What if your suffering didn’t define you?
“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” – Mark 5:34
In Mark 5:24-34, there is a woman who has impacted me greatly. Her story of suffering has given me hope and has helped me see my Savior in a new way. The story doesn’t tell us her name, we only know her as the “woman who suffers from bleeding”.
For this woman, her suffering was physical. She had been bleeding for 12 years. That’s a long time! Loss of blood takes a toll on the body–it can cause anemia which lowers energy and is linked to depression. On top of the loss of blood, there was the physical pain of the procedures she endured to try to fix her problem. Scripture tells us that she went to many doctors, but it only made her condition worse.
As with most cases of suffering, the pain was multifaceted. It wasn’t just physical. There was emotional suffering involved as well. Because she was bleeding (assuming it was menstrual) she was considered unclean in her society. That meant she couldn’t be around other people, she couldn’t go to the temple to worship, she couldn’t even touch her own husband. This isolation would have been overwhelming. I wonder if this was the worst part of the suffering.
Then Jesus walks into the scene. His presence provides hope. She had heard the stories of healing. “Could He heal me?” she wonders. Could he erase 12 years of isolation, loneliness, pain and suffering? She is desperate and leaves her house and ventures out into public to meet Jesus. Jesus is surrounded by a large crowd and was headed on an urgent mission to help a man whose daughter was dying.
She sees Jesus, but doesn’t have the courage to walk up and ask him for help. Years of being isolated stole that confidence from her. But her faith gave her the courage to reach out to Him anyway. She sneaks up and touches His clothes and in Mark 5:29 it says “immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering”. After 12 long years, she finally receives the healing and relief she was so desperately seeking.
While she was now healed from her physical suffering, Jesus was not content with leaving it at that. Realizing what had just happened, Jesus turns around and asks, “Who touched me?” He wanted to speak to the person who received the healing. Trembling, this woman who has been suffering and isolated for years, comes before Jesus and confesses what she did. Thinking she was going to be reprimanded, she instead receives words of encouragement. I can imagine Jesus smiling at her, reassuring her that going to him is never something you should be afraid to do and says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Have peace and be freed from your suffering.”
These two sentences that Jesus speaks to her are beautiful, and in the moment, it would be easy to miss what he is really saying. He first affirms her physical healing, declaring it for all to hear. But, he is not done yet. Next, he invites her to a completely new life… Jesus tells her to have peace and be freed from her suffering. Why would he need to command her to be freed from her suffering? He just told her she was healed. This is the beauty of Jesus. He knew that physical suffering was only a part of what this woman had suffered over the past 12 years. He knew for 12 years she had been identified as the “woman who suffered from bleeding”. Not only was this how everyone else saw her, but how she saw herself as well. It was a reality that consumed her life and left her feeling isolated and alone.
Now Jesus tells her to free herself from that identity and live in a new one. She has a new name. Daughter! Remember how Jesus addressed her? Daughter. No longer isolated but a part of a family, an heir in God’s kingdom. Bleeding was part of her story that definitely shaped her, but it was never meant to be her identity.
I can relate to this. I have often defined myself by my suffering. In my mind the suffering is all consuming and I allow it to become my identity. In my mind, I am “the woman with an anxiety disorder”. I have asked to be free from my anxiety, but it is still my constant companion. So how do I reconcile these different outcomes? I know God doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t love some more than others. So what am I supposed to learn from this story?
As I asked God these questions, God spoke to me in this story. The key is identity. My identity is not a woman who struggles with anxiety from dusk to dawn. The anxiety is a part of my story, but it is not who I am. I am Daughter. And God is calling me to live within that identity because it affects the rest of my story. It impacts how I live within the suffering.
The truth of being called Daughter by God allows me to pause and hold on to God as my anchor when the storm of anxiety overwhelms me. His strength allows me to thrive in anxiety and not just survive.
It is this strength from God that brought me through one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I remember sitting anxiously in a room in Colorado, crying out in despair while my son continued to suffer debilitating seizures. It appeared that he would never be freed from them and I didn’t know how I was going to cope. God met me there and said, “Daughter, receive my peace and I promise to walk with you as you care for your son.” As I chose to embrace my identity as Daughter and take my suffering to God my Father, my story of pain and suffering became interwoven in a story of redemption, strength, and beauty. It became a testament to the amazing love of my Heavenly Father.
Are you going through a time of suffering now? If so, be encouraged that God invites you to come to Him with your suffering to receive strength, healing and a new identity. Even if full healing doesn’t happen this side of heaven, our story can change like the woman in this story. Her identity is no longer a woman with bleeding. She is called Daughter by her Savior, Jesus Christ. You also are not defined by your suffering. Your identity has been secured by the one who created you. You are Daughter.