Making sense of suffering

Vaneetha Risner
Vaneetha Risner has been shaped by her scars.

Many people have experienced suffering to a greater or lesser degree – in fact if you haven't you probably just haven't lived long enough yet. Suffering is part of life but for some people it seems that they get more than their 'fair' share.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner has probably suffered the same way you have, and in ways you haven't dreamed of. Her amazing story is detailed in her book "The Scars that Shaped Me".

Born in India, to Christian parents, Vaneetha contracted polio long after it was virtually eradicated. Because her doctor had never seen it before, she was misdiagnosed and given the wrong treatment. By the time they realised what she had, the child was totally paralysed.

Because the physicians in India offered little hope, her parents moved to London. Vaneetha spent most of her childhood in and out of hospital.

By 13, she had undergone 21 operations and moved from England to Canada and then the United States. She eventually learned to walk, at age 7, but with a pronounced limp.

In high school, Vaneetha confronted her bitterness against God and surrendered her life to Him.

For a while, her life improved. She went to college, got a job and years later married a graduate school classmate. They had a daughter.

Then followed three miscarriages. Eventually they had a little boy. He was born with a serious heart defect, but survived a successful surgery at birth, only to die at two months old due to a doctor's mistake.

The couple then had a second daughter.

Several years later Vaneetha developed an inexplicable pain in her arm and was eventually diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, which is incurable, involves increasing pain and weakness and could end in quadriplegia. The need to conserve muscle strength put an end to all her creative pursuits such as painting, crafting, scrapbooking, embroidering, making jewellery etc.

At this point Vaneetha's husband decided he had had enough and left the family, eventually divorcing her.

Vaneetha book

Here is a woman who knows suffering. Chronic suffering and acute suffering, suffering caused by others and caused by circumstances, physical suffering and emotional suffering, suffering that is past and suffering that she has to anticipate in the future.

Surely such a woman's perspective on the pressing and recurring issue of 'where is God when we suffer?' should hold some weight. Although, she never pretends it's easy, here are some of Vaneetha's words of wisdom:

When she was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, she admits: "At first I was angry, Then I grew depressed ... I questioned God's love ... eventually I asked Him to help me handle my losses well and give me grace."

"And God changed everything. Not by changing my circumstances but by lighting a path through the darkness. He taught me how to pray, how to ask, and how to receive. He gave me glimpses of His glory. He showed me how He is using my circumstances to change me."

"The entire process [of slowly getting weaker] is humbling, but this dependence on God and on others has grown my faith in incalculable ways. ... I can show the surpassing worth of Christ when I suffer well – when I joyfully accept circumstances that are less than perfect, when I give up my need to control. Willingly relinquishing my need to have things exactly as I want is an act of worship."

"The Bible is shockingly honest. And because of that, I can be honest as well. I can both complain and cry, knowing that God can handle anything I say. The Lord wants me to talk to Him, to pour out my heart and my thoughts unedited because He knows them already."

Vaneetha and Joel
Vaneetha and Joel

"When I feel desperate, my prayers are not long or eloquent. Sometimes they're just groans gasped out between sobs. Sometimes simple cries of, 'Help me, Jesus!' Sometimes just silence before Him. My biggest challenge is not to turn away. Or stew in my anger. Or numb the pain elsewhere."

"I may not understand how, but God is doing something bigger with my life than I can possibly see. My suffering is never senseless; it will not be wasted. He will ultimately use every struggle for my good and His glory."

"I have often been devastated when God tells me no, but as I submit to His will in those situations – even with disappointment and tears – He assures me He's working for my good. I see only part of the picture. He has a purpose in His denials. God is not an unpredictable God. If He says no to our requests, He has a reason .... For now, we must trust that His refusals are always His mercies to us."

"God knows what I need and has chosen for me what I would not have chosen for myself, given my limited perspective on life and my desires for my own comfort. But if I had God's perspective and knew what He knows, I would undoubtedly choose what He has given me. It has all been necessary."

The blog that became Vaneetha's book was started in 2013.

Two years later she again found relationship happiness, marrying a man named Joel.

Read more of her inspiring insights at her blog Dance in the rain at www.vaneetha.com

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