A friend was talking with me the other day about struggles at her new church. She recently moved from the inner-city to the affluent Northern suburbs of Sydney, and noticed a big cultural difference. “People aren’t real,” she said. “They just want to pretend everything is ‘happy-happy, joy-joy’ all the time. Just because you’ve found God doesn’t mean life isn’t hard, and that there aren’t issues to grapple with – surely? It’s like people want to take the ‘love and grace’ part of being a Christian, leave it at that, and not go any deeper. They don’t want to talk about struggles of faith, because usually, they don’t have them. I feel like I’m the only one who does.”
I really appreciated her honesty, and I felt for her. We are new friends, and I hope I’m someone she can be ‘real’ with from now on. But it’s a common refrain in many churches. It’s as if Christianity needs a big PR campaign where we have to convince the world – and each other – that life is as shiny as Ned Flanders’ front fence. We don’t want to admit to pain, or suffering, or grief – because that would put our faith – our Christianity – in a bad light.
Or maybe it’s just too hard to dig deep.
But the Bible is full of suffering and impassioned grief.
I’m studying Job at the moment, for a subject at bible college. This man suffers an unbelievable series of tragedies, and his friends are of little help during this time. They blame him for what happened, and essentially try and pull him out of his grieving process. In the midst of loads of unhelpful statements and advice, Job questions God. He feels as though He, too, has turned his back on him. In 31:35 he cries: “Let the Almighty answer me!” He feels like God is deaf to his wails.
Job, a faith-filled man, asks ‘Why?’, just as Jesus did as he bled on the cross. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried (Matt. 27:46). He knew an acute separation from God.
Grief is raw and wretched and visceral. Grief questions God. Grief screams at the sky. Grief doesn’t care who’s watching.
I’ll never forget the moans and sobs emanating from my boss’s office one day at work. Normally she’s contained, reserved – a ‘together’ kind of person. But this was the day her mother died. And she’d just received the phone call.
This week my lecturer, in speaking about Job and suffering, spoke about our tendency these days to turn funerals into celebrations. He shared his thoughts, somewhat controversially, that turning the occasion of a close relative’s death into a party can sometimes dismiss or detract from the natural process of grief. Bereaved people need permission to wail if they want (and party if they need to too, in my opinion).
We need to make way for a range of emotional responses, whether our friends are grieving, or questioning God, or broken and dying inside. Sure, it’s confronting – but this is the world we live in.
May we always look towards Jesus. He took his light into some of the darkest places, and gave his life on a wooden cross for us. You can’t get much more ‘real’ than that.
Thank you, God, that you hear our cries, our wails, our screams. Thank you that you know pain intimately, because you chose to come to earth in the form of a man and die for our sins. Thank you that you also conquered death by rising from the grave. One day you’ll take us away from all our earthly suffering.
Thank you for helping us to be real, because it isn’t easy to be honest sometimes. Help us to be the kind of people others want to share their struggles with.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
This article is worth way more than the one star I am allowed to give it. I too am going through one of the deepest valleys of my life right now. However, no matter how I feel or how much deeper the valley goes, yet will I praise Him. His Word is true and never changes. There is a mountain top ahead, whether here or there. God is faithful. He knows the path I take and he has already provided what I need. Our times are in His hands.
Thank you Raymond.
I’m so sorry to hear you’re in such a valley right now.
What you say is true – God is still worthy of praise and all our faith and trust. He has already taken care of the path ahead.
Praying with you that you feel His comfort in a real and tangible way in coming weeks. That you know the depth of His love more than ever, and that you hold your hand tightly onto Jesus’. He is with you. He won’t leave you, ever. And He has a plan.
I enjoyed reading this. Being real about our truly glorious faith means allowing grace to shine through. It shines out of those holes of grief and inadequacy, the places we don’t have it all together.
Thanks Michael, I’m glad. So well said. May our grief only serve to reflect His beauty, glory, and complete adequacy in our lives, to others.
“Jesus wept”. I’ve heard a dozen different reasons why He wept at the grave site of Lazarus. Interesting to speculate … as long as we don’t forget the simple fact that “Jesus wept.” Seems pretty “real” to me.
Such a powerful verse, Richard. That’s as real as it gets! Just knowing that he knew our tears and pain is profound and beautiful.
Wow, this is so good. Having been on both sides–the happy happy-joy joy, and the dark abyss of despair, barely hanging onto my Faith and God–I have learned, I hope, to be more tuned into what people are experiencing in their walk. I believe honesty is what God wants, always–and when people are safe to be real with one another, there’s such opportunity for acceptance and love, growth and change, and a door from grief and doubts to hope and JOY. Life definitely is not “shiny” some days, and it’s less shiny for some than for others. The Church has sometimes done an injustice in presenting our faith walk with Jesus as a constant party–but for decades I saw it portrayed as impossibly grim and glum (it did not attract me at all). I’ve seen changes for good, to a more authentic faith–and I hope I present as “real”, shiny some days and honest about the struggles. After all, those struggles do not diminish or dishonor us in God’s eyes–they serve to strengthen our perseverance in the Faith. Right? God bless you and your lovely family so Big today–love, Caddo
Yes, the empathy and compassion that come from our own ‘valley’ experiences does help…
Honesty is so important, I agree… And recognition, as you say, of the different emotional ups and downs people have.
That’s so true – there are the “party” Christians and there are the “doom-and-gloomers”. Authenticity, which allows room for both celebration and grief, sounds like a good aim to me. Absolutely – as hard as they are, our trials do build us up in Him!
Thank you Caddo, be blessed!
It can often be through our public struggles that God can be glorified. We should not shy from being real, and sharing the hard times, but then also sharing the reason we have hope, the reason we can go on, so that others realise that there is something to grab hold of during the hard times.
Well said Betsy. Yes I agree – what an opportunity to bring him glory, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and come out the other side with hope for life beyond the grave.
Yes agree wholeheartedly. How many times for instance have you been to a wake and heard the proverbial: ‘doesn’t he look good?’ or, while you are sobbing at the death of a loved one: ‘everything is all right.’
First, no, he doesn’t look good, but people are uncomfortable and just want to fill in the silence. They mean well, but please, do not steal another person’s right to grieve.
Second, everything is NOT all right…………..again, allow a soul to grieve. Time will take care of the rest, but to everything there is a season, and its never a good idea to put summer before spring.
It’s ok not to be ‘happy’ 24/7, the human psyche is not wired to run on artificial auto pilot. Yep, it’s ok for the shine to be dull…………
Well that’s my 2 cents, and you can have a refund if u wish-
Totally agree with all you’ve said. So true! I think some people just don’t know how to handle death, and pain, and the raw emotion that goes with it. Especially when they haven’t experienced it or gone through the process in a healthy way themselves. We need to become better at dealing with the tough seasons people go through, don’t we. As you say, artificial auto-pilot is far from healthy.
Such a great post, dear Ali, and such great comments as well! Thinking love, compassion and grace on our not so shiny days goes along way towards us being able to return to that place. (I have been un-shiny lately and Sis Caddo has been a special blessing and a help! )
It has been so long ago, so I don’t remember the blogger or her blog, but she asked if there was anything someone would like to share and have her pray for that they didn’t feel they could talk about at their church. The response was staggering . . .in the hundreds. She read and responded with prayer and compassion to each one.
Thank you, Ali, for always helping us with the tough stuff! God bless you and yours with love, acceptance and compassion.
Thank you, Debbie – and I agree. So thankful for people’s thoughtful comments, including yours!
Yes, when we receive comfort from a friend, such as Caddo, we know we’re safe and cared for. The hard days seem possible to handle. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been doing it tough. Hang in there. May you receive what you need from God and others, and let me know if I can pray for you specifically.
That’s a great idea of that blogger’s. It shows how much need there is out there, and sadly, that the church isn’t always as supportive as it could be.
Take care, dear Debbie. Praying His peace would wash over you today.
I’ve seen this, too. The most personal I’ve seen church family get was on a women’s retreat I went to a few years ago. I even learned something about my best friend that weekend, and we’d been friends for over fifteen years. I think in my day-to-day life, maybe I don’t open up because I don’t want to burden others with my troubles.
Sounds like a good retreat… I think people are struggling more than we realise, and it can be quite helpful to know you’re “not the only one” or that people who seem to have perfect lives don’t really… We all need God to fill in the cracks of our lives, and I think people often want to listen to us more than we give them credit too…
Like the friend going through a nasty separation from an abudive husband; the friend and newly Christian whose partner woke at 4 in the morning and died in her arms; like the mum whose daughter is so very I’ll and has nearly died so many time these last few years ….
Happy clapping hide it under the carpet does not cut it for these people …
Their grief and struggle is raw and real and deep and all I can do is listen, weep with them and be real …
The shortest sentence in the Bible “He wept” and so I think we too need to stand by all and be real … For those that are celebrating the break through and for those whose grief is only so very real.
God is Good!
Wow. So beautifully said. It sounds like God is really using you to bring gentleness, love and compassion to hurting, grieving friends. May you continue to be His hands and feet in broken places.
Such a powerful verse isn’t it. Standing beside and weeping with others isn’t “all we can do” – it’s so often the very best we can do.
Thank you for your encouragement because it seems it is where God has me right now and there are no easy pat answers! Just being “real”.
Sounds like the right response to me. And the Spirit will continue to lead you… Keep leaning on him hey.
Well, Caddo’s moving again–“I’m just a vagabond blogger…..”