“Pain and suffering have come into
your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a
sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
I wonder if this quote would be a
first choice for the church bulletin board.
Suffering. It is a topic I suspect
most of us avoid and yet, I wonder if it is a topic we need to engage with more,
especially in our churches.
Do we believe suffering in this
lifetime is, as Mother Teresa believed, to be a sure indicator that we are near
to Jesus, or do we believe suffering is a sure indicator that something is very
wrong with us?
Maybe for most believers, our
theology of suffering falls somewhere between these two scenarios, but it has
been my experience that a large number of believers shy away from suffering,
let alone the idea that it draws us nearer to the heart of God.
Because let’s face it, nobody wants
to suffer. It’s not exactly comfortable. It’s mysterious and packed full of
unknowns. There are far more questions than answers. We don’t like that, and
why not? We like to be in control. We like to have all the answers. Suffering
leaves little room for that.
I wonder if that’s why we try to
explain suffering away. I wonder if that’s why we try to “fix” it. When our
bank accounts are looking low, we can easily pull up our statement and see
exactly where our money has gone. When driving and that line draws dangerously
close to the “E”, we immediately put gas in our car. These are things we can
explain. These are things we can fix.
Maybe that’s why suffering is so
hard for us. We can’t explain it. We can’t fix it.
But we sure try.
I accepted Jesus when I was five
years old. I have been around many churches and met many believers. This list
is not exhaustive, but I want to share with you some of the scenarios I have come
across over the years.
A couple decides to leave their pastoral
ministry because the church blames the death of their baby boy on an
A friend tells me anybody who has
schizophrenia is demon-possessed.
After deciding to take their
daughter off life support, a couple is told they should have had more faith and
waited for healing.
Why are these the first explanations
that pop up for why someone is suffering? Sin. Demons. Lack of faith. I am not
claiming these three reasons never play a role in why we suffer, but I think we,
as Christians, are doing a huge disservice when we try to give an explanation
at all. The truth is none of us really knows why we suffer. I don’t know that there
is an answer, but we are a species who need to be in control. We need all the
But what if it causes more harm
than good to try and explain it? What if, by trying to fix it, we make it
worse? Wrongly claiming that a person’s struggles are a result of sin, demons,
or lack of faith can spiral them into serious doubts, shame, fear, and perhaps
even lead to them isolating from the Church. That is a heartbreaking reality, because
what that struggling individual needs is community, people surrounding them in
unconditional love, without trying to explain it away, or fix it.
I am a single mom who fosters two
beautiful little girls. I also struggle with depression and anxiety, as well as
a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. Some days, I function just fine. Other days,
depression and anxiety are brutal monsters. I have struggled with mental
illness since I was a teenager. I have had people pray for healing, and
eventually walk away because healing didn’t happen. I have had people “see”
demons on me and cast off every spirit of anxiety, depression, etc. possible. I
have had people claim I am not trying hard enough or don’t have enough faith. I
have been dealt the lack of faith card, the sin card, the demon card, and more,
far too often.
Now, I’m beginning to ponder. Has
any of that actually been instrumental in helping me heal? No. If anything, it
has left me feeling lonely, doubtful, ashamed, and less of a Christian because
I struggle with mental illness. I have felt isolated and too broken to be
allowed friendships or community. Many people have walked away from me because
of my struggles, and that has been heartbreaking.
It is only recently that I have
begun asking different questions. What if I struggle because we live in a
broken world, and not because I am demon-possessed, or because I’ve sinned, or because
I lack faith? What if my struggle constantly reminds me of my great need for
Jesus? (Which it does, by the way). What if God is using my struggle to refine
my faith? What if my faith would be a lot weaker if I didn’t have these daily
struggles? What if God can use my voice to speak into the hearts of others who
struggle? What if I’m actually closer to Jesus in the struggle, than I would be
if I was free from mental illness?
I don’t know the answers to these
questions, but I didn’t write this article to answer questions. I wrote it to
ask, to ponder, and to invite you, the Church, to ponder with me.
What if we simply walked with
people who suffer, without trying to explain it? What if we were present,
instead of trying to fix it? What if we accepted suffering as an expected part
of life, instead of trying to stop it?
Does that mean we should never pray
or hope for healing? Of course not. We absolutely should because God is the God
of healing and hope. But if healing doesn’t come, can we, as the Church,
surround each other in love and in the presence of Jesus, instead of trying to
fix or explain it? We don’t always know the will of God, but we do know that He
is good. Suffering is a part of life. Nowhere in Scripture does it teach we
will live a life free from suffering. Actually, if anything, we are promised
the opposite. You only have to flip through a few pages of the Bible to see
suffering was a regular occurrence for many.
I recently watched a Grey’s
Anatomy episode where one of the main characters was struggling with her
faith. As she was treating a dying, Jewish Rabbi, she shared her own struggles,
lamenting that life was not fair. The Rabbi so beautifully responded with:
Was it fair when Isaac went blind and then his child betrayed him? And where
was the fairness when Sara had to wait 99 years before she had a child, and God
said, “Sacrifice him”? And Moses couldn’t even get past the bouncer to the
Promised Land. And like I said, I’m not up on the sequel, but from what I hear,
Jesus got a raw deal. Nobody in the Bible lived a life free of suffering or
injustice, or it wouldn’t have been a best seller. And if they lived lives like
that, why should ours be different? Now, if people only believed in God when
things were good, I guarantee you, after the Holocaust, not a single Jew would
be a believer.
A life free from suffering is not
what the Bible promises. It does not promise healing from every ailment or injustice,
and it certainly does not promise a life void of any kind of pain. Why, then,
are we surprised when suffering touches us?
I get it. Nobody wants to suffer.
Nobody wants to see others suffer. Maybe that’s a large part of why we want to
fix it. I don’t believe that in itself is wrong, but when our faith is rattled
when healing doesn’t come, or in our frustration, we make claims that healing
is hindered by a lack of faith, or from sin, I wonder if we need to re-think
I have a friend who has walked with
me through highs, lows, and the lowest of lows. I remember asking her one day,
“Why haven’t I been healed of all this? When will healing happen?” What she
said was so simple, and yet so profound.
“Maybe you’ll never be healed.
Maybe you’ll struggle the rest of your life, but you won’t struggle in Heaven.”
Ultimately, I have no idea if it’s
God’s will for me to be healed from mental illness. I don’t know if my story
will be one of instant healing. I don’t know if healing will come gradually. I
don’t know if healing will come at all. I don’t know if I struggle because of sin,
or lack of faith, or demons, or genetics, or life circumstances, or all of the
above (or none). What I do know is that nothing brings me to my knees in
absolute need more than this struggle does, and maybe (even if I don’t feel it)
that means I’m closer to Jesus than I would be if I wasn’t struggling.
Perhaps close enough, as Mother
Teresa said, for Jesus to kiss me.
McKidd, Kevin, dir. Grey’s Anatomy. Season
14, Episode 17, “One Day Like This.” Aired March 29, 2018, on ABC.
MercyMe. “Even If.” Recorded 2016-2017. Track 5
on Lifer. Fair Trade/Columbia, compact disc.
Anatomy, Season 14, Episode 17, “One Day Like This,” directed by Kevin
McKidd, aired March 29, 2018, on ABC.
MercyMe, “Even If,” recorded 2016-2017, Fair Trade/Columbia, track 5 on Lifer,
2017, compact disc.
Chrissy M. Dennis is the Ministry Coordinator for Renovaré Canada and a published author of 4 novels. She is also the full-time
foster mom to two little girls. You can learn more about her novels at www.chrissymdennis.com