There is a truism in the church that goes something like this “God is using this trial to help you grow.” This belief spills over into the world with such sayings as “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Honestly, I can’t think of a worse thing to say to someone going through deep pain. While well-intended, this message translates quite differently in the brain to mean “Clearly you are not a deep enough Christian and thus God sent this terrible thing to you and thus it is your fault.” It also has the hidden pride of the speaker that their relationship with God is good and thus their life is going well.
We all seek meaning in difficult and traumatic times. The problem is that we often assign the wrong meaning. We want to think a formula exists in which if we just do and think the right things nothing truly bad will happen to us. Bad things happen to other people, not us. But even a quick overview of Biblical texts, or really just a look at the people around us, will tell us that we live in a world in which trials can befall the nicest, kindest people and some who we think may need a lesson or two seem to never see hardship.
Let me tell you from life experience that when trials hit, the last thing you are thinking about is growing in your faith. Rather, you are trying desperately just to make it through one more day or even just one more hour. Your whole world is shaken and everything you thought was true no longer feels true. It seems impossible that this is happening to you and yet it is. You wonder if God is good. You wonder what you did wrong. You wonder if you will ever feel happy or normal again.
When my son died I barely got out of bed the first two weeks. I didn’t read my Bible, I didn’t journal. I couldn’t go to church for months. All I did was cry, multiple times a day, every day, and not the soft, quiet kind either. What I held onto during that time was not any new revelation or new growth in my faith, but rather what I knew to be true when things were not terrible. I clung to the verse in John 6 when Jesus shocked His disciples by telling them to drink His blood (love that wild Jesus!) and Peter responded in verse 67, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I, in no way, no shape, no form, understood what had happened to my son and our family but I truly had nowhere else to go.
One time a counselor came to visit our team in Kazakhstan. She asked me one simple question that changed my thinking (aren’t those the best type of questions?). She said, “Kim, do you think you can only grow through trials?” I took some time to ponder that deeply. And I responded, “No. You can grow through good times as well.” And from that moment onward I purposed to grow in my faith when times were good. Happy, peaceful, prosperous and even just everyday times are the best times to grow. When things are going well, dig deep. Spend time studying the Word, read great books, journal, pray, listen, write. Establish truths deep in your heart. Let them settle in to stay. When the storm comes, and it likely will come, you will thank your past self. This is what you will draw on.
I always think that I would like to have enough of the Word and God’s presence in me that if I was thrown in jail in a place that didn’t allow access to the Bible, or if I ended up crashed on a desert island, that I would be able to maintain and grow my relationship with God anyway. Think about it. Literally, Abraham did not have a Bible yet he heard God. The early church did not have the New Testament yet they followed. One must have a seeking heart, an open mind and a curious spirit in the day to day. That is how you discern the presence and work of God. That is how, as brother Lawrence put it, you practice the presence of God. Then when circumstances occur which seemingly obliterate all you know to be true, you have the muscle memory to climb back out of the abyss. Then when you can’t imagine what it ever feels like to be happy or normal, you can cling to your past storehouse of experience. You can truly practice the faith which is defined in Hebrews 11 as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
What people going through trials need is not someone to pray and make it all better. Truthfully that is really about making the other person feel better that at least they did something. What travailing people need is someone to weep with them, to feel the pain they are feeling. Romans 12:15 instructs us to “weep with those who weep.” We are not to be like Job’s friends blythely offering up possible explanations for Job’s trials, most of which place the blame squarely on him. Recently at church we had a time of coming forward to pray about disappointments and ongoing trials in our lives. I saw my friend go up and I knew exactly what her trial was and that it was on-going and that many people had prayed for her and that in some ways it just made her feel worse. So I got up out of my chair, sat down next to her and hugged her and wept with her. We did not pray. We just wept. But I know God met us there.
This is what I want to leave you with: be brave and be wise. When a friend or family member is facing trials, be willing to feel those trials with them When you are doing well, dig deep into the riches of God When the storms hit, hang on and believe that what was will be again. Your true experience of God in the past is still true and some day will feel true again.
Thank you Kim for your true and compassionate words. I cannot begin to know what your experience feels like, but I do have a few of my own dark valleys that have felt hopeless and incredibly painful. And yes, those were the times where I just needed someone who could just hold me and weep together with me. A lot of times, it felt like I needed to help them feel better by letting them “encourage” me! Currently, I am experiencing a dark night of the soul in life and there are moments where I cannot imagine that it will be better. But, on those days where I see a glimpse of the beauty of the sunrise and remember for a moment who God was and is, I hold onto that gift and trust that He is who He says He is! Thank you for the beautiful post, many blessings to you!
Thank you for your kinds words. Hugs to you, Anna, as you walk through your dark night.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about our crazy world and our American cultural “church”. I find myself going deeper to find Christ and His truth outside of our church most of the time, drawing on IHOPKC and reading the biographies of faithful individuals from the past. It is good to read your words friend!
Thanks, Tami. It’s good to hear from you!