and bring us safely back to shore. We must not fear doomsday, but boldly live our daily lives with hope. We do that when we allow suffering to do its perfect work within us, drawing us into deeper relationships with others and with our Creator. My most cherished bonds were formed under great stress.
Who I am as a woman, sister, friend, and leader has been shaped by my adversities. I have credibility, not in spite of what I have endured, but precisely because of what I have endured. Who wants to hear about hope or overcoming difficulties from a person who has never struggled?
Suffering is a door that opens to a world of purpose.
Our heartaches can have meaning. Even when life takes every opportunity to crush us into powdered ash, we can choose to look ahead, beyond our current circumstances, beyond the anguish we feel. We press into pain with great expectation, knowing that at some point, the pain will cease. Remember this when you’re experiencing deep despair. In time, things will change.
My years of suffering were measured in decades, but God took something horrendous and made it into something good. How many children, young people, and adults have I encouraged by sharing my journey the last few years? Enough for me to say that my CinderGirl childhood was worth enduring. I believe that with all my heart. It is an honor and privilege to bear the burdens of grief with others. It is my greatest joy to tell others who are suffering that their wounds can be healed, that they too can be filled with hope. I believe that we all have a story to tell, and that God wants to use our stories to empower others—to usher in a global movement of healing and positive change.
It is my greatest desire to take away the suffering of the world. I’d take away your suffering if I could. I hate seeing another human being in pain. I can’t shield you from suffering, but will you allow me to encourage you—to tell you that life isn’t over after a savage blow knocks you to the ground? You can get back up and fight. You can persevere. You can seek light amidst what seems to be crushing darkness.
I can’t shield the world from suffering, but I can work hard in my little corner of it to ensure that those around me are offered fundamental human rights. I can work hard so that abused children have viable options for healing, so they can grow to be healthy and whole adults.
I can’t rid the world of evil on my own, but I can join hands with you and others to face it head on. There are countless ways that we, together, can help our fellow human beings to overcome evil and suffering.
The system that failed me as a child is the one I’ve now dedicated my life to fixing. I have chosen to fight the good fight in the hope that one child at a time will hear my voice and believe that they too can overcome their sufferings. I pray that the flame blazing inside me will ignite a flame within the heart of every suffering child—that they will hear the still small voice of hope and believe that their lives can and will be redeemed from the ashes.
Adapted from CinderGirl: My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope by Christina Meredith. Click here to learn more about this title.
Born into a large working-class family in upstate New York, Christina Meredith endured years of abuse before entering the foster care system as a teenager. With nowhere to turn after she graduated from high school, Christina lived in her car for almost a year, working three jobs to survive.
As she prayed in her car every day, Christina had no idea that in just a few years, she would be crowned Ms. California. She had no idea that her suffering would one day help others find healing. But she did know that she was destined for more, and she would not give up hope no matter the circumstance.
In CinderGirl, Christina tells her piercing and poignant story of leaving behind homelessness to become Ms. California and the founder of a nonprofit organization that provides advocacy for foster care children. With stunning vulnerability, Christina invites us into her childhood home and the heart of a child longing to be loved. She asks us to journey with her across the country and deep into a growing faith. She invites us to dig deeper into our own personal courage, even in the most grim of conditions.
CinderGirl is the riveting story of one young woman’s determination to overcome hardship in order to help others know they are not alone and that they too can achieve anything they dream.
Christina Meredith is a foster care activist, mental health advocate, national speaker, and the founder of the nonprofit Christina Meredith Foundation. A former homeless foster youth who was later named Ms. California, Christina today dedicates herself to protecting children from abuse and advocating for foster care reform. Christina concurrently serves in the US military. Learn more at ChristinaMeredith.org.
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May 21, 2019