Engaging with Suffering: Facing Grief Head-On in a World That Fears Emotional Pain
Common to humanity, nobody desires to experience suffering. Whether physical pain, emotional trauma, daily trials, wrestling with sin, or any other form, most of us want to avoid suffering. In fact, the ideologies of Western Society encourage people to orchestrate their lives in a way that will prevent them from suffering at all. When suffering does hit, we often don’t know what to do with it. Our default reaction is to move through the hurt as quickly as possible, which generally means putting a Band-Aid over a gapping wound. We try to numb the pain caused by suffering through turning to relationships, work, food, alcohol, media and many other outlets.
Why do we do this? Because it hurts! Navigating through disappointment, betrayal, loss, death, sin, failure, and trials involves heartache. It’s scary and messy. It requires us to feel our way through the sense of loss produced by suffering. The danger in running from grief, however, is that it can actually hinder us in our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. In order to truly heal the broken places suffering has touched we must face it. Whether we realize it or not, suffering impacts us.
How do we deal with the grief produced by suffering without simply numbing the pain? A “one size fits all” formula doesn’t necessarily exist. Because suffering comes in many different varieties, and each person has unique temperaments and life experiences, we process through grief differently. But as believers, we know one thing: we can confidently invite the One who endured the ultimate suffering into ours. He was beaten, bloodied, humiliated, and rejected by His own Father. If we take the time to process through our grief and invite Christ into it, our intimacy with Him can be strengthened.
I’m not normally one to face grief “head-on”, but after walking through a recent season of suffering, God has shown me ways to courageously bring Him into my pain instead of running from it. As a result, I have experienced Him in a deeper way. I hope these few realizations will help grow your intimacy with Christ in the midst of suffering too.
Deepen Your Understanding of God’s Character
Our belief in God’s character is often tested through trials. We are bombarded with questions such as, “Do I believe God works all things for my good?” “Do I trust His unconditional love for me?” “Do I know He is in ultimate control?” “Do I have faith His promises are true?” The depth we know and believe the character of God, will determine how we engage with Him in our suffering. Sometimes it isn’t until we are in the storm that our false beliefs about God are uncovered. But we can strengthen our faith in His unchanging character through reading and trusting what He has revealed about Himself in Scripture. Hold fast to those Truths in the midst of any trial.
Be Patient in the Process
When it comes to processing through grief, we may desire a “quick-fix” solution. The pain we experience hurts, and we want to move through it quickly. However, we must remember that grief is a process, and the length of time it lasts depends on many factors, such as the type of grief and the personality of the person walking through it. I often become impatient with both God and myself in the process, wanting to simply “be done” with the trial or grief I am experiencing. But God ultimately cares more about our personal growth and intimacy with Him than checking grief off a list. When you become impatient with the process, fix your eyes back on Christ, and rest in knowing that His grace is always enough and His power is made perfect in weakness.
Don’t Compare Your Suffering
Often, we look at the trials and difficulties of others and think, “My life isn’t nearly as bad as someone suffering from cancer or someone who has lost a loved one, so I shouldn’t feel down about a broken relationship or losing my job.” But when we minimize our hurt because we are comparing our suffering with another persons’, we miss out on allowing Christ to meet us in our pain. Or we may fall back into seeking to numb our pain, because we don’t believe it’s “bad enough”. Sure, we need to keep our trials in perspective, but each of our trials and difficulties will look different. Don’t miss out on allowing God to grow you and heal you through your experiences.
Invite Others In
Do you have a few safe people in your life you can invite into your darkest moments? People who will show compassion, empathy and understanding when you are walking through the valley? Sharing our weaknesses and being vulnerable with others can be difficult. We often try to tackle trials alone, fearing our brokenness being seen. This however is not the way God intended us to live. Throughout the New Testament, we see the body of Christ relying on one another in a variety of circumstances. Paul exhorts us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). He himself continually relied on the prayers and support of other believers. The body of Christ can be the hands and feet of Jesus, speaking, grace, truth and hope into our lives at times when we need it most.
Keep a Right Perspective of Suffering
Throughout history, suffering has struck all people regardless of culture, ethnicity, personality or location on earth. Because we live in a broken world, we know that suffering is a guarantee. All throughout the Bible, we see God’s people “meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Trials or suffering found in Scripture come in the form of personal sin, physical ailments, death, persecution, relational discord, emotional turmoil and many other varieties. Regardless of the type of suffering, we will each encounter it. When Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), He shares we will endure suffering, yet our hope is not in what we experience on earth. Our hope is found in the Ultimate Sufferer: Jesus Christ alone.
Question to consider: How have you found “a few safe people in your life you can invite into your darkest moments”?