In January of this year, I experienced heartbreak I had not anticipated. After 26 days of hospitalization for COVID-induced pneumonia, my husband of 38 years, Tommy, passed away. The test of suffering began.
Understanding Testing as a Christian
Recently, my 6th graders took a test. The test was carefully designed to show each student:
- how much they had learned
- how well I had prepared them
- not to fear future tests
- to carry lessons into the next phase of learning
Before my students began, we prayed. I reminded them not to be anxious, but to trust me that they were ready to succeed. I demonstrated that they were to keep their eyes straight ahead, not turning to the left or right. Cheating would cause the test to be removed and another test designed to be retaken at a later date.
Some students progressed more confidently; they had been diligent to study the book and practice each lesson. Some students moved slowly, obviously struggling. One student put his head on his desk and pounded it, saying, “I can’t remember the answer.” My heart hurt for him because he did indeed know the answer at one point. One student kept looking around, and I had to get his attention and remind him to keep his face turned toward me.
When the test was over, most students had some incorrect answers and unanswered questions, but almost all passed. One student will need tutoring before she can master the material.
Surviving the Loss of a Spouse
With the passing of my husband, Tommy, I have realized that many of us are enduring a season of testing. Our tests have been carefully crafted, not by One who is solely a teacher, but by our Sovereign Creator, our Gentle and Lowly Savior, our Compassionate and Merciful Father, and our Loving Husband.
My test has been designed to show me what a spectacular Teacher I have, how well He has prepared me for this moment through the many lessons He has taught me over the years, and to usher me into the next level of learning.
The problem is this test is really hard. And I am not a gifted student.
I feel like one of my 6th graders taking a graduate-level exam. I started with the True/False parts of this test. These were easier, and I could identify some of the false statements, such as:
- We can have peace because we understand what God is doing in this test. False. We have peace that goes BEYOND our understanding. If we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait with perseverance (Romans 8:25).
- This suffering is too costly. False. The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (2 Corinthians 4:17).
- I am alone in my suffering. False. The Spirit is with me wherever I go. He will never fail or abandon me (Deuteronomy 31:6). When I can’t move forward, He will carry me and hold me close.
- My life has lost its purpose. False. Job said, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Paul repeated those words centuries later when he said that God is faithful to bring to pass whatever He has willed (I Thessalonians 5:24).
The essay part of this test is more difficult. I’m faced with questions like:
- What am I going to do with the days (scarily, decades) I have left on earth?
- How am I going to manage living without Tommy?
- What about all the plans, friends, and life I had? What will happen to all that?
I’ve also realized I have a congenital learning disability – this thing called “sin” – that keeps me wandering all over the place and tempts me to cheat by copying others. My kind Teacher has to refocus my attention constantly and remind me to fix my eyes on Him.
My other problem is that I’m sad to leave the class I’ve been in and move on to a new level. I’ve loved this class and what I’ve learned, and the new level may come with harder tests.
I forgot to mention that my test is “open book.” In fact, I could never be successful if I didn’t use the Book my teacher gave out at the beginning of class. Unlike my students, who had to take their tests individually, without help from me or the textbook, my Teacher has graciously and sympathetically scooted me over in my chair and scrunched in with me, putting His arm around me as I take this test. He actually squeezes my shoulders tighter and whispers the correct answers in my ear when, like one of my students, I lay my head on the desk and cry that I just can’t do this.
One Final Secret for Passing the Test
I’m not sure when I’ll finish this test. I’ve only just scanned the sections and filled in a few blanks. I may be one of those who needs tutoring before I can move on to a new class. My Teacher has assured me that He will give me all the answers I need. He has also told me that I can still pass if I have to leave a few questions unanswered, or I answer a few incorrectly.
If you’re being tested as well, I’m praying for you. I can’t always tell you this because I’m spending so much time looking at either the test or the Teacher, but I’m thankful for all the encouragement. And especially for those who have already taken this test and are looking in the window, giving me a “thumbs up” to persevere.
One final secret the Teacher whispered in my ear that keeps me going: He shared that He has experienced all my weaknesses during His own testing, and because He scored 100%, His students never fail.
Searching for hope in the midst of suffering? We’d be honored to walk alongside you. Worship with us online every Sunday, or at a live campus in Central Florida.