In the winter of 2018 I was asked by the university I was working at to put on a breakout session for the school’s women’s retreat – the topic they gave me was Embracing Hard Things. I was a bit taken aback because aside from my dad falling from spiritual leadership, I hadn’t really faced major difficulty or major trauma. Nonetheless I spent several months studying and reading and praying and I showed up with a session in hand. Amid a lot of good advice, the greatest takeaway was this reality: we can only thrive and survive in this life if our eyes are on Jesus.
I taught the class despite feeling slightly inexperienced in the topic and 3 months later my dad was in the ER, then getting brain surgery, then being diagnosed with terminal and aggressive brain cancer. Within a few months my entire world was being flipped on its head and I was grieving. Forced to drop everything, sell most of my belongings and move to a new state, I struggled for four months to find employment and then my biggest support, my dad, died. And all of the how-to lists became intangible. When the diagnosis came I rolled up my sleeves and was like, ‘I’m gonna be the best griever ever, I’m gonna grieve so well.” I started reading books, and listening to messages surrounding the topic.
Yet as the journey unfolded I quickly realized that the 10 step plans don’t work in the storm. The 10 step plans don’t work when you’re too sad to get out of bed. The 10 step plans don’t work when you’re supposed to find community and yet your deepest anguish hits at 3AM when you’re alone in your bed.
I had some good habits in place, but it’s amazing how the fire can burn away my resolve to be grateful, to commit to sitting in it until I see a transformation.
Yet as my greatest intentions were melting in the heat of these trials, one thing held true. In my deepest ache, in my darkest hour, my Lord was there.
Jesus who wasn’t afraid on the cross to say, “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus who wasn’t ashamed to voice is suffering, to voice his sense of abandonment. Jesus who on the cross wasn’t afraid to declare his needs. He said I’m thirsty! Jesus who was able to endure that which he begged God to take from him, because he had an eternal perspective. He could see the joy on the other side.
Jesus who single-handedly made our suffering worth it, finally worth it, because there’s something greater awaiting. Jesus who knows my ache more intimately than even I, drew near.
As believers, we love to offer platitudes. We love to toss out phrases such as “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It’s a lie! Think of Job. Think of Joseph. Think of Paul. Look at your own life! There is so much we must walk through that we most certainly cannot handle. In 2 Corinthians 1:8 Paul writes of his circumstances, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.”
Have you ever been there? When the suffering mounts and mounts and mounts and you can’t see your way through the fog, you can’t imagine how any of it could turn good. Have you ever cried out to God, “this is too much! I can’t do this anymore,” have you felt this weariness? Maybe you’re facing it today. Maybe these questions, these sentiments ring true right now. If so, you need to hear the rest of the verse: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from peril and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.”
So as we face the sufferings of this life. As we experience setback and heartbreak, and loss, and pain, let us not cling to empty platitudes. Let us lean all the more on the one who empathizes with our pain. Think of the gospel. My sin had me dead. Powerless. Weak. Useless. I could not overcome it. I could not move through it. Yet Christ bore my sin to death. My God who has the power to raise the dead to life is the one who can deliver me today and tomorrow as well. We must allow him to carry the load, to pour strength into our being, to bring mercy anew each morning, to deliver us.
In your anguish I urge you to cry out to the Lord. Run into the throne room like you are the child of the King (you are after all). Climb into the lap of the good good Father and ask him to carry you through. Cling to his promises. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze (Isaiah 43:2).”