There is no shortage of pain on the earth. How many feel abandoned, rejected by friends or family? How many are abused and mistreated? Domestic violence, trafficking, injustice, poverty, terrorism, racism and war are rampant in our world. Some find themselves in situations they would never dream of. An affair, an addiction, homelessness. Hopeless. Recently when I was speaking at a youth camp, I asked the youth to finish this sentence: Where was God when…. Their answers were shocking. “Where was God when my mom died?” “Where was God when I was taken away from my family on Christmas eve?” “Where was God when I was raped?”
Why do bad things happen to good people? Where does the gospel fit in with pain? Is it really true that if I decide to follow Jesus all of my problems will disappear like some promise it will? Why do we as Christians feel the need to defend God or over-promise when it comes to pain and tragedy? Is this the gospel? Didn’t Jesus suffer? Didn’t he…. die?
The greatest problem with pain is that we want to fix it. Somehow, avoiding pain at all costs has become humanity’s greatest goal, and if Jesus can do that for us, we’re IN. What do we do with pain when it comes? We hide it, medicate it, attach ourselves to anything that can save us from it. We rely on our coping mechanisms until they become our idols.
The gospel promises the redemption of ALL THINGS. All things will become new! All wrongs will be made right. God is going to restore all things broken – but until the fullness of all of this, we live in the mystery of the inbetween. All things are new, but we await the day when this becomes final. In the meantime, what do we do with this mystery? How do we explain that to people?
Surprisingly to some, people are not looking for astounding evidence to convince them that God is innocent, like He is on trial. The more we attempt to defend God, the more people feel we are ignorant and narrow minded. What they really want when they talk about pain and suffering is for someone to listen and to question with them. They don’t want us to have all the answers, and good thing, because we don’t. They want to wrestle. God loves the wrestling heart. He always meets the wrestler where they are. God blesses those who mourn and promises them comfort – not comfort in the form of answers always – but comfort.
People need to hear our stories of how we have experienced pain, suffering and trauma and how God got us through. The question is: are we leaning into God when He says he binds up the brokennhearted, or are we like others, trying to fix it, ignoring our own anger with God, wondering where he is all while putting on our religious faith front. You can’t give hope to others if you first haven’t experienced it for yourself. So much of sharing Christ’s story is your story . What does your story really look like underneath all the church activity and religious practice? What have you faced in your life? Where was God when….
The truth is that humans don’t know how to do pain. Christians included. We don’t know what to do with our own, let alone others.
I had all the right answers and theology. My friends would share their pain with me only to hear me recite the right answers. I wondered why they never confided in me again. Then one day, I experienced pain. Grieving, heart breaking, wretched pain. I remember when I lost my father to cancer, my grandma suddenly passed away, and I was let go from a job I loved, all within months of each other. There is no grief quite like the loss of your closest family. A piece of you dies with them. I was trying to process the deaths of my loved ones at the same time as feeling such shame from being let go from my job. Where was God? God had given my dad a word that he would see his children’s children? Where was that promise now? Where was my calling? Was God angry with me? Was this punishment? I truly believed that it was. It wasn’t until 2 years later that I would realize through WRESTLING that God doesn’t do Karma, he does grace. The grace I experienced was deep and rich because I went there with God. I avoided him, hid from him, medicated myself, and strove to build myself back up on my own, and in the end I found surrender and healing like I’ve never known.
This became foundational for me through one of the greatest trials I have faced in my life up until now. When my oldest son was eight, he wanted to end his life. He is diagnosed with anxiety and depression which made our home life extremely difficult in the younger years of his life. Depression for him didn’t show up as sadness but anger and aggression. So much so we had to hide the knives in our home. But when my husband and I had to finally take him to the hospital where he would stay for three weeks because he had hit rock bottom – I can’t even begin to explain the despair I felt, the shame I experienced. If God is a good God, then why is our family going through such a crisis! Where was the promise that my children would walk in breakthrough and healing?! Why was this happening to us?
I’ll never forget how God moved in our family and in my heart through that experience. In a session with one of the hospital psychologists she asked me what I would do when my son would throw fits of rage? I told her I would send him to his room and tell him when he was ready to be a good boy he could come out. She then said something to me that has changed everything: my home, my parenting, but also my take on pain and the gospel. She said, “Oh no, you never send the hurting away from you, you bring them closer.”
Through the next year God showed me what that looked like. When my son would throw a fit of rage, I would stay in the same room with him. If I could I would hold him. I would tell him that nothing was going to separate me from him in this moment. He belonged in our family. We were going to wrestle through this pain with him. One day, as I was holding him, God spoke to me saying this is what He does with us. In our brokenness, God doesn’t send us away from himself to fix our suffering on our own to come back to him “clean”. No, he brings the hurting closer. And in his arms we are healed and restored. As we wrestle and beat on his chest, He comforts us.
When I share THIS with my friends, they are deeply moved. I am able to sit with them in their pain and acknowledge their wrestling instead of defending God. They feel heard and seen, and their hearts become full of hope knowing that I have been through pain and grief but God is the one who has restored my life. Our testimony is powerful! The wrestling we go through shines God’s glory all around for the world to see that even though there is pain, there is also redemption, but we have to be willing to face it. The world struggles with the shiny Christian. We are no longer relatable and neither is our suffering savior. Jesus said we would face pain and suffering. How we face it can speak volumes to people.
One of my friends from my youth faced a tragedy of his son being killed. His honest brokenness and leaning on God caught the attention of his community and the media. He was able to go through pain with authenticity and the world stood in awe of his faith in God through it all. He asked the hard questions. He wrestled. His community wrestled with him, but they also saw God through it all.
Have you wrestled with God? Or have you buried your grief deep down, covering your pain with the “right Christian answers”? Your own pain can be a powerful story to others around you deep in brokenness to know that through Christ, God can work miracles.