51: Vaneetha Risner | When Suffering Is Your Story
I talk about finding hope in suffering – I was bullied when I was young, buried my second child, was diagnosed with a debilitating disease and was abandoned by my first first husband but found God met me in unexpected ways through it all.
Vaneetha writes at Dance in Rain and Desiring God. She is the author of The Scars That Have Shaped Me.
Vaneetha and I chat about her childhood with polio, the loss of her son Paul, the way God held her through the grief, God’s sovereignty, caring for two adolescent daughters alone, lament, and seeing God’s glory.
4:52 Vaneetha’s website is Dance in the Rain, which is very descriptive of her life. She shares her story with us, beginning with her polio diagnosis
Born in India to Christian parents
Diagnosed with polio
Moved to England and received 1st surgery at age 2
Moved to Canada
Spent the majority her time living in the Shriner’s hospital
8:43 Vaneetha shares about her suffering theology after experiencing polio. Then, she continues to share about multiple miscarriages and the loss of her 2 month old son, Paul.
“I remember hanging up the phone and begging God. Just begging Him. I will do anything if You would save my son.”
“That day and I would say for a week after, through the funeral, God just carried me. I had this sense that God was there even though I felt so devastated. There was the supernatural sense that God was with me.”
14:09 Vaneetha shares how her relationship with Jesus changed in the months and years after the loss of Paul
“I remember being in the car and saying, ‘Okay God, I can’t pull away from You. Show me Your listening. Draw near to me.’ I put myself out there in a way I had been afraid to. I felt in some ways, how can I trust You God when I begged You to do something and You didn’t? I felt that I really opened my heart up to God when I asked that question….The next few moments, honestly Amber, were the most amazing moments of my life, even today. The sense of God filled my car…There was this joy and it wasn’t in anything but God.”
“It was the marker in my life that no matter what, God said, ‘I will give you this joy that you can’t explain, but it is rooted in Me and no one can take this from you’.”
Markers or Joshua Stones: Joshua 4
17:38 Years later Vaneetha was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome and her husband had an affair and left her to care for their 2 daughters alone. Vaneetha answers this question: As one blow after another came, did you cling to God, did you question him, did you shake your fists at Him, all of the above?
“I had to pare down life to the bare minimum.”
“I believe God is sovereign, so God could have stopped that. I felt so much like, ‘Why? Why are you doing this?’ It was the most personal of everything that had happened [her husband’s affair].”
“I was crumbling. I remember yelling at God, crying to God, begging God, all of those things. I remember one night…saying, ‘God, help me. What are You doing? I can’t do this.’ I read John 11, the raising of Lazarus and reading the words if you believe you will see the glory of God. I remember crying out to God, ‘I believe, help my unbelief. I want to see Your glory.’ It was another time God said, ‘I am going to hold you. You can not see what I am doing right now. You just can’t see it, but I am doing something that you need to trust’.
” ‘Two months is too little, but they let him go. They had no sudden healing’….I see how God used that in that crushing time in my life. The words of that song, ‘This is what it means to be HELD, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was when everything fell you’d be HELD.’ That is the story of my life. The sacred has been torn from my life over and over and over and yet God has HELD me. Remembering that song, remembering what God did through that song and through my life really gave me the courage to say, Okay, I am going to put a stake in the ground and trust You in the midst of this and trust that You love me even though I don’t feel loved.”
25:49 Vaneetha talks to the person who may be struggling with the belief that a good God wouldn’t allow all of this to happen.
Joni Eareckson Tada, “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”
“Suffering does things in our life, it draws us closer to God, it changes our character, so there is a lot of good that suffering does in our own lives. But suffering, God uses for His glory and we don’t even know all of those ways.”
“Pain is a part of our fallen world. Everybody deals with pain and it is a way to talk about the hope of the gospel. When we look at Jesus, His healing was so people would know that He was God. So that people would find true hope and true healing. I feel like my suffering and not being healed is doing the same thing. It is helping people see the sufficiency of God, which is really what life is all about. It’s not about being comfortable here. This is not our home.”
“Suffering, kind of, burns off all the things that don’t last, that we can’t take and it leaves us with what does last.”
Romans 8:18 Paul says, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us
28:48 Vaneetha writes for desiringgod.org. John Piper said, “[Vaneetha] is a beautiful example of glad hearted submission to the sovereignty of God.” Vaneetha answers how she began to gladly submit to God’s authority even when His gifts in her life did not look like she thought they would.
“As Piper unpacked it [Spurgeon’s quote] just realizing, Do I want suffering that God had nothing to do with, that God is trying to clean up, that God is saying, ‘Oh no, I didn’t want that to happen, but I’m going to make this okay somehow’ versus there is a purpose to this that’s going to blow your mind….That you are one day going to be thankful for this, because I have used it in glorious ways.”
Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
“Genesis 50:20 changed my view of the sovereignty of God, which is is really that God can do what He wants and that God is good and has purposes for your life.”
“Submitting to the fact that God has purposes for my life that I don’t know or understand. That has given me joy in my suffering. To be honest, if I didn’t believe that I think I would always think I was living God’s plan B. That God was was making the best of a bad situation, but if God didn’t want Paul to die and He died any way, then I’m living my second best life.”
33:45 Vaneetha shares how she has seen the glory of God through her suffering
34:46 In Vaneetha’s book, The Scars That Have Shaped Me, she writes, “Lamenting keeps us engaged with God. When we lament, we invite God into our pain so that we can know his comfort, and others can see that our faith is real. Our faith is not a façade we erect to convince ourselves and others that pain doesn’t hurt—it is an oak tree that can withstand the storms of doubt and pain in our lives, and grow stronger through them”
For someone listening, Vaneetha encourages the listener, who may be in the middle of intense suffering how to press in to their faith and lament.
“Be honest with God. Tell Him what you really feel. Don’t say what you think you should.”
Read Psalm 88
Look at Job, Jeremiah, Lamentations
“Every Psalm of lament, except Psalm 88, ends with praise.”