Best-selling author Paul David Tripp weaves together his personal story, years of counseling experience, and biblical insights to help us in the midst of suffering, identifying 6 traps to avoid and 6 comforts to embrace.
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About the Author
Paul David Tripp (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor, author, and international conference speaker. He is also the president of Paul Tripp Ministries. He has written a number of popular books on Christian living, including What Did You Expect?, Suffering, Parenting, and New Morning Mercies. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Luella, and they have four grown children. For more information and resources, visit paultrippministries.org.
Read an Excerpt
The Day My Life Changed
October 19, 2014, is a day I will never forget, because it's the day my life changed. I didn't want my life to change, hadn't planned for my life to change, but my life changed. It was unexpected and unwanted, out of the blue and out of my control. I didn't see it coming. Sometimes big changes come with warnings. Sometimes you can see the dark clouds on the horizon. Sometimes it's a weird feeling or an anxious thought that alerts you to something around the corner. But I was totally surprised and completely unprepared for what was about to be put on my plate.
I was away on a ministry trip and began to have some minor symptoms, but they were sufficiently minimal that I had no hint of what was about to come. But because I am no longer a recent graduate from college and am at the age when it's important to pay attention to messages your body gives you, I immediately called my physician when I got home. He suggested that because I live in Center City, Philadelphia, just a couple blocks from a huge hospital, that I go there and have them check me out. He assured me that it didn't sound like something to be fearful about and that they'd probably examine me and send me home.
The next day was Sunday, so the plan was that Luella, my wife, and I would go to church, get something to eat afterward, and then walk over to the hospital. We were so relaxed about the whole thing that we stopped at a neighborhood Starbucks on the way. We checked into the emergency room at Jefferson Hospital, knowing we would be in for a long wait, and settled in to watch the Philadelphia Eagles. I sat there more impatient to be seen by a doctor than anxious about what I would be told. Finally I was called back and asked to describe my symptoms, while my vitals were being taken.
It wasn't long before there were four physicians from different departments in the little emergency room. I asked what was going on but never got a direct answer. To my left I heard two of the doctors discussing dialysis. It made no sense to me; I thought, What in the world are they talking about? It didn't seem possible that I was that sick. I didn't feel sick. I had done my regular daily ten-mile bike sprint that week. I had just spoken for six hours over the weekend with all the energy I always have. I thought they must have the wrong chart, that they must be looking at the wrong symptoms. But those doctors weren't in the wrong examining room. In a flash, painful procedures were being done on me, and before long, I was admitted for what would become aten-day stay. It was confusing and disconcerting, to say the least. I didn't understand what was going on; all I knew for sure was that a leisurely afternoon had suddenly become very serious and very painful. But I had no preparation for what was about to happen next.
Almost immediately after arriving in my hospital room, I went into a full-body spasm. I will never be able to adequately describe it to you. This was pain like I never knew existed, and during the spasms the pain was focused on my groin area, where it felt as if someone had stuck me with a knife. The spasms came with ferocity every two or three minutes, and when they came, I screamed. When you're scared, you sometimes scream for help because you hope someone will hear and come to the rescue. These were not that type of scream. The pain was so intolerable that involuntary screams just came out of me. And in between my screams I cried in despair, "God, help me! God, help me!" It was terrifying to go through. I was not afraid of the next day; I was terrified of the next five minutes and the torture the spasms would bring.
I screamed for thirty-six hours, and as I screamed, I couldn't understand why someone in the hospital didn't help me. I couldn't grasp why they didn't do something to relieve my pain. One nurse told me not to let my body tense up when the spasms came because that made them worse. She might as well have told me to jump over the moon. When the spasms came, I lost all ability to control my physical responses. After a particularly horrible and longer-than-usual spasm, in tears I looked at Luella and told her I wanted to die. I just wanted the torture to stop, and it seemed impossible that someone couldn't do something to help me with my pain.
Compounding my pain was confusion. I had no idea what was happening to me. I had no idea how I had gotten from a relaxing chai with Luella at Starbucks that afternoon to this horrid scene. I had no concept of what was happening in my body that would somehow make sense of all this. And I had no idea what the doctors were doing behind the scenes to deal with whatever was going on inside me. The suddenness and irrationality of it all just made what I was experiencing all the more difficult. I wanted it all to stop, and I didn't care how.
In one of those moments when I was crying out, wondering why no one was doing anything to relieve my pain, my son Ethan said, "Dad, they're not worried about your pain right now; they're worried about saving your life. When you're stable, they'll give you something for your pain." Those words were enormously helpful. And there did come a moment when they gave me something to lessen the pain of those spasms.
What I'd thought would be a checkup became a ten-day hospital stay. And for the first few days I didn't know what I was dealing with. I knew something was terribly wrong, and so Steve, who manages my ministry life, began canceling upcoming ministry events. I lay in bed, exhausted and discouraged and in constant discomfort. They had inserted a catheter, and I bled into the catheter for the entire ten days, sometimes painfully passing rather large blood clots.
How had I gotten so sick so quickly? What was wrong, and how would it be fixed? Was I in the right medical hands? How long would I be in the hospital? How would all of this alter my life? What impact would it have in my ministry? What would it mean for Luella and my children? What in the world was God doing? These were some of the questions that rattled around in my brain as I lay in that bed bleeding into a bag.
About the third day in, the kidney doctor who had been assigned to my case came in and informed me that my kidneys had been significantly damaged. I would learn later that when I arrived at the hospital, I was in acute kidney failure. If I had waited seven to ten more days, my kidneys would have died, and I would not be writing this book. It was shocking and unreal to hear. I had walked into the hospital with the identity of a healthy man. I had done my fitness routine that week. I had not felt sick. But I was a very sick man with a very serious diagnosis that would forever change my life.
In ways that I had never experienced before, I felt vulnerable and small. I was haunted by the thought that there might be other things going on in my body that I didn't know about. I hadn't thought about death until now, but that thought was now with me all the time. I had never thought about living long term with illness or the effects of major damage to a very important system in my body. I wondered if I would be able to continue to do what God had called for me to do, and, if I couldn't, what would we do, how would we live? I cried out for God's help, with those exact words, because I was too shocked and confused to know what to pray for. I grabbed hold of his promises. I tried to preach to myself of his presence, but it was hard. In the middle of the night it was hard when the nurse came in to change my bag, as I lay awake in the darkness to control my thoughts. Luella slept in the chair next to me, and I would grab her hand and cry. I didn't even know what I was crying about; the tears just came.
When they finally released me from the hospital, I was still a very sick man. I left the hospital with a catheter and a bag strapped to my leg. The apparatus made it uncomfortable to sit, sleep, or walk. I wasn't used to the apparatus, so I made disgusting messes. It all was mortifying and a bit dehumanizing. But I believe that God is good, and I did everything I could to run toward his goodness and not away from it. As I got stronger I traveled to conferences to speak with the bag strapped to my leg and the fear each time that I would not have the strength to get through the entire weekend.
During the first post-hospital-release appointment with my physician, I was told of the severity of my kidney damage and directed to the nephrologist who would handle my follow-up care. When I saw my kidney doctor I was told that I had lost 65 percent of my kidney function and that the damage could not be reversed. I left that appointment weighed down by the long list of life-changing effects from the kidney damage. Little did I know that I was not at the end of my physical travail, but at the beginning.
Soon after, I was informed that I needed a rather major surgery. Coming just a few months after I'd been released from the hospital, it was a blow. I had just begun to climb my way back physically and into my ministry life, and I was about to be physically knocked down again and have my ministry life interrupted again. You cannot go through things like this without wondering what God is doing and without at least being tempted to doubt his wisdom, goodness, and love. I did face those temptations, but I would not let my heart go there. I held onto God's promises even in the middle of the disappointment and confusion. But it was very discouraging. I did grapple with the seeming irrationality of it all; how did it make sense that at the moment of my greatest ministry influence, I would be rendered weaker than I had ever been?
After surgery, I once again thought that I was on the road to the recovery of my normal life, but recovery was not the plan. About three months after my surgery and second hospital stay, I was informed that I would need another surgery. Scar tissue had developed that put my kidneys at risk, and since I didn't have much kidney left, surgery was essential. The day of my second surgery I was awakened at about four-thirty in the morning to head to the hospital to get prepped. I was anxious about the surgery but discouraged with the prospects of its effects. I knew I would be knocked back physically and have to start the recovery process all over again. I knew that my life and ministry would be put on hold again. And I knew that I had no power whatsoever to keep all that from happening.
Physical suffering exposes the delusion of personal autonomy and self-sufficiency. If you and I had the kind of control that we fall into thinking we have, none of us would ever go through anything difficult. None of us would choose to be sick. None of us would choose to experience physical pain. None of us likes the prospect of being physically weak and disabled. None of us likes our lives being put on hold. Physical suffering does force you to face the reality that your life is in the hands of another. It reminds you that you are small and dependent, that whatever little bits of power and control you have can be taken away in an instant. Independence is a delusion that is quickly exposed by suffering.
I found what I was going through to be not only discouraging in many ways but also deeply humbling. My weakness enabled me to see and admit to things that I had never faced in myself before. My sickness redefined who I thought I was and what I thought of my walk with God. Let me explain. During these months I was confronted with the reality that much of what I thought was faith in Christ was actually confidence in my physical condition and pride in my ability to produce. I had always had lots of energy and was quite physically fit for my age. I never remember being very tired, never required much sleep, and was always able to be productive. I used to proudly say that sleep was a necessary interruption to an otherwise productive day. Suffering has the power to expose what you have been trusting all along. If you lose your hope when your physical body fails, maybe your hope wasn't really in your Savior after all. It was humbling to confess that what I thought was faith was actually self-reliance.
But God wasn't done with me yet. Contrary to what I expected and would have planned, I wasn't done with surgery or the hospital stays and the suspended life that would follow. Almost four months later, with a body that had not yet fully recovered, I found myself being wheeled into surgery again. More scar tissue had developed, creating more blockages and putting my kidneys at risk once again. Each surgery was followed by catheterization and that bag attached to my leg. Each surgery resulted in lots of pain, profound weakness, and sleepless nights. Each surgery was accompanied by the spiritual battle of heart and mind. Each surgery was followed by all the temptations that greet everyone who suffers in this broken world. Each time, I was reminded that suffering is spiritual warfare.
The best way to characterize my discouragement at that time is by something that I tearfully said to Luella more than once: "All I want is Paul back again!" The old Paul is what I longed for, the one with endless energy and a body that functions without medical assistance. I wanted the old Paul who could deal with a ridiculously busy schedule and never feel stressed or tired. I hated being sick, weak, and tired, and I hated the fact that I couldn't free myself from the cycle of surgeries I was trapped in. I didn't hate God, I didn't jettison my theology, and I didn't bring God into the court of my judgment to question his wisdom and love, but I did struggle to accept what had been put on my plate. I didn't look good, I didn't feel good, and I had little energy to do the things that God had called me to do. I intended to spend some hours writing, but many of those days I got up with so little energy of body and mind that all I could do was sit in a chair.
I got through the day by taking naps, something I had never done before. I used to make fun of people who couldn't cope without their daily nap. I now looked forward to my nap. It was all very disorienting and disheartening. I didn't recognize the person I had become and couldn't relate to the level of inability I felt. As all this was washing over me, I got more bad news: I would need yet another surgery. I will shorten the story here. I kept needing surgery after surgery until I had sustained six surgeries in two years! Never did my body have enough time to recover. Weakness built upon weakness, symptoms piled upon symptoms, and the war within raged. No one's body can tolerate surgery after surgery in the same anatomical area. I did wonder if in the attempt to save my kidneys, other parts of my body were being irreparably damaged.
My sixth surgery was the biggest and most difficult yet. My surgeon had avoided doing this surgery because it was so invasive and painful and would be followed by a lengthy and difficult recovery period. But it was clear that it needed to be done. It was very difficult and painful and left me essentially homebound for two months.
I still don't know what I am facing physically. It has been six months since that last big surgery, and my symptoms are as manageable as possible at this point, but I have been left a physically damaged man. I will never again be able to do ministry the way I had done it for years. I will never again have the energy I once had. I will always be limited by the results of major damage to an essential organ. And since my ministry was largely funded by weekend conferences, my physical suffering has brought with it financial stresses for me and my ministry team. We've had to make hard decisions, decisions none of us wanted to make. We've had to ask hard questions that we never thought we would need to ask. We've had to confess our dependency on God in deeper ways than we have ever confessed it before. And we've had to thank God for a new normal that we would have never chosen for ourselves.
Why Start This Book with My Story?
Suffering is never abstract, theoretical, or impersonal. Suffering is real, tangible, personal, and specific. The Bible never presents suffering as an idea or a concept but puts it before us in the blood-and-guts drama of real human experiences. When it comes to suffering, Scripture is never avoidant or cosmetic in its approach. The Bible never minimizes the harsh experiences of life in this terribly broken world, and in so doing, the Bible forces us out of our denial and toward humble honesty. In fact, the Bible is so honest about suffering that it recounts stories that are so weird and dark that if they were a Netflix video you probably wouldn't watch it.
Scripture never looks down on the sufferer, it never mocks his pain, it never turns a deaf ear to his cries, and it never condemns him for his struggle. It presents to the sufferer a God who understands, who cares, who invites us to come to him for help, and who promises one day to end all suffering of any kind once and forever. Because of this, the Bible, while being dramatically honest about suffering, is at the same time gloriously hopeful. And it's not just that the Bible tells the story of suffering honestly and authentically; it also gives us concrete and real hope.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Suffering"
Copyright © 2018 Paul David Tripp.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 The Day My Life Changed,
2 Suffering Is Never Neutral,
3 The Awareness Trap,
4 The Fear Trap,
5 The Envy Trap,
6 The Doubt Trap,
7 The Denial Trap,
8 The Discouragement Trap,
9 The Comfort of God's Grace,
10 The Comfort of God's Presence,
11 The Comfort of God's Sovereignty,
12 The Comfort of God's Purpose,
13 The Comfort of God's People,
14 The Comfort of a Heart at Rest,
What People are Saying About This
“We don’t have to go looking for it. It will come and find us. Sooner or later, suffering at a catastrophic level will wreck our lives. Paul Tripp understands that personally. He also understands the gospel personally. His new book does not trivialize our sufferings with glib formulas. This wise book leads us deeper into the gospel of the cross and closer to the Man of Sorrows himself.”
Ray Ortlund, Pastor to Pastors, Immanuel Church, Nashville, Tennessee
“This book is a balm to the soul that you will pick up and not be able to put down; it will also become a beloved friend to return to for years to come and trusted wisdom to pass out to other weary wanderers.”
Ann Voskamp, New York Times best-selling author, The Broken Way and One Thousand Gifts
“Writing after the shock of unexpectedly losing his own health and dealing with ongoing suffering, Paul Tripp offers very practical advice. In particular, his reflections on common ‘traps’ often faced by people who suffer will prove helpful to many who find themselves being tossed about by the storms of life.”
Kelly M. Kapic, author, Embodied Hope; Professor of Theological Studies, Covenant College
“Dealing daily with quadriplegia and chronic pain (and having battled stage III cancer), I know something about sufferingand to be honest, there’s hardly a book on the subject I haven’t read. But when Paul David Tripp offers his insights on our afflictions, that gets my attention. And this book does not disappoint. Yes, Paul offers an empathetic ear and solid comfort, but he fills these pages with practical, no-nonsense counsel on how to move through and beyond suffering into a fresh and lively hope. I highly recommend this remarkable new work.”
Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder, Joni and Friends
“I have read countless books on suffering, but few have inspired me to reevaluate my own adversity the way Suffering has. Paul Tripp’s willingness to unpack his own pain, candidly sharing the insights he has gleaned, is an unspeakable gift. His personal story is both riveting and reassuring as it points us to the unshakable hope we have in Christ, even in unimaginable circumstances. This book is a masterpiece. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”
Vaneetha Rendall Risner, author, The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering
“Honest. Compelling. Grace filled. This book is a gift. Paul Tripp speaks to us not as a theoretician but as a fellow sufferer. His counsel is illuminated by personal experiences, informed by biblical truth, and infused with gospel hope. With compassion and empathy, he fortifies us against the common temptations we face when suffering and helps us see that our suffering, however great, was never meant to define us. Most importantly, he points us to the Savior who has suffered in our place so that we might be ever confident of his love, his wisdom, and his good purposes for our lives.”
Bob Kauflin, Director, Sovereign Grace Music
“Once more, Paul Tripp has taken God’s truth and applied it to our souls in a way that is both challenging and comforting. He understands the deep wells of suffering from his own experience and that of others he counsels. He clearly identifies the tempting traps that so frequently entice the heart of the sufferer, then beckons him on to find rest in God. This book will be my ‘go-to’ to give those looking to understand God’s good work of suffering in our lives. I am so sorry for Tripp’s suffering, but I am so grateful for this book!”
Connie Dever, author, He Will Hold Me Fast; Curriculum and Music Writer, The Praise Factory
“Paul Tripp writes this book with an honesty and humility that invites us into God’s intimate work on his heart through the dark nights. What he foundand what you’ll find if you read this bookis that the gospel of Jesus Christ brings us hope even in the most confusing and painful moments of life. Whether or not you’re suffering today, read this book and prepare yourself for the days ahead.”
Dave Furman, Senior Pastor, Redeemer Church of Dubai; author, Being There and Kiss the Wave
“Paul Tripp always writes with honesty, authenticity, and gospel sanity. But in his new book, Paul gifts us with a vulnerability that is rare, freeing, and inviting. As he chronicles his own journey through a life-threatening illness, Tripp helps us understand the difference between hope and hypebetween spiritual spin and trusting our Father when our control, dignity, and certainty are under assault. This is one of the most timely, courageous, and helpful books on suffering I have ever read.”
Scotty Ward Smith, Pastor Emeritus, Christ Community Church, Franklin, Tennessee; Teacher in Residence, West End Community Church, Nashville, Tennessee