Previously I wrote a post dealing with suffering in an intellectual way, particularly why would God, being good, allow suffering. But understanding suffering and dealing with it are two different things. This post is more about how to cope with suffering.
Once again I need to give a warning. I am deeply, deeply unqualified to write this post, but I still think I should share, because I believe that even though I don’t understand healing perfectly, I know God does not require perfect understanding to touch people.
A big part of suffering is the great “Why?” of it all. Why would God allow it? My previous post goes into this idea. But there is a more poisonous version of this question: “What did I do wrong?”
Understanding that God does not hold our sins against us is very important in this. I find my mind drifting back to my sins of the past two weeks if something bad happens in my life. Luckily I have a reference point for God’s grace. The cross. At the cross we did the absolute worst to God. We murdered Him. In that moment, not only did He forgive us, but He glorified us. Your porn addiction or flipping the bird to someone on the highway is not the reason for your suffering.
Perfection is a lie
In the charismatic church (read a young church, with young theology and young members) we have a culture of perfection*. Perfection is the standard we uphold, like in Eden. Everybody is waiting for a breakthrough, for our next season. This is especially true while we are still young and naive.
I find it curious that the Hebrew doesn’t have a word for perfect and the closest counter part, the word translated as “very, very good” is not used to describe paradise or anything in it.
We can embrace life as good, even when it is not perfect.
Kyle Morton, the lead singer of Typhoon, contracted Lyme disease at an early age. He put this same idea into different words:
It was more of a psychological shift that happened when I got sick. And I see this perspective in a lot of people, even so-called healthy people. And that is you start questioning ideas of health or even knowing ‘how do I empower myself to a sense of being alive and healthy’ because, life is filled with sorrow and pain and you can’t consider these things a sickness just because they hurt.
*Perfection is obviously an illusion. So it is less of a culture of perfection and more a culture of pretending to be perfect.
It is okay not to be okay
A lot of people not only hate the suffering, but hate themselves in the suffering. They resist their pain and at best it only buries the suffering deep in the psyche, but more probably it extends the suffering. Your emotions are not your enemy in suffering. It is okay not to be okay. Although your emotions might not be entirely justified, they are there. They are real and they are hurting.
I once heard a midwife say that society is afraid of pain and lost all respect for it. Pain is uncomfortable, but it is not truly the enemy.
Facing your suffering
You can accept or reject the way you are treated by other people, but until you heal the wounds of your past, you will continue to bleed. You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex, but eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. You must find the strength to open the wounds, stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories, and make peace with them. – Iyanla Vanzant, Yesterday, I Cried
Have you ever sat in silence and you start to feel an ache inside you. You don’t know where it came from and you don’t know what to do with it. It feels like a endless black hole in your psyche.
You cannot touch it. There isn’t words you can connect to it. And if you are like me, the fact that someone mentioned it gave you a fright. You were trying to ignore it, jou were trying to distract yourself from it.
You believe it is a place truly devoid of God. It feels like “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”, it feels like Hell.
In truth God has entered our Hell. Like in the book The Shack, the Trinity has already made a home there and is waiting for us to meet Them there. Because only God can bring us healing.
For me this meant that when my pain surfaces, that is to say something triggers it, I see it as an opportunity to meet God there.
I pray about it and bring it to God. “I know You are there inside my suffering, with me, but I don’t feel it. I don’t truly believe it. Please show me.” I then sit in silence for half an hour or so and feel the pain a bit. I allow myself to be hurt, to be sad, to be scared.
I need to make clear that this is not a formula to follow. This is how I am experiencing healing. Facing your suffering can be traumatic, so some sort of counselling is highly recommended.
That said, my triggers are slowly becoming less.
I want to share a story of such an encounter with God in your hurt. It is probably going to offend a couple of people, but I think it will mean a lot to some people as well.
It is a story of a women who, while people were praying for her, regressed in her mind to a memory where she was abused as a child. In her memory she was choking on her neighbour’s penis.
“In that moment Jesus was there. He came over and kissed my eyes. I opened them and I could see Him. He them took the penis from my mouth and kissed my lips. I felt clean. Almost like in Isaiah when the angel touches Isaiah’s mouth with a burning coal and cleanses him.
But I still had the trauma of the event. Jesus then took the penis and put it in his own mouth and carried my trauma.”
Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…
After all is said and done it still hurts like hell. My great suffering came with expectation and disappointment. At the end of the ordeal I had a long list of unfulfilled prophecies. Prophecies that coincided so well with each other that I told my friend “If I believe God can speak to me, I better believe He is doing so now.”
Afterwards, as I made peace with the fact that things aren’t turning out as planned, I was in a meeting where the preacher mentioned that he feels that some people need to forgive God. The idea offended me and I remember driving away thinking “Surely I don’t need to forgive God. He is for me, He loves me. Even with the unfulfilled prophecies He is good to me.”
My mind would jump to “Fuck Him! He doesn’t deserve forgiveness! I trusted Him and He let me down!” I felt like I was there 2000 years ago at the cross, shouting “Crucify Him!” The hammer that drove the nails through his flesh might as well have been in my hands.
My mind would jump back to how silly it is to be mad at God about this, but it wouldn’t stay there. I realized I needed to forgive Him. I pulled over and forgave Him. It was simply an act of putting the hammer down. It was a release. I wept.
I do not consider this post to be authoritative on this subject. To me it is not the end of the discussion, it is simply part of it.