When pain hits us (bitterness or brokenness)


This morning I opened my inbox and saw a couple of emails from some friends of mine. Both of them were expressing tremendous pain and sorrow. One is potentially losing yet another baby after she already had a miscarriage last year. The other one was talking about how his marriage is falling apart. Not because my friend wants it to happen, but because his spouse has decided that their marriage is over. 

These are situations from the hard reality of life. I have been thinking about what I can tell my two friends that will comfort them, potentially change or fix their situation or at least find something I can do for them. But the truth is I can do nothing. I can’t say magic words that will fix the pain they’re in. I can’t tell them that things will be different tomorrow, because I don’t know that they will. I can’t tell them that I know how they feel, because I don’t, and even if I did that still wouldn’t eradicate their pain. And I can’t do anything that will make my one friend not lose her baby, and my other friend not lose his marriage. I am incapable of making a difference.

All I can do in these situations where reality hits me hard in the face is to remember that Jesus (unfortunately) never promised that life would be easy for his followers. Both of my friends are believers who have put their trust and hope in Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that they or I don’t face pain and potentially devastating circumstances. The truth is that life is hard. The truth is that none of us are immune to the intense pressures of life. The truth is that we can’t protect ourselves or save ourselves or others out of the rough circumstances of life.

I know that the truth from God’s Word is that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8 :28) or as Eugene Peterson translates the same verse in The Message: “we can be sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good“. God is conforming us to be more like Christ (Romans 8 :29). He is in the process of using the rough circumstances in my friends’ lives and turn it into something that bring them closer to him and closer to who they are called to be in God. That’s the truth. But right now that truth is probably not what either of them want to hear. The truth never changes, but it’s so important that we don’t slam each other with the truth and short circuit the process of pain, grief, brokenness and clinging to God that’s going on.

So I think I will do what Job’s friends did so well in the first many chapters of the book of Job. I will shut up. I will spare my friends for my wisdom. I will tell my friends that I am praying for them. I will remind them that God is good and his plans for them are good, even though it all looks like crap right now. But I won’t give them advice. I won’t tell them what they should be feeling. I won’t accuse them of not trusting God enough since they’re so full of feelings of despair.

I will remind them that God is big enough to handle all our emotions no matter how terrible and sacrilegious the feelings may feel. Yell, kick, scream, curse, blame, attack….do whatever you have to do. And maybe I will remind them of my favorite quote by Philip Yancey: “God can handle blame, anger and even willful disobedience. One thing, however, blocks relationship: indifference“. Whatever my friends do, feel, think, I will encourage them to not be indifferent, to not shut their hearts down. It’s tempting to do when pain is all we see, but experience has taught me that every difficult circumstance takes us to the intersection where we have two roads to choose from. One is called bitterness. Many walk it; misery loves and attracts company. There is no life and no hope on that road. These people are dying from within, because bitterness is a disease that spreads like cancer to every part of our being and it’s even contagious and attacks other people as well. The other road is called brokenness. It’s the road less traveled. It’s a road of humility. But there is hope, peace and joy available in the midst of suffering. It’s the road of life. I will pray that Christ will give them the strength to choose the road of of brokenness, and I will remind them that Christ is the good shepherd who is leading us through the valley of death (Psalm 23:4).

Torben – who will pray that my friends “will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:7)

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