The Serendipity of Suffering

For the past 15 years or so, I have suffered from a condition called peripheral neuropathy, apparently resulting from a one-time vitamin B12 deficiency that caused deterioration of the nerve sheathings in my feet, which caused the nerves in my feet to die. So basically, I have no feeling in my feet.

Besides just being weird, this has created a series of other problems with my feet.

If I get a blister on the bottom of my foot, it will likely turn into a sore that will gradually get bigger and deeper and will take a long time – like, a really long time – to heal. The worst sore I ever had ended up being about two to two-and-a-half inches in diameter, right on the ball of my foot, and remained an open sore for about two years before it finally healed. Strangely, that sore never got infected. Others have.

One sore got so infected that I had to have the little toe on my left foot amputated. It looked like a shark had taken a bite out of my foot! My wife Susan took pictures of it. (She’s weird like that!)

Another serious sore resulted in a staph infection that got into my blood and started spreading throughout my body. That one landed me in the hospital for over a week, followed by eight weeks of at-home intravenous antibiotics (two of the strongest ones available). But the infection didn’t kill me, which is a good thing.

My first botched foot surgery resulted in the big toe on my right foot turning sideways. It was pretty weird. A later successful surgery on that same foot finally straightened out my toe – mostly – making it possible for me to wear regular shoes again.

Another botched surgery on my other foot, several years later, left me with a dropped bone in the middle of my left foot (where most people have an arch) that creates a constant pressure point and puts me at risk of yet another sore. I went to a wonderful orthotics doctor who custom-built a brace that cradles the protrusion and keeps it from rubbing a sore. That worked great for a while, until the brace rubbed a callous on the ball of my foot that eventually turned into another nasty sore that landed me back in the hospital.

If I counted up all the days that I have spent on crutches and in wheelchairs and on specialized scooters and having to use a walker to get around, it would easily add up to well over a year.

The last three months, however, have been great. I have been walking without any assistive devices, and have had no sores on my feet. Until this past weekend. The dropped bone I told you about? Yeah, it rubbed another sore. So now I’m back on crutches and using an electric scooter at the office, in an attempt to coax the sore into healing before it gets worse, and to try to stay out of the hospital this time.

Oh, and the whole dead-nerves-resulting-in-no-feeling thing – it has been gradually spreading to my hands over the past few years. I now have very little feeling in my fingers, which makes a lot of everyday tasks increasingly difficult: like buckling a belt, tying shoes, buttoning a shirt, writing, signing my name, and typing (a great problem for an aspiring writer to have).

So why in the world would I title this article “The Serendipity of Suffering”? “Serendipity” means an unexpected blessing. I believe suffering has the potential to bring with it some unexpected blessings, if we are willing to see them and recognize them as such. Let me share two of those blessings with you.

OUT OF CONTROL

First, my suffering reminds me that I’m not in control. God is.

It certainly was not in my plans to spend the last decade and a half in and out of wheelchairs and hospitals, becoming less and less independent because of the things that are becoming more and more difficult to do. Those circumstances were conspicuously absent from any game plan I had crafted for my life.

But it doesn’t matter what my plans were! Those circumstances are here, whether I want them or not; whether I planned for them or not. I am not in control.

There used to be a popular slogan in religious circles years ago: “God is my co-pilot.” Then I saw a bumper sticker that said, “If God is your co-pilot, you’re in the wrong seat!”

God’s plans for my life are the ones that count. The things that I want for my life might not fit with His plans; they might even be counterproductive. I must be willing to submit my will to His, even if His will includes my suffering. I’ve believed for a long time that God can sometimes accomplish more through us in our suffering than in our comfort. I don’t like that, but I believe it is the truth.

I mentioned that it certainly was not my plan to spend the last 15 years suffering. But I am convinced that it was (and apparently still is) God’s plan for me to suffer. How do I know that? It’s actually pretty simple.

I have prayed countless times for God to heal my foot problems and allow me to spend the rest of my days being able to just get up in the mornings and put on my shoes and walk, just like normal people do. Countless times. And I believe that this is a perfectly reasonable request. It certainly is within the scope of His power to grant such a request. Fix a couple of messed up feet? No problem for God. And yet His answer, countless times, has obviously been, “No.”

Why would God not grant my request? I don’t know, except that it’s apparent that He has a plan for my suffering. I don’t know what that plan is; and, quite frankly, I don’t like that plan. But I’m not in control. And that is a powerful reality that I need to be reminded of. Suffering reminds me.

COUNTING BLESSINGS

Second, my suffering reminds me that I need to count my blessings.

“I complained because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

No matter how bad your situation is, it could always be worse. At the beginning of this article, I spent a significant amount of verbiage recounting some of the details of my 15 years of suffering. It may have sounded like a pity party. It wasn’t. Let me explain.

I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, because there is no reason to do so. As frustrating and annoying and maddening as my problems are, I remind myself every day that it could be a lot worse. And for some people, it is a lot worse.

There are lots of diabetics out there who, when they start having foot problems similar to mine, the doctors start removing body parts instead of patching them. They end up stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives with no legs or feet. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Countless young men and women selflessly go to some of the most God-forsaken places on earth to fight for my freedom and yours. Many of them come back with physical and emotional scars that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Many of them don’t come back at all. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Many people suffer from diseases and ailments that make my foot problems seem trivial.

  • Radiation and chemotherapy treatments wreak utter havoc on the bodies of cancer patients, many of whom are children.
  • Severe depression can steal every ounce of joy from a person’s life and make life miserable and unbearable.
  • Diabetes is the ninth-leading cause of death in the world, and can result in blindness, amputations, stroke and heart disease.

I have a lot to be thankful for!

THE TAKE-AWAY

I described my suffering in some detail so that you would understand that I’m not talking theory here. I am writing from 15 years in the trenches. I am accustomed to changing my plans, and even the very course of my life, to accommodate my infirmities. I know the frustration of realizing that there are some things that I simply can no longer do, and will never again be able to do, because of my stinkin’ feet, and now because of my hands as well.

So what’s the take-away message from all of this? It’s really pretty simple.

No matter what happens in this life, God is still the one in control. I must submit my will to His. And if His will for my life includes suffering, then so be it.

Even on my worst day, there are lots of people who would trade places with me in a heartbeat, because my “suffering” is a walk in the park compared to theirs.

So it makes no sense to feel sorry for myself (though I admit that I sometimes do), or to seek pity from others. My situation could be a whole lot worse than it is, and so I simply count my blessings.

And there are lots of blessings!

And in a sense, suffering is actually one of those blessings.

What about you? What are some of the blessings you have discovered through suffering? Or some of the lessons that suffering has taught you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Paul O'Rear Signature

QUICK TWEETS:

  • I believe suffering has the potential to bring with it some unexpected blessings. (Tweet that!)
  • Suffering reminds me that I’m not in control. God is. (Tweet that!)
  • It doesn’t matter what my plans are. God’s plans for my life are the ones that count. (Tweet that!)
  • I must be willing to submit my will to God’s, even if His will includes my suffering. (Tweet that!)
  • God can sometimes accomplish more through us in our suffering than in our comfort. (Tweet that!)
  • Fix a couple of messed up feet? No problem for God. Why would He not grant my request? (Tweet that!)
  • God has a plan for your suffering. (Tweet that!)
  • Suffering reminds me that I need to count my blessings. (Tweet that!)
  • I complained because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet. (Tweet that!)
  • No matter how bad your situation is, it could always be worse. (Tweet that!)
  • We have much to be thankful for! (Tweet that!)
  • No matter what happens in this life, God is still the one in control. (Tweet that!)
  • If God’s will for my life includes suffering, then so be it. (Tweet that!)
  • Suffering can actually be a blessing. (Tweet that!)

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15 thoughts on “The Serendipity of Suffering

  1. Recently I had someone tell me that my suffering gave me a unique place to speak of God’s truths to others. It’s easy to say God is in control when life is going your way, but when the road gets rough, and you can still say, “This is for my good and God’s glory” then it shines the light of faith all the brighter for those around you. Clearly God has called you to be a bright light in this dark world. Thank you for being willing to be whatever kind of pot the Potter pleases! If you haven’t already, you need to look into the software that lets you navigate your computer through the spoken word. I have a good friend with MS that uses it exclusively.

    • I think we sometimes lose sight of the opportunities to share God’s truth with others that suffering provides. Maybe one of the reasons that suffering is so powerful is because it forces us to rely on God. Thanks for your thoughts, Deanna, and for the software suggestion. Right now, the finger numbness is really just an annoyance. But there may come a time when I need to look at using voice-command software. Take care, my friend, and God bless!

  2. Paul, my precious #3 son, I am so very impressed with, first, your writings on the Serendipity of Suffering, and second, the comments (above) of Deanna Brown. Her words struck such a chord with me that I am going to repeat them here. She wrote: “Clearly God has called you to be a bright light in this dark world. Thank you for being willing to be whatever kind of pot the Potter pleases!” Such a profound statement! I feel exactly the same way. I can’t even put into words how much I admire you for accepting this burden of neuropathy for these last 15 or so years, along with the attendant problems, and never complaining (much!). Just kidding; I don’t believe I have EVER heard you complain. Your affliction obviously gives you a unique perspective on the sufferings of others, and the ability to empathize with them. Please just know how much I love you and how much I admire your courage and your ability to connect with others. (You must get that from your Dad!) Love, Mom

    • My precious #1 Mom 🙂 … Thank you! I believe that most of the good stuff in my life, including a very real faith that allows me to put suffering in perspective, is due to the fact that I was raised by such loving, godly, wonderful parents, who modeled for us boys every day what real faith looks like. I can’t begin to tell you what a profound impact the love you and Dad gave, and the faith you exhibited, have had on me. Thank you. I love you!

  3. Suffering and keeping the faith allows God to use us as His witnesses in a bigger and brighter way. The light you are shining nearly puts my eyes out! What an encouragement and a man much like Job you are…I can’t help but have deep compassion on your situation and pray for total healing. There really is nobody quite like you..Keep on shining!

  4. Paul, I can recommend a real good foot doctor. I have some of the same problems, not quite as bad, but I have had surgery on my right foot and had four toe nails removed because of the neuropathy (sp). I go to Dr. Brodsky at downtown Dallas Baylor. I feel for you. God is good and God knows best. He will not give us more than we can bear. Hang in there. God bless and you will be in my prayers.

    • Thank you, Carolyn. I have actually seen Dr. Brodsky before. He performed the one successful foot surgery that I’ve had, years ago. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement and for your prayers.

  5. Thanks, Paul, for sharing your struggles, I mean Blessings.
    I have encountered a few struggles myself and have a little understanding of the Blessings you speak of. Personally, there is no describing it, really. You, however, have done a superb job in this article.
    I’m sorry to hear you are having more suffering and will keep you in prayer. Hope to see you and Susan soon!

    • Thank you, Elaine. I think your comment, “there’s really no describing it,” probably applies to anyone’s situation. I understand what it’s like to experience my sufferings, but I don’t know what it’s like to experience yours, or anyone else’s for that matter. Thank you for your insight! I hope you and the Oreo King are doing great!

  6. I see that you have really been through a lot and God has surely helped you through a lot. As most every one has stated, we all have situations in our life. But we really can’t say we know what you are going through until we go through the same thing. Everyone at our congregation are amazed at how you have carried on after your surgery. We will keep you and Susan in our prayers daily, as we pray that you will also keep us in your prayers. Your story has really been an inspiration to us all.