I've heard people say, "I don't know how so-and-so can suffer through that pain without Christ." What is meant is that the person does not have a living relationship with God through Christ, yet is bearing much pain on his or her own. This admission comes from a heart that has suffered, a heart that has found comfort from God during a stint of emotional and/or psychological pain. The believer has "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation" to rely upon during distressing times (2 Cor. 1:3 NRSV).
Sadly, often even believers neglect to rely upon the God of all comfort, feeling that God should not be bothered with their pain.
But our God encourages us to invite Him into our pain. He longs for us to look to Him for consolation "in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God" (2 Cor. 1:4 NRSV). How shall we ever help others receive God's consolation if we neglect it ourselves?
We also try too hard to deflect our pain, hoping instead for immediate gratification, or a quick-fix recovery. There are no quick-fix recoveries. Recovery takes time, patience, hard work and tenacity; and no one can do the hard work for us: either we apply ourselves to the work or we degenerate. We have also lost the art of healthy and godly grieving. Henri Nouwen explains:
The hardships we all endure require more than words, of course, even spiritual words. Eloquent phrases cannot soothe our deep pain. But we do find something to lead and guide us through. We hear an invitation to allow our mourning to become a place of healing, and our sadness a way through pain to dancing. Who is it Jesus said would be blessed? "Those who mourn" (Matt. 5:4).1
We, as believers in and followers of Christ, may not "grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13), but we do grieve, nonetheless. The "American way" has historically been to "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps," keeping a "stiff upper lip," for "God helps those who help themselves." The Bible contradicts this false way. We are helpless and, hence, cannot pull ourselves up. We need God to pull us up. Our upper lip should not remain stiff but pliable in asking God for help. God does not help those who help themselves, but only helps those who cannot help themselves, lest we think that He is the one who needs our help. Again, Nouwen writes:
We learn to look fully into our losses [grieving our losses], not evade them. By greeting life's pains with something other than denial we may find something unexpected. By inviting God into our difficulties we ground life -- even its sad moments -- in joy and hope. When we stop grasping our lives we can finally be given more than we could ever grab for ourselves. And we learn the way to a deeper love for others.2
Peter commanded us to cast all our anxieties and worries and cares upon God because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). "Cast your burden on the LORD," writes the Psalmist, "and he will sustain you" (Ps. 55:22). When we carry what we were never meant to carry, we become an emotional danger to ourselves, as well as to those around us. This is why one often hears a believer confess to his or her perplexity of a non-believer enduring suffering apart from Christ. Pain and suffering are difficult to bear with Him, let alone without Him. Jesus is the only hope for our hurting world. Many have walked away from the faith by neglecting to rely upon the only hope for our hurting world.
1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Turning My Mourning into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001), xv.
Written by William Birch, reposted with permission.