Next Tuesday, 18 September, I will begin a new guest-post series on my blog,
God and Suffering: Our Story.
I am so excited!
I have asked some friends to be courageous in sharing their own stories of suffering, weakness, struggle. They will be telling the truth of what it felt like to undergo hard times and the effect – both good and bad – that it had on their relationship with God. This term, contributors include Emma Scrivener, Ed Cyzewski, Joy Bennett, Addie Zierman, Micha Boyett, Emily Wierenga and more.
For me, it has been the testimony of other Christians in hard times that has often been the spur to keep me going. It is hard to be honest about the tough things, but it can be powerful.
“My husband was killed by a gang of teenagers just because they wanted to know what it felt like to kill a man.”
It was 2006 and she was telling her story in the middle of a small Christian conference. The whole room was hushed as she spoke. She had been at home, playing with her eldest child and pregnant with her second when she was informed that her husband had been murdered.
Her voice was gentle. Her eyes glistened as she spoke of her husband, but she described his death with no hint of anger or resentment. The presence of Jesus shone from her as she spoke and she testified to the peace she had felt as she mourned and adjusted to her new life.
I was so challenged by her attitude.
I spoke to her at the end:
“How…how did you cope so well? I really don’t think I could be as peaceful as you are.”
“I wouldn’t have expected it either. Jesus really does give you what you need in the situation.”
I wanted to believe her, because she did seem to be ordinary and unassuming, and yet simultaneously so extraordinary. But my heart had flooded with fear.
My husband was my rock, and I loved him so much. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to feel that way. God was supposed to be my rock, not my husband.
Surely I had made my husband an idol. What if God took my husband away to test me? I reminded myself that God was loving and merciful. There was no reason that he would.
On the other hand, he had allowed it to happen to this lovely woman’s husband. Why should I be spared just because I had decided that my faith was too weak to depend on God?
These thoughts preoccupied me for the remainder of the conference. And the worst of it was that I was in Christian ministry. I should have been the one to give that kind of testimony, able to say with confidence, “Christ is enough”. I looked at the shiny, smiling faces of the other Christians on the conference, and wanted to bury the dark fears even deeper.
In the end, I cracked and approached the leader of the conference, a speaker I respected immensely for her spiritual maturity. I confessed all to her: “I’m so afraid that my husband will die.” I waited to be given the Bible passages that would help me realign my priorities and rediscover my joy in God so that I would know that He was enough.
She listened with love and said the most life-giving words imaginable:
“Oh, me too! I’m so afraid my husband will die. I think that’s natural when you love someone so much.”
That was all she said. I saw on her face that she meant it but also that she had peace and loved God anyway. Her trust in God somehow existed alongside her fear that her husband would die.
As Christians, particularly in the evangelical tradition, we are good at sharing the stories of triumph and victory. It is rarer to share stories of suffering or struggle.
I heard two stories of suffering and weakness that day and I needed both stories. I needed the example of the one who had been through hell and could testify with gentleness and serenity of the sufficiency of Christ. I also needed the story of the one who feared as I did, and was still confident in her standing before God.
The Bible has both stories: the quiet trust of Ruth and the bitterness of Naomi in the face of loss; the fear of Peter and the boldness of Thomas as they faced the prospect of Jesus’ arrest and death. God has included both types in the Bible because they are the reality of what we experience, and we need to hear both.
On Tuesdays, this blog will be a space to sit and hear those lesser-told stories of struggle and suffering. I’d love it if you would join me in listening.
Over to you:
- How good do you think we are in the church at sharing those stories of suffering?
- What things make it hard to tell our stories of suffering?
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