Our world is filled with sin and suffering, the kind of pain and darkness that creeps into every single heart and life. There’s no way around it. Following Jesus will rescue us from a thousand evils, but it will not keep us from getting hurt in this life.
If we know him, we know deep down that these sufferings highlight our dependence (2 Corinthians 1:8–9) and help us comfort others with the very comfort of Christ as we share in his sufferings (2 Corinthians 1:3–7). We know that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, and we even know the deep feeling of being “well pleased” with our weakness because of that reality (2 Corinthians 12:10). We know that our trials will produce a faith that is tested, refined, and full of glorified joy (1 Peter 1:6–7). We know deep realities that can create deep hope beneath even the deepest pain.
Except sometimes we don’t.
Sometimes we preach these truths to ourselves and our hearts aren’t moved at all. We groan, and wish that life was so different than it is (Romans 8:23). We pray and pray and pray, and things only seem to get more overwhelming and more difficult. Sometimes our hearts simply ache with the pain of broken dreams, broken relationships, broken bodies, and broken sinfulness.
Have you had that experience? Hope doesn’t come. Happiness doesn’t flood your heart. The clouds of depression don’t blow away. Overwhelming struggles simply overwhelm you more. Relationships are not restored. What can we do?
Get It Together?
Sometimes we heap harmful expectations on one another on top of already painful circumstances. Few things are more prized than “having it all together.” Even in Christian circles, there is a subtle undercurrent that we must always have glimmering hope just above the dirt of despair.
In Psalm 88, the authors begin by stating, “O Lord, God of my salvation,” but that first verse is the last note of hope in the Psalm. There is only lament after those six words. Now, of course there are questions, like the one in Psalm 88:10, that if answered correctly would flood our hearts with hope. But the psalmists aren’t there yet. They are only asking the hard questions.
How do we grieve like Psalm 88 — without minimizing our pain, and without losing our hope?
First, I think that the normal experience of life in Christ will be one that is sorrowful and rejoicing, (2 Corinthians 6:10) — gospel-hope brimming and broken-work despairing, side by side each day until Jesus returns. We should expect suffering, and preach to ourselves that the deep gospel truth shines through it, and even in it.
Second, sometimes we go through seasons of more overwhelming struggle than overwhelming hope. Life is overwhelming. It seems like too much. It seems like God is piling it on (Job 3). My advice is to follow the example in Psalm 88 and keep talking to your Savior — even when you’re not ready to recite all the right answers just yet.
Tell him you trust him, but that you need him to help your current unbelief (Mark 9:24). Sometimes it’s the repeated hard conversations with God that eventually bring the breakthrough to the intimacy and help we desperately need. Don’t load on yourself the extra burden of “being okay.” Lay that weight aside and look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:1–3), casting all your cares on him. Be honest with God. He can handle it. And he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7)!
Third, let’s be honest and compassionate with each other. Let’s be quick to sit with people and cry with people (Romans 12:15), and be eager to bear one another’s burdens together (Galatians 6:2). One of the surprising ways God comforts his people is through the comfort of other believers who have also struggled and can relate (2 Corinthians 1:3–11).
Tell God Your Troubles
When life feels like too much, tell God. When it feels like God isn’t close, tell God. When it feels like you can’t go on, tell God. When it feels like the pain won’t ever stop, tell God. When it feels like you want to give up on things, tell God. When it feels bleak and dark and no rays of light are breaking through, tell God.
He is your Savior. That won’t change. And even when it doesn’t feel like it, he is listening.
And then, find a few members of the blood-bought family of Christ, and tell them, too. We are meant to bear one another’s burdens. Take off the mask. Take off the social media façade. And let people into your life so they can extend to you the comfort of Christ and help you bear whatever unique discomfort you are bearing today — physical, relational, spiritual, or otherwise.
God will help you — through prayer as you seek him, through his promises as you read them, and through his people as you draw them closer into your life.