Have you ever been just going along in life, living pretty well, not really struggling with anything in particular and while things might not be fantastic, they’re OK. You think, “I’m doing pretty well. Life is pretty good.”
Maybe you even feel good about all the progress you’ve made in your spiritual life. You’re loving people that are difficult to love, giving when giving is hard, even being authentic and vulnerable, some of the time. Of course, you know that God gets the credit for all that growth. You wouldn’t dare infringe upon His glory…and even that is an indication of your growth. Of course, because you are dwelling in this pasture of green grass, you believe you’re better able to minister to those who are in the desert…in times of deep struggle or living in the land of the valley of the shadow of death. You have so many words of encouragement for them. So many Scriptures to share. So many of your own overcoming stories!
Then one day life throws you are real humdinger of a curve ball. You get sick and then receive a devastating diagnosis; or worse, it happens to a loved one! Your house burns down or floods out. You lose your job and you’re 50. You find out that your spouse has cheated with another person or through porn addiction. And all of a sudden, “things” come to the surface: thoughts, words, behaviors and you are absolutely shocked that this stuff has been lurking and hiding inside you. Fear, anger, and discouragement are your companions each day, not love or faith. You feel abandoned by God or at least let down and disappointed that He’s allowed this travesty into your life. And after a little while, all that previous pride in your progress is replaced with self-loathing because of the strong reminder of the flesh that still lives within.
If this sounds familiar, keep reading. If it doesn’t…keep reading, because one day it will.
The one thing we can count on in this life is trouble. Jesus promised it:
“In this world you will have trouble…”
But he also said to “…take courage for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
How do we take courage?
How do you find courage, when you’ve been told you have a serious eye disease and should already be blind. You’re sight has been slowly fading and the doctor says it will likely deteriorate.
How do you find courage, when you find out you’ll need a surgery that will cost more money than you have, even with insurance and take longer time to recover than you have?
How do you find courage, when after 25 years of investing in your marriage it looks like your marriage may be in serious trouble?
How do you find courage when the ministry you have sacrificed so much for seems to be failing?
How do you find courage when your body fails you in every way and you’re living with daily and constant pain, fatigue, relentless tinnitus and can’t even find rest in sleep because of a sleep disorder?
How do you find courage when you invested so many years in your children and not only do they rarely call to see how you’re doing but they don’t even call on your birthday? And when they do call, they don’t really want to hear about you and your life but likely just want or need something.
Well, when all these things happened to me (and they ALL happened in the past few years) I learned that there is only one source of comfort who can help me to “take courage.” That source is Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith. Problem is, that I was pretty mad at Him for allowing each and every one of these things in the first place. The promises of the Word sounded hollow, so reading Scripture wasn’t really helpful to me. The well meaning advise and “encouragement” from others often did more harm than good. Church was of little help, because I mostly just found the superficial there.
What did help?
Worship music turned everything around. Music has a way of touching the most hidden and tender places in our soul. It can be used for good or as satan often uses it, for evil. For me, spending time with the headset on or earplugs in, listening to worship music with lyrics that focused on God’s awesome characteristics, like Chris Tomlin’s How Great Is Our God and Famous One, reminded me of my heavenly Father’s greatness and power. Songs like Love Ran Red and Jesus, My redeemer made me so acutely aware of all that Jesus had already done and sacrificed for me. If He’d done all that, wouldn’t He bring me through this? Songs like I Can Only Imagine and Glorious Day were strong reminders of the future glory awaiting me with Him. It cast an eternal perspective on my ever present problems.
And soon, my fear, anger and discouragement melted away and was replaced with His perfect love which casts out all of these emotions that can become strongholds. (1 John 4:18)
One other thing helped…sharing my pain with safe brothers and sisters in the faith. People who had also been through the fire. Peter talks about this in his first letter. He writes,
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
There is a comfort that comes from sharing our sufferings, so that others can see they are not alone. God isn’t just picking on me. It’s a fallen and broken world, and we are all suffering in some way.
The opposite is also true.
When on social media, we cast an illusion of a perfect life, or when someone at church or small group asks, “How are you doing?” and we use the Christian “F” word…”Fine,” we keep our own misery in the dark closet and also keep others who may be suffering (or will be soon) at arms length and from knowing that they are not alone.
I’ve also found that I provide the best counsel while in a storm or right after one has subsided. My mercy meter is high. I don’t try to fix their problem or repeat what they already know the Bible says. I can just listen, which is an amazing gift in and of itself. Few people do that well. I can also empathize and validate their pain. “Yes, I’ve been through something similar, and I know how awful that feels. I’m amazed your standing right now.” Those are encouraging words! I can also share how God got me through it…like I’m doing now. That kind of exhortation is in high demand. Because again, most Christians just regurgitate Scriptures they’ve heard and tell people to read the Bible and pray more. Or worse, like Job’s friends they try to pin the problems on the person or something they’ve done or not done to bring this misery upon themselves. Why are we always looking for someone to blame?
Now this doesn’t mean we should just all go around constantly whining about how bad our lives are either. Who wants to be around that! We need balance in all things. All things are permissible but not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23). But the Word is either true or it isn’t and Peter clearly writes, in the above passage, that part of the way we resist and stand firm (take courage) is by knowing that other believers are also suffering…and I would add persevering too. When I hear a story or read one online of a mother who lost her son and while greatly grieved, is able to forgive and even embrace her child’s murderer, that gives me so much hope! When I see a woman grieving over the loss of her marriage, yet still show up for small group and share about her disappointment, I am encouraged. When I see a friend going through cancer, and admittedly be angry with God and not understand why, but choose in spite of those feelings to worship Him, I am greatly encouraged.
We need to see and hear about the pain, but we also need to see and hear about the “healer”…Jesus.
So the next time you are going through something, please don’t isolate and wear a mask. Please remember that it will help others to hear about it. It will help you too. Come out of the christian closet to the room of vulnerability and transparency where the air is fine and the light healing. When we take off our mask and share our pain, we make it safe for others to do the same.