What if I told you, you’re not meant to be happy all the time? Truly. God doesn’t expect it of you. There are scriptures such as “rejoice always” (Philippians 4:4) but too often such scriptures are taken out of context and leave many Christians feeling like a failure when they don’t rejoice in the midst of the loss of a job or the death of a child. Let me assure you: you’re not a failure.
While suffering and pain are not exactly the kind of things we desire to experience, we are encouraged to endure it (Acts 9:16; Romans 5:3). Suffering will come (John 16:33). It’s not the trial itself that we’re called to rejoice in, but the connection we have with God through that trial. God meets us in the dark when we’re at the end of ourselves.
According to Dan B. Allender, PhD., we tend to face hardship with one of four perspectives:
Paranoid: Life sucks, then you die.
Fatalistic: Whatever will be, will be. Can’t do anything about it.
Heroic: What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.
Optimistic: Grin and bear it.
I tend to lean in the direction of a Hero until I burn out and then I’m tempted to get Fatalistic. What most don’t realize is there’s a fifth option: Humbly experience it. Walk through suffering with God. Why on earth would we want to do that?
If we’re really honest with ourselves, in the midst of a bad day or a tragedy all we want is permission. Permission to feel what we want to feel, and the last thing we want is to be alone in it. We’re desperate for someone to connect with in the midst of our trial, and yet sometimes we push people away because deep down we know that they could ultimately fail to give us what we so desperately desire.
It’s a horrible state of ambivalence to be in. We despise ourselves for the weakness of desiring and yet, apart from numbing ourselves, we can’t avoid it. We need to know there’s someone out there who loves us enough to stay put when our best self disappears.
However, it can seem impossible to meet such a person. Or if we are so blessed to know that person, sometimes our bad day comes when they’re not ready for it, they’re unprepared, or distracted, or just having a bad day as well. Sometimes people do meet that need, and it’s a blessing. When they don’t, or can’t, we’re given an option to turn to God or let the cycle of resentment and shame continue. Resentment toward God and others for having to endure it alone, and shame for feeling unable to.
The cycle is easy, until you get sick and tired of it. Turning to God can be difficult, until you’re desperate enough for Him. In our trials we have to get to a point of being sick of the cycle, and desperate for our Lord. The most difficult part about letting go of our pride and humbling out before God, is that He fills our need the way He knows it’ll be most effective. Not the way it’ll make us feel better the fastest.
God only does what will last. He’s not in the business of a quick fix.
Too often we face disappointment, pain, betrayal, and a lot of other emotions we label as “negative” and we don’t bring it to God. We won’t. I have feared He isn’t trustworthy with that part of my heart. I have feared he won’t protect it and that my hurt will only increase for the sake of “growth.”
I have claimed experience has taught me this. In reality, I’ve brought my pain to people in the past and agonized when their sin became my shame while God sat idly bye waiting for me to turn to Him for what only He can give: unconditional love and grace as the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Our Father doesn’t want a bunch of obedient robots who smile and are happy all the time. Take a good look at the Psalms. David was a man after God’s own heart and he swam the depths of the sea of emotions. He didn’t turn away from God in suffering; he grabbed God by the shirt collar and cried out, “Look at my pain! Don’t you care?”
God longs for us to be genuinely and passionately engaged with him, whether that passion is in the form of fury or joy. He knows the truth behind our words, and the lies. He knows whether we’re being honest or not. He can’t be fooled, and he won’t be. He can take whatever we throw at him but he won’t be deceived.
Walking out suffering with God isn’t a pretty step-by-step process. I had a conversation with a friend earlier this week and asked her, in the midst of a pretty emotionally difficult week, “how is God comforting you?”
Sometimes it’s in the still small voice in the quiet. Sometimes it’s in the encouragement of a friend whose words, or a hand held, or a hug, were perfectly timed. Other times God is painfully absent. There’s a void, as if God has stepped out for a few hours and you’re left to fend for yourself. We know, based on scripture (Hebrews 13:5) that isn’t true. Yet he sometimes pulls back and leaves the void as our only company even as we cry out to Him. Why?
If we will humble ourselves, we will see that it’s in the void, in the darkness, that we can best identify with our Savior. It’s in the emptiness we see a glimpse of what Christ felt on the cross when forsaken by His Father. We can draw nearer to Him in those moments because he intimately knows that void in a way no one else can. He felt it on the cross.
“This is how much I love you - I went through that emptiness, became that sin, so you wouldn’t have to spend an eternity there.” Our present trials are nothing compared to an eternity separated from God. So we endure the present trials, thanking Jesus that he loves us enough not to let us endure one moment of pain on this earth alone. We then press into Him in our own void and whisper, or scream, or weep, “Lord, Jesus.”