Suffering Can Make You, or Break You—How Your Suffering Matters

As Christians, we claim to have the ultimate answers to life’s problems. It’s easy when everything is going well. Nonbelievers watch us, however, more intently when things go wrong, and that is when the so-called “rubber hits the road.” I recently saw this in action through one of my closest friends who lost her 17-year old son, Sam, just a few months ago.

Sam O, at the hospital August. 2014.
Sam O, at the hospital August. 2014.

Sam was diagnosed with heart failure. A virus apparently lodged itself in the tissues and began destroying it, unbeknownst to Judy, his mom. She knew something was not right and took him to doctors several times and got varying diagnoses, but no one expected a 17-year old to be in heart failure! By the time they figured out what was wrong, he was in cardiac arrest and was being rushed to the UCLA Medical Center

Doctors realized Sam needed a new heart. Unfortunately, due to Sam’s size, finding him a heart big enough to pump his 6’4″ frame would be difficult, to say the least. Also, Sam had been retaining water at a rapid rate due to his condition. Because of that, he became ineligible to be on the heart transplant list.

Things were getting desperate, so they decided to try an artificial heart valve. They opened him up, and put the device in there. They had to keep him open for a short period after the operation to see if the mechanical device was performing correctly. Judy had to walk into the room and see her son’s chest wide open! It was horrific to see her once strong son lying there, unconscious, opened up with wires and medical devices plugged into him.

Things didn’t go as planned. The valve wasn’t pumping blood thoroughly enough, and Sam experienced a stroke. (He had another stroke prior to this operation which left him blind in one eye and partially blind in another.) He now sunk into a coma, and experienced another stroke!

Everything that could go wrong seemed to be happening. Doctors scanned his brain after the stroke, and reluctantly told Sam’s parents the results showed little brain function. Then they realized his hands were getting gangrene due to poor blood circulation in his extremities. Doctors were going to have to amputate his hands! This boy loved playing guitar, and cutting off his hands would be torture for him. He was put on life support at that point, and doctors told Judy to call in the family to say their goodbyes. He wasn’t going to survive.

Denial. Devastation. Desperation. Darkness of the soul. Judy could not make that call to turn the machines off, so in mercy, the physician in charge did. And in a moment, Sam was gone. There was a stillness, a calm, a peace that fell about those standing in that hospital room. Everyone knew Sam loved Jesus. They knew he was now in heaven, probably picking up a guitar to play with a heavenly band.

Judy had to announce this decision to the over 14-hundred Facebook followers who were all praying for Sam’s healing. Why didn’t God heal Sam? Why didn’t He choose to glorify Himself through an amazing miracle that over 14-hundred people would have been a part of?

Amazingly, it was Judy who told everyone that she loved Sam enough to let him go. She also told everyone that this is what God did, too, when He sent His son to earth to die for us. She tells everyone that she was thankful for the 17 years she got to be Sam’s mom—a mother to a wonderful boy who embraced everyone, and had one of the biggest hearts ever!

Sam and his mom, Judy.
Sam and his mom, Judy.

Since then, the kids who knew Sam have seeds of faith that have been planted in their souls through the realization that life in this body doesn’t last forever. Sam’s tragedy has made them think about their own deaths perhaps for the very first time.

Did Sam have to die for these other kids to wonder about God? I don’t know, but I do know that God called Sam home, and his mother, Judy, never cursed God because of it. She is a modern-day Job in many ways, and her witness has brought glory to God in a manner I so deeply admire.

If we just get angry over our suffering, we’ll become bitter and it’s all for naught.  Instead of going through all that pain just to stay mad, we can choose to allow God to inspire us to do something positive in our pain, and that matters eternally—God will reward us in heaven for how we handled life’s troubles down here. There is hope of a life beyond this one, so hang onto to that hope in Christ.