You never just suffer the thing that you’re suffering, but you always also suffer the way that you’re suffering that thing.
Let me explain what I mean by that phrase, through the experience of my sickness.
In 2014, I went to see a doctor with what felt like minor symptoms. Before I knew what was happening, they admitted me to the hospital for what became an excruciatingly painful ten-day stay.
The abbreviated story is that I was in acute kidney failure, and had I waited another seven to ten days to go to the hospital, you probably wouldn’t be receiving my weekly email devotional.
Four years and six surgeries later, my symptoms are as manageable as possible, but I have been left a physically damaged man.
I learned and was reminded of many things through my suffering. Perhaps one of the most significant principles is this:
Our suffering is more powerfully shaped by what’s in our heart than by what’s in our body or the world around us.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. My suffering was real, the dysfunction in my body was real, the pain I went through was horribly real, the damage to my kidneys is real, and the weakness that is now my normal life will continue to be real.
But the way that I experienced all those harsh realities was shaped by the thoughts, desires, dreams, expectations, cravings, fears, and assumptions of my heart.
Yes, I went into my sickness with my theology in the right place, and I did believe that I lived in a groaning world crying out for redemption, but it was battling with something else inside me.
There was this expectation that I would always be as I had been; that is, that I would always be strong and healthy. There was little room in my life, family, and ministry plans for weakness within or trouble without.
So when I realized I was very ill and that weakness and fatigue would be with me for the rest of my life, the blow was not just physical, but emotional and spiritual as well. Honestly, I didn’t suffer just physical pain, but also the even more profound pain of the death of my delusion of invincibility and the pride of productivity.
The same is true for you. Your responses to the situations in your life, whether physical, relational, or circumstantial, are always more determined by what is inside your heart than by the things you are facing.
You never come to your suffering empty-handed. You always drag a bag full of experiences, expectations, assumptions, perspectives, desires, intentions, and decisions into your suffering. What you think about yourself, life, God, and others will profoundly affect the way you interact with and respond to the difficulty that comes your way.
This is why the writer of Proverbs says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
What are you carrying around in your soul that has the potential to complicate your suffering? What are you preaching to yourself that could allow you to forget the truths of the gospel?
Never forget: No matter what painful thing you’re suffering, as God’s child, it’s impossible for you to endure it all by yourself.
The One who created this world and rules it with wisdom, righteousness, and love is in you, with you, and for you, and nothing has the power to separate you from his love.
This article about suffering originally appeared on PaulTripp.com.