We decided to move back to the U.S. after a long time overseas when our kids were late elementary age. In trying to help them with the transition process, we regularly asked them how they were doing. One day, our son’s response to that question was, “I don’t want to talk about how I’m feeling! Whenever I start to think about it, I just stop!” It was simply too painful.
Our natural reaction to difficulties is not to enter them. Like Much Afraid, we don’t want to take the hand of sorrow and suffering. It’s easier to pretend that suffering isn’t happening to us, to minimize its impact, spiritualize our responses, numb ourselves to the pain or tell ourselves to suck it up, put on a brave face and move on.
All of that helps us avoid feeling the pain of suffering. But when we respond in these ways, our hearts harden. Then, we miss what God could do in us through suffering.
So how do we take the hand of suffering? It begins with being honest about what is happening and how it feels.
It’s challenging to be honest without going dark. We are called not to complain about anything, to fix our eyes on eternal things and to give thanks in all circumstances. But it’s possible to do that and still speak the truth about our situation.
Here’s why it’s important to be transparent: if we don’t admit that we are experiencing suffering, we will continue to trust in ourselves. We’ll think of our challenges as manageable. We won’t surrender in weakness to God.
What can look like strength or faith in the midst of suffering might actually be a desperate attempt to stay in control and be self-reliant, or a refusal to enter what the pain of suffering is stirring in our hearts.
Instead, we need to own where we feel weak, helpless, overwhelmed, at the end of ourselves. Name where suffering is too much for you.
We have a great example in how to do this well when we look at the life of David. More than one-third of the Psalms are psalms of lament, many of them written by King David. In them, David pours out his heart. He doesn’t shy back from expressing the difficulties he’s encountering. He is honest in his suffering.
When I was young, growing up in the church, I thought that bad things shouldn’t happen to good, church-going people like our family. When they did, I was angry at God. At the same time, I held the belief that God didn’t do anything wrong, so I told myself I couldn’t be angry with God.
Guess what? He still knew I was angry.
To be honest in suffering we have to be honest with God about it. He knows anyway.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul shares about a particular trial God kept him in:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Paul was honest with God that he did not want this trial. He begged him to remove it. Yet at the same time, he kept the perspective that God was in it, and there was purpose to his suffering. In doing so, he was able to see how God was using it in his life.
God wants to use suffering to bring us to Himself. When we enter it honestly, we open ourselves to His work. But what does that look like? And how do we trust Him in it?
About the Author: Gina Butz has served with Cru for over 20 years, 13 of them in East Asia. She and her husband are currently raising two third culture kids and an imported dog in Orlando, Florida, where they serve in global leadership for Cru. She blogs about being wholehearted at Awakened and loves to connect on Twitter and Facebook.
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