One of my favorite (if not my absolute favorite) verses is 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
That is such a beautiful picture: we comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received. I consider this my life verse in a lot of ways. When I am called to have joy in suffering, it is this verse that I return to.
I think back to when I was in college. I'd had a really difficult time with the program I was in. (I'll say that it was an abusive environment and just leave it at that.) In my time there, I because so beat down that I fell into a full blown depression, one that I've never been able to fully rid myself of. Depression runs in my family. It was just a matter of time before something triggered it. Anyways, I was a camp counselor during my summers for 4 years and there was a group of really cool girls that I had in my cabin every year. I had the awesome privilege of having them for all 4 years. I'd gotten to see them go from Freshman to Seniors and gotten to spend a whole week with them each year in intimate talks and pillow fights.
And when I say they were cool, I meant they were "cool". They were the "cool" kids. They were the ones that all the boys liked. Ours was always the cabin that had the pranks pulled on. And one of these particular girls wasn't just "cool". She was mean. She was everything you saw in the movie "Mean girls" and more. She was bitingly sarcastic. She could pick out the slightest weakness or insecurity in someone else and jump all over it. She never did it with me, but she never opened up to me either. I still loved her. I loved all of them. They were my girls.
Each summer, I was so blessed to be able to open up the word of God and teach them, probe their little brains, learn their thoughts, answer their questions. However, my fourth and final year (the camp got sold after that) was different. I had a speech all planned out for them. Since there were more girls than just them in the cabin, I had to be frank. I said to them all "I know you have all gone to camps before, and you have had counselors who have told you all about the troubles they had in the past, and how God came through, and their lives were changed from then on. Unfortunately, I can't say that. My troubles aren't in the past. They are right now. I am struggling with depression right now, and I want you girls to know that that is OK. God is still good whether I'm going through it now, or I went through it in the past. You'll probably see me cry. I may occasionally need to step away. But I want you to know that God is still good, and that He is good even in the sad times." It was something along those lines. I can't remember exactly what it was.
My group that week was all in the junior/senior range. They were old enough to be mature, and to have sympathy, and to give me hugs and love me during my weakness. Afterwards, when I went back to my room, I heard a knock on the door and there entered my "mean girl". She sat on my bed with tears in her eyes and said "I feel like that all. the. time. I hate myself. . I don't know what to do. I just want to cry all the time."
I was shocked. Four years in my cabin, and this was the first time she ever approached me about anything personal. This girl, this exquisitely beautiful girl, who had made so many others miserable...was miserable. She wasn't mean out of pride. She was mean because she was in pain. It reminded me of an animal, caught in a snare. An animal is never as dangerous as when they are in pain. We are really not that different in that sense. At that moment, God allowed me to love her in a way that she never would have allowed in the past. My pain was the door. It is this moment that I will hold onto forever.
The realization that God could use something as sucky as depression changed my life. From that day on, I have given thanks to God for it, even on my dark days. My "joy in suffering" comes from the knowledge that God does not let anything we experience go to waste. We will always have the chance to "comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received." Being able to do so is such a joy to me, that that is what I focus on whenever I am experiencing suffering. It may not always pan out in such an obvious way as it did that night in August, but I know it will someday. And not only that, I was able to see a faithfulness in God that I hadn't understood before. A God that has been faithful in the past is a God that I can trust to be faithful in the future. That is something that I need to remind myself of on a regular basis.