The Step Most People Skip
For those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ, who have endured a severe trauma or loss, the resurrection can feel like a very distant hope. At best it’s the “someday” that rings in our ears of what will come when Jesus returns. At worst it feels like a cruel trick, a false hope. The pain is just too big compared to the hope and faith that resides within us - if there’s even any left.
Christians, I’ve found, feel the most self-contempt when it comes to suffering. We know the truth, so why does it still hurt? We know we have the God of all comfort, so why - even when I beg for his comfort - does the pain seem to go on and on? Why can’t I get over it? Why won’t the truth drop from my head to my heart?
I’ve struggled with this. I admit I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum of hope and despair. Most of the time I veer erratically between them.
I make an effort to reach out to trusted friends for support during these times. Occasionally, however, Christians have the best intentions in their efforts to provide support, but the words they say sometimes do more harm than good.
It hurts to see someone you love suffering. To see tears streaming down her face and her eyes in anguish can rip your heart out. Such helplessness is debilitating, so we say things we hope will help, that really should help, only to become frustrated when things we’ve clung to for hope do nothing to help the one in pain.
One day this will all be over.
You’ll be okay.
It’s just a season.
It’s hard now but it will get better.
God loves you.
There’s a purpose in it.
God will use it.
All of these are true, and all of these are good things to say to someone of a sound mind, but in the valley of pain there is no soundness of mind. There is only darkness. We’re blind and afraid. The one suffering has her face shoved against a brick wall of hopelessness and suffering.
Even worse, the enemy is slamming our cheek into it, over and over again. We need the sword of the Spirit, God’s word, and prayer, to get the enemy to knock it off. Even after we hear the truth, to describe the ocean beyond the brick wall can only bring hope to the suffering soul after she has been given the freedom and safety to feel her pain.
This is the step I’ve found most people have a tendency to miss when assisting people through suffering. It’s the step most skipped because it is the most difficult. We pray and provide scripture and expect things to be all better.
It's ointment in the wound, it helps, but it doesn't heal it. It takes an incredible amount of empathy to sit with someone in their pain and call it what it is. This kind of empathy can only be achieved to the depth you have explored and accepted your own suffering. It’s not enough to acknowledge pain. It’s not even enough to name it. It has to be explored, examined, and healed.
The heart is a labyrinth. Exploring the pain doesn’t mean staying in it for the sake of building a home, but rather of carrying a sleeping bag and first aid kit over your shoulder as you go from one area of the heart to the next to see where the damage has been done and where it needs help. Some areas need a little more time than others.
This kind of exploring is much like a medic who goes from one end of the front lines to the other, seeking those who need to be patched up before he moves on. He doesn’t stay with one soldier until he’s completely well. The medic does what he can in that moment and moves on down the line. It’s not about bringing about complete healing, some wounds are too deep and need more time; it’s about bringing enough healing so the soldier can keep moving forward in the fight. Even if he has a limp.
Many forget that the resurrection of Christ didn’t happen in a day. There was Friday, which brought about so much grief and hopelessness. Then there was Saturday. An incredibly dark and dismal Saturday. Only on Sunday was hope restored. There are reasons Jesus rose in three days instead of three hours. I won’t claim to know them all, but I do believe that the dark and grief-stricken Friday and Saturday were meant to be lived through, not skipped.
The twelve disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested and crucified. But if you read in Luke 24, the disciples came together before the resurrection. They sat together, walked together, and served together in the darkest of times. They waited together.
We’re to do the same when one of our brothers or sisters is in the midst of suffering. Not hurry them through to the end when Christ restores a broken heart, or a devastating wound.
Christ rose in three days but Friday and Saturday can sometimes last months, or even years. That dark of time depends on the depth of the wound, the resources provided and taken advantage of for healing, the help provided, and the faith of the one suffering.
I’m very thankful for those who have been willing to sit with me in my own suffering over the years. Permission to sob and scream, to ask the hard questions that have no answer, to say the cruelty I hear and feel in my heart, and to be received with love and grace has done more healing than words could ever express.
It’s shown me the depth and breadth of God’s love. People fail, but God continues to provide. For those who have come through, for those who have even tried, thank you.