I’ve asked my friend Lori to share a post today. I’ve watched her suffer for years and yet seen her turn to God in her pain, over and over. You will be comforted and encouraged by her insights, and you will want to watch her online course!
I never knew life could be this hard for this long.
Twenty years ago, I was bitten by a tick (or two or three), and my life changed. I went from a very full life — working a more-than-full-time job, backpacking with friends, taking ballet twice a week, writing on the weekends and evenings, volunteering with my church, and having an active social life — to barely being able to function.
Two decades later, I still live with significant disability. I’m not able to work full-time; I barely have a social life. I’m only strong enough to make it to church once or twice a month.
And it’s been hard, hard. But I’ve learned so much from this journey.
I know my experience is extreme, but we all face tough seasons where we wonder what God is doing. We may feel like our faith hasn’t prepared us well for deep disappointment or pain and we ask, “How do I do this?”
Worse, we may feel like bad Christians just for having these questions.
I can tell you, when you’re in the valley of the shadow, Satan will attack. He wants to kick you when you’re down and drive a wedge between you and God.
From my own experience and talking to others who have known dark seasons, these four truths are critical and will help you “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16).
1. God enters into the pain with us.
Satan will tempt you to believe that God is against you when you are in the midst of deep pain. He will say that God is far away, ambivalent, that He has caused this bad thing to happen to you and left you to deal with it alone.
Your feelings might affirm these lies. You may not feel God’s presence or have any sense of His love for you.
There’s one truth that makes all the difference here: God enters into our pain with us.
We know this first and foremost because of Christ in the manger and Christ on the cross. As Paul tells us in Philippians, Christ “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Then as a man, he “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8)
He is not a God who leaves us alone with our problems, but a God who enters in to them at the greatest cost to Himself!
And not only that, but Isaiah tells us that Christ didn’t just take our sins to the cross, but also “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4).
Throughout scripture, as well, Christ offers to bear our burdens. “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you,” Peter tells us. (I Pt. 5:7)
The truth is really the opposite of what Satan will try to tell us, the opposite of what we will be tempted to believe. God is not far away. He is not ambivalent.
Not only is he with us always — he deeply enters into our painful experiences, in ways we can’t even understand. He will never leave you alone with your pain.
2. God’s character hasn’t changed.
When something goes horribly wrong in your life, you may find yourself wondering what God is really like: Is he cruel? How could he allow this if he really loves you?
That second question is a big one, and there’s no simple answer.
But in these seasons, we have to remind ourselves of what we know of God’s character.
He is unchanging. He is faithful. His mercies never end. He is kind and good. His love for us is greater than we can even understand. He is patient with us. He is forgiving.
Our circumstances are ever-changing, and our feelings change with them.
But we can’t allow our feelings to dictate how we view God — i.e., today I’m happy so I’ll believe that God is good. Or today I’m sad so I’m going to question everything I know about God’s goodness. (And that’s a vast oversimplification, but you know what I mean.)
One of my favorite ways to focus on God’s attributes daily is with Susan’s One Devotional: One Word, One Verse, One Thought for One Hundred Days. When my brain didn’t work enough to really study scripture, I could read one thought a day and hold on to one verse, one character trait of God. It’s a powerful practice.
3. You may never understand why.
Let’s just put this on the table and deal with it. So often what we want to know is WHY.
“Why, God??” And not just why in general, but, “Why did this have to happen to ME?”
Here’s the thing: most of us will never get an answer to that question. And that’s okay. We have to learn to manage our expectations and set aside the deep longing to know the reason for our suffering.
The scriptures have a lot to say about suffering and its purpose. God uses it to humble us, to teach us to be dependent on him, to shape and mold us into someone more like him.
But those principles are what I call macro theology versus micro theology. (And yep, I made up those terms. But stick with me.)
Here’s what I mean: The Bible gives us general principles about suffering and pain. But it doesn’t tell me specifically why I needed to have a debilitating chronic illness for more than twenty years. And it won’t tell you why you have stage 4 cancer, or why your child is being bullied, or why God didn’t change your husband’s heart before he walked out. Or whatever specific situation you’re walking through.
It gives us an overall macro explanation. But not specific micro answers for each of our individual lives.
These things are so hard and painful! It’s natural that we want to know why.
But ultimately we’re left alongside Job, who got to ask God why. And “the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind” and said,
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?” (Job 38:4-13)
In other words, we aren’t God. There are many things we cannot ever understand, and we may never know why.
We choose to worship him anyway.
4. Comfort is found closer in, not further away.
In the midst of my long journey with chronic illness, there have been moments when I’ve thought of leaving church, or distancing myself from it.
Actually, Satan regularly taunts me with something like, “Your life is so HARD, why do you believe this??” And tempts me to walk away from my faith.
But what I’ve found over and over is that comfort isn’t found further away from God, but closer to him. I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s spoken directly to me through sermons, of the moments I’ve felt his love through healing prayer.
When I’m strong enough to really delve into scripture, my heart is strengthened and I feel firmer foundations beneath my soul.
A while back, a friend who had suffered the worst kind of abandonment by someone in her life was telling me how she felt abandoned by God. I wanted to scream — that’s not true! Sitting on the outside, I could see how much God loves her and I know that he walks through this pain with her, that he grieves for her.
But I also knew so well the depth of pain she was in. Although my experiences have been different, that deep pain is the same — and all the questions it brings.
This is why I created my new online course, Comfort for Dark Days. This series of video devotionals focuses on 7 key truths that have been my lifeline in the midst of chronic illness. They are life-giving!
Each day also includes questions for further reflection and study, worship music, and original watercolor art.
I created this for my dear friend, and for anyone else walking through a tough season, so that you can have a companion there in the darkness, someone who’s been there too.
And I created it for myself, so that I could delve deep into the scripture and remember what’s really true, even when all is dark around me.
Because that’s where the comfort is!
If you’re struggling and wondering what God is doing in your life, I hope you’ll join me. Click here to check out Comfort for Dark Days. I pray it will be a balm to your hurting heart!
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