A Path Through Suffering was written by Elisabeth Elliot and was originally published in 1990. In the spring of 2011, a friend loaned it to me, and I'm still not sure if she knows that at the time, I was in the middle of a swamp of depression.
This book is, by far, one of the most incredible books you could possibly read. If you have not experienced deep pain yet, then you will. It's important to develop a right view of God and suffering before you go through it.
A Treasure Just for Me
I want to write a book review, not write a post about depression, so I won't belabor this point too much, but I do want to fill you in a bit. In March, we nearly lost our son, who wasn't quite six weeks old. It was a jolt, a trauma, for our family. I held it together during the two weeks when we lived in a children's hospital, confident in God's sovereignty, but when we came home, the reality of it all hit completely and fully, and I fell apart for a few months. I know that the depression was triggered by Andrew's emergency lung surgery, but I also feel it was something like postpartum depression, since I had just given birth.
It was somewhere in this dark period when Ann loaned me this book, and I'm in the last several pages of the book right now. Why has it taken so long to read such a good book? Elisabeth Elliot writes gems, with treasures to be mined. When I read two pages of this book, I have to stop and reflect. Sometimes I reflect on God's truth and mull over it, and other times, I'm brought back to one of the nights when I thought my baby would die. And I praise God for the trial, as well as the comfort He provided in the aftermath.
So I've read this book very slowly and thoughtfully, sometimes not picking it up for weeks, as I've gotten busy with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other big events with the kiddos. And then I come back to it, and I sigh at the stories she shares of others who have suffered, and her amazing application of scripture.
The Book Itself
Elisabeth Elliot begins each chapter with an excerpt from Lilias Trotter's Parables of the Cross, in which Trotter views plant life and the way that seeds must die to form new life. Plant analogies pepper the book, since suffering is also a time of pruning in our lives.
Elliot herself, as you probably know, is well acquainted with suffering. She begins her book by sharing a conversation she had with her daughter:
What was I, a jungle missionary, to say to my own child of two when she learned the song "Jesus Loves Me" and wanted to know whether Jesus had loved her daddy too? I gave her the truth: yes. Next question: Then why did He let the Auca Indians kill him? (p 20)
Throughout her book, Elisabeth Elliot has interwoven stories of women she has known, missionaries, and letters that have been written to her, along with scripture, to show God's beauty and perfect plan in suffering. She also shares how she and others have dealt with the pain of suffering.
She also defines suffering in a way that few people do: Essentially, it's wanting what you don't have or not wanting what you do have. Maybe you want a nicer home, a more godly husband, or you wish your child didn't have a certain diagnosis, be it a behavioral disorder or a health issue that will plague him for his entire life. And then there are others with cancer. Everyone suffers, although it often seems that some suffer more than others.
Elliot writes: We may look at the various ways in which each of us is called to suffer as the Master Designer's shaping of the vessels meant to bear the seed of the divine life. The design of each is directly related to the function, and thus He gives to each something unique to offer, something no other is capable of rendering back to Him. (p 132).
She answers objections to this view of suffering: Rise to a new plane? Live our new lives with Him? "But we have to live in the real world! We need something more practical!"
Nothing is more real and practical than the Word of God. This world is not more real than the other world. It won't last nearly as long. (pp 138-139)
Should you read this book, you'll find your walk with God deepened, your faith strengthened, and your confidence rooted in the Lord and His word.