Recently a friend shared a painful incident that had occurred in her life, and when a couple of us who were listening tried to express sympathy, her tone changed to one of upbeat cheeriness while she tried to assure us everything was ok and she was rejoicing in the Lord.
It’s not the first time that kind of thing has happened.
As Christians, when we face some kind of trial, we remind ourselves of Biblical truth: God is in control, this has not taken Him by surprise, He has a purpose for it, something to teach us in it; He wants to grow our faith by it; He will give us the grace and strength to deal with it. Those are comforting and do help us as we work through the situation.
On top of that, we’re conscious that other people are watching, and we want to be a good testimony and to glorify God in our responses. So sometimes we translate that into putting on a happy face before others and dealing with our confusion and pain in private.
I’ve mentioned that I used to do this after contracting transverse myelitis and finding an online support group of TM patients and caregivers. Honestly, at first I didn’t join them with the idea of trying to be a good testimony. I was just looking for answers in an era when I couldn’t find information anywhere else (thankfully there is a great amount of information available now). But as I interacted with the group, I did realize that I couldn’t help but share God’s grace in dealing with me and helping me cope. I wanted to represent Him well, so I shared only the positive and kept to myself the hard days and frustrations. Later on another Christian joined the group, and she was refreshingly honest and real about her struggles, yet still expressed faith and reliance on God. That was one incident that helped me realize that having joy in the Lord is not the same thing as grinning and bearing it or keeping a stiff upper lip.
The Bible is full of God’s people speaking honestly about their pain and trouble. The Psalms especially are balm for a weary soul. Lamentations shares the full emotion resulting from God’s judgment even while acknowledging God’s justice in His actions. Paul says, “ We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). He admits to being troubled, perplexed, and cast down while still testifying to God’s keeping him from being distressed, in despair, forsaken, and destroyed. Even our Lord Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7).
I admit it’s hard sometimes to find the balance. We do want to honor the Lord in our trials and not sound like we’re complaining. But I think it helps people more to see us apply Biblical truth to our painful situation rather than acting like we’re above it all and unaffected. Thus, I’d rather hear, “It hurts that so many special things were stolen in the break-in, but it’s a reminder to us that thieves do break through and steal in this world, and we’re to store up treasures in heaven” than an attempt to brush it off. Or, “God, this disease really hurts today. I so wish and pray you’d take it from me. In the meantime, please give me the grace to deal with it.” Or, “I don’t understand why God took my wife home so early, and it hurts like crazy, but I depend on His grace moment by moment.” In one of Elisabeth Elliot’s writings, she said that even with knowing so many wonderful things God did as a result of her husband’s death, that still didn’t satisfy. God can save people and draw them to a closer walk with Him or into service for Him without taking someone’s life to do so. Yet she accepted it and trusted Him in the midst of it. The “peace that passes understanding” that God gives when we take our requests to Him with prayer and thanksgiving doesn’t deny the pain or problems: in fact, it’s all the more marvelous because it occurs in the midst of the pain and problems.
It doesn’t dishonor God to say that something hurts or confuses us. It might dishonor Him to wallow in it without looking to Him. But when we look to Him, honor Him, rejoice in Him, and trust Him even while acknowledging painful or frustrating situations, people see His grace is sufficient for any need.
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Sharing at Thought-Provoking Thursday.