I’m a profoundly different person than I was a decade ago. Like a soldier who’s lived through the horrors of war, the past decade of deep, layered, and relentless suffering has left its mark on every part of who I am. Between heartbreaking special needs in one of our children, five ankle surgeries, the slow loss of my ability to walk, chronic illness plaguing my children and me, extreme financial loss—and the ripple effects of each one—the years have been heartbreaking at best, and nearly crushing at worst.
Although I’d rather paint over the dark colors of suffering, there’s no denying that pain is a part of this world—and a guaranteed part of the Christian life. Whether it’s brief or unending, suffering will inevitably change us—emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and at times even physically.
Though we can’t deny this reality, we often attempt to rely on our own strength and band-aid our wounds (or the wounds of others) with empty slogans, false promises, and hollow attempts to explain God’s purposes. Unfortunately, these solutions don’t just fall flat—they throw salt on open wounds.
Companions in Suffering: Comfort for Times of Loss and Loneliness
Though suffering often leaves us feeling isolated, God invites us into the community of the Trinity and offers us many companions in Scripture. We experience loneliness alongside the exiled Israelites. We journey with David as he pleads to God for rescue. With Asaph we confess our unbelief. With Job we learn to lament. With Mary and Martha we learn to wait. In God’s community, there is sweet fellowship, even in the hardest of circumstances. Journey in these pages with Wendy Alsup through her story of suffering, and more importantly, with the God who walks with us in the wilderness. This warm and contemplative book also includes a helpful appendix for those who companion a suffering loved one.
For that reason, Wendy Alsup’s book Companions in Suffering is a refreshingly honest look at the difficult, yet often unspoken, realities of pain. Rather than jumping to simplistic answers, she pulls up a chair beside us and acknowledges how confusing and disorienting these seasons of suffering can be.
Is There More to Suffering?
What are we to do when suffering upends our world? How do we endure when we feel isolated from those around us (including the church) and even a stranger to ourselves? If God is truly good and sovereign, why does he allow his children to suffer when he has the power to change or prevent it? Could there possibly be more to our suffering than meets the eye?
Alsup is no stranger to suffering. After a painful church conflict and an unwanted divorce, she was forced to uproot her life and make a difficult move as a newly single mom—only to endure cancer diagnoses and several major surgeries, too.
As heartbreaking as it was to read the painful trials Alsup has endured, it didn’t take long to see the beauty of hope and redemption. She speaks a language of comfort that can only be learned by one who has heard, known, and breathed the comfort of Christ (1 Cor. 1:3–5).
[Alsup] speaks a language of comfort that can only be learned by one who has heard, known, and breathed the comfort of Christ.
“In this life or the next,” Alsup writes, “I have full confidence that God will redeem and restore all things. That he will heal all sickness. That he will right all wrongs. That he will restore all that is broken. Still, Jesus wept. And I do too” (10).
Alsup’s heart in these pages is clear. It’s a message we all need to be reminded of: the pain of this world is real, but we have not been called to walk it alone. Jesus not only grieves with and equips us for the road he’s called us to, but “we find companionship with his body, our brothers and sisters in the faith.” Even more, “we find companionship and fellowship found in the words of Scripture, preserved eternally for us for our instruction, our comfort, and even our tears” (7).
Suffering with the Great Cloud of Witnesses
Alsup takes us chapter by chapter, showing us that although suffering can leave us feeling isolated, God invites us into the community of believers who have experienced suffering, loneliness, doubt, fear, questions, and prolonged seasons of waiting. We experience loneliness alongside the exiled Israelites. We journey with David as he asks God for rescue. With Asaph, we confess our unbelief. With Job, we learn to lament. With Mary and Martha, we learn to wait. Though we may feel alone, Scripture reminds us that in God’s community, there is sweet fellowship—even in the hardest of circumstances.
We experience loneliness alongside the exiled Israelites. We journey with David as he pleads to God for rescue. With Asaph we confess our unbelief. With Job we learn to lament. With Mary and Martha we learn to wait.
Though not everyone will relate to Alsup’s specific trials, and the chapter lengths may be a bit unwieldy for those presently suffering, I believe you’ll see yourself somewhere in these pages—whether gleaning hope for your own suffering, preparing for difficult days ahead, or becoming better equipped to walk with others through theirs. Alsup writes:
Though we may limp to the bitter end of life, we can confidently believe that when we see Jesus face-to-face for the first time in heaven, we won’t be disappointed by the outcome of our lives. May that hope, reinforced by those who have shared with us during our affliction, sustain us as we limp forward until the day our faith becomes sight. (158–59)
Praise God that our suffering won’t have the final word. Praise God that he doesn’t ask us to walk it alone.
Painful But Privileged Road
Though my own road has been long and painful, enduring more loss than I ever imagined possible, in a strange and unexpected way it’s been one of the most privileged roads to walk.
Though trials have brought seasons of loneliness, frequent waves of grief, battles with despair, and long periods of waiting, I have come to know deeper, more life-giving fellowship with my Savior, and with the body of believers as fellow companions on the narrow road.
Though suffering continues to be painful—and may be for the rest of my days—I’ve gained treasures that cannot be taken and a joy that cannot be shaken. One day soon, we will all look back and rejoice, no longer as companions in suffering, but as companions in glory.