I’m reflecting on how hard it is to believe in God’s goodness and love in the midst of hard things—those things that feel bad, those things that we might call suffering, those things we want relief from.
I don’t like easy or superficial answers…they just don’t work for me. But, I need hope. Don’t we all? So what do we do with the tension of living life where there are problems, and the belief that God is for us, with us, and loves us?
I have heard attempts to explain things—theology that leaves me feeling like God is far away and I need to summon God’s attention. Several years ago when my son had severe eczema and we had already spent three long years searching for answers, a well meaning woman at my church said “maybe you have evil spirits in your home from when you lived in Laos!” When I heard this it filled me with fear. Could it be true? My husband rejected the idea, but I found myself fearful…could she be right? Maybe she’s right!! And if she is right, how do we get these evil spirits to leave my son and our family alone? With this came a sense of high anxiety—there was a sense of something coming between me and God’s presence. I was alone!
What do I believe about God when I am suffering? What do I believe about God when the suffering does not resolve easily or quickly? When the doctors don’t have easy answers, when the people around me don’t know what to say, when it seems like there are no easy paths forward…do I need to fast and pray more? Do I need to search harder for God? Do I need to make sure God takes me seriously? Is God even listening?
Or…could God already be here with me in the suffering? Could God be with me as close as my very breath? Could Jesus be here looking at me with eyes of compassion? Could the Spirit be groaning within me, voicing the discomfort of this suffering?
Where is Christ in the suffering? What if Christ is right.here.with.me.?
My own views have shifted with time and thanks to those who have sat with me in the suffering…not desperately praying it away, not scared to sit with me in it, yet offering steady presence in the middle of it. These people have shown me a Christ who is not afraid of the suffering, and that what I truly need is to know I am not alone in it. I have not been abandoned. There is no suffering, no darkness, no hardship that separates me from God and God’s love. Christ, Emmanuel, is here with me.
Here with you.
Here with us.
Does this mean that we accept the suffering, and it is here to stay? Does this mean we become fatalistic about the hard stuff, not searching for answers? I think there must be a way of surrender and acceptance, while still fully acknowledging the longing for relief and healing. I think that acceptance does not imply that I am okay with the suffering, but rather resting in the One who has a hold of me. Trusting that God is not only with me, but also for me. I don’t have to understand what this means. Does it promise me that everything will be fixed? No. But I also don’t need to fear that there is no way forward. It is not a place of being stuck. It is not a place of despair. It is a place of being with Christ our light.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
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