"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28
This is probably one of the most quoted passages in scripture when life gets hard. We tell our friends and they tell us that even though things may be hard, that God does have a plan to work it for good in our lives. I'm not going to argue that that's wrong. In fact no one believes more than I do that that indeed is the the case. I think though that people sometimes struggle with this concept in a big way. I think this stems from misunderstanding what it really means.
It's very human (and very American) to hear this verse and believe that it means that some wonderful thing is waiting for us. That may indeed be true. When we look at the verses around this passage though, the verse immediately preceding it speaks of us being in such weakness as not even being able to properly tell God what we need! (Romans 8:26-27). While it does give us the promise of the Holy Spirit to intercede for us, it doesn't hide the fact that we will have times where we are in fact that weak. In the following verses as well, even though it speaks to nothing being able to separate us from the love of God, it tells us that in all these things we conquer. That we will indeed face tribulation, distress, persecution, peril, etc. The promise isn't that these things won't happen, but that in the midst of them God has purpose and that ultimately we will conquer through the Cross and the Holy Spirit. Often instead of relief there may be yet more suffering on the road ahead. That doesn't change the promise. To the contrary, verse 29 tells us that this serves to conform us to the image of Christ. The suffering is a part of our greater glory. This means that even when following God leads to a place of suffering, that it is ultimately according to His plan for good for us: to make us more like His Son.
What we often lack in assessing our hard situations is the perspective that God has. The Lord can see both forwards and backwards into time unlimited. He has perfect perspective. Meanwhile ours is limited but what we remember from before, and what we can't see at all in front. This can lead us to question God's purpose in the midst of struggles in our lives. The question begs itself: "Why? Why must I go through this?" We question what God could ever use this struggle for in our lives. Even when it ends, it often ends in ways that seem mysterious and anathema to what we understand as a "good" ending. We're often left hurt and confused by the seeming negligence or callous nature of our circumstance coming from what we are told is a Father of infinite love. What we don't see is that the fullness of time proves the Father to be right. Time and time again. In His infinite wisdom and perfect perspective, He understands precisely what we need. He understands that facing a mountain now instead of later will make for a longer valley on the other side. He understands that dealing with deep hurts and wounds often involves pain, but that that pain is simply Him performing the heart surgery we often desperately need. He understands that we sometimes get ahead of ourselves. In our haste to enjoy a good thing we often rush ahead thinking "Joy! How wonderful a thing God has given us!" while God Himself knows that we are running towards a cliff. So He stops us, and while we are stopped and stewing in our hurt at having Him seemingly take away a wonderful thing, He is simply building a bridge ahead of us so that we can enjoy the very thing we love for longer and without the pain of running off the cliff. Even if that thing may look a bit different from the time spent waiting.
I struggle with this as much as anyone. People like me who think things to death and over-analyze are particularly prone to bouts of serious doubt and hurt at the seemingly unfair and unjust nature of our circumstances. However, leaning on the promise of scripture and the character of our Eternal Father brings a peace in knowing that all things do work for our good. That good may just look very differently from the good we know, but the good that God knows and plans for us makes the things we know pale in comparison. Ultimately, God uses it all to bring us closer to Him and make us more like His son: which is the purpose of our life itself.