Sitting in my Church pew, dressed in my Sunday best. I could play the part like an Academy Award-winning actor, with face all aglow. But inside panic and sadness flooded my being to a point of just wanting to run. When I unveiled my mask, the truth came pouring out; DEPRESSION and Anxiety. But how could that be? I’m here sitting in Church. Christians cannot feel what I’m feeling. Aren’t Christians supposed to be happy, joyous, and have perfect peace all the time? But I was broken, the pieces of my mind falling apart. If only someone saw through my facade; the stigma, the shame, the humiliation I would have to endure.
Sitting in the pews of many of our Churches today are people just like that, so never judge a book by its cover. People are searching for hope, acceptance and understanding.
You would think that the one safe place that a person suffering from a mental illness (such as depression) could find support, would be the Church. But sadly to say, that’s not always the case. Just as prejudice, stigma, ignorance, misunderstanding, and lack of knowledge is found in our society today, so it is found in our Churches.
Harris Tucker, someone who blogs about his struggle with mental illness, shares the following 5 things that every Christian needs to know about the struggle.
We cannot escape problems in this life. They could be painful, stressful, or simply inconvenient. It doesn’t really matter what the problems are — that’s all relative to each person. The question we often ponder, however, is: who causes those problems, and why? Many, without fear, blame God. Others, simply shift the blame to Satan. After all, God can’t be behind our painful problems…can he? I suggest God is not the author of our problems, but He doesn’t let them go to waste either. We don’t see the big picture while we’re experiencing a problem, but there’s something bigger happening.
Here are 21 ways God allowed and used ‘problems’ in the lives of people in Scripture:
Is God’s grace really enough? In life’s most painful moments, can grace really make a difference? Paul shared how God’s grace impacted his pain. We can experience the same grace, no matter how painful our pain is. Telsie shared (19:28) this past week at Bethel – of how God’s grace has impacted her as well.
We inherently know that God’s grace is enough. So why do we sometimes wonder about God’s response to our pain?
Paul’s Story of Pain…
Paul experienced “visions and revelations of the Lord,” but didn’t consider himself holier than others because of these experiences (2 Corinthians 12:1, 6). In fact, he understood that he experienced pain (a “thorn in his flesh”) to stop him “from becoming conceited” (12:7). His pain was a reminder that he wasn’t greater than others.
Just like two patients in the emergency room dealing with the same issue may rate their pain differently on a scale from 1-10, we all experience our “thorn in the flesh” differently. If we knew what Paul experienced, we would be tempted to compare his pain with our own. I’m glad we can’t compare ourselves with Paul’s pain; we all have a unique story of pain.
God’s response to pain…
For a moment, think of your pain (your “thorn in the flesh”). I’m sure you’ve done what Paul did and pleaded before God to remove it. But what happens when God says the pain isn’t going away? This was God’s response to Paul:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
In the moments of our pain, no matter what that pain is, God’s response is that his grace is enough. God is indeed able to provide healing. It may be now or later, or it may be never. Either way, his grace is sufficient in this very moment.
For the last number of years, Telsie has struggled with the pain of losing her son to suicide. With baggage from past life experiences, Telsie had no choice, but start trusting in God’s grace to bring her through. She allowed her weakness to be her strength in Christ.
Part of Telsie’s story (19:28), along with a sermon on Paul’s struggle can be found here:
How have you processed your pain? Have you experienced God’s grace and strength during a painful experience?
How do we respond when bad things happen? Whether we articulate it or not, we either make the choice to curse God, or bless God. If we blame God or push him away, we are denying his grace, and essentially cursing God and his plan. If we embrace God and depend on him, we are accepting his grace and essentially blessing God and his plan. That might sound a little simple and black and white, but it’s the basic story.
We inherently know that God knows what’s best for us. So why do we sometimes question God?
I can’t share all the details of Job’s story in this short post, but when you’re able, I would encourage you to read all 42 chapters of Job. Listen to his heart, it will inspire and challenge you.
God offered Satan a chance to witness how strong Job’s faith actually was. Satan told God:
“…You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:11-12)
God gave him permission to do anything, but take his life. Job lost all of his possessions, all his servants, and all ten children. On top of that, he was burdened with sores all over his body.
Job had a choice to make: to curse God or bless God. Even though is wife was encouraging him to curse God and run (2:9), Job’s response to God was painful, yet full of blessing:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. TheLordgave, and theLordhas taken away;blessed be the name of theLord.” (Job 1:21)
Powerful words after losing every blessing he had. Was he heartless? No, he grieved the loss of his children (1:20). Did he push God away? No, his focus made him stronger and his faith truly showcased God’s grace.
Jesus spoke some clarity on this. The disciples saw a blind man and asked:
2 “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, butthat the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:2-3)
Our free-will gives us the ability to surrender our lives to God. We don’t cause our pain, but we chose to allow God to use our pain for his Glory. When we freely chose God, we express true love for God.
How should we respond to pain?
When others are going through pain, we can learn from Job’s friends. We need to show sympathy, mourn with them, and spend time with them (2:11-13). That’s enough. Give them support and share in their pain. Paul wrote, “If one member suffers, all suffer together…” (1 Cor 12:26). Our goal is to support each other, not to explain why we’re in pain and/or how to stop it.
When we respond to our own pain, we have to remember that there’s nothing we’ve done to cause the experience. God is not angry with us. We are all broken people, and because of the fall of man (Adam and Eve), we’ll experience pain until heaven. So in our pain we respond with sadness, mourning, worship and blessing (Job 1:20-21).
What can we expect on the other side of pain?
God is faithful, but the goal isn’t “something better”. We’re too quick to think of Job’s later “double blessing” and slow to reflect on the here and now. When Job chose to remain faithful to God, he had no idea of his future blessing. His response was, “Why NOT me? What makes me so special that I would not experience hardship?” (Job 2:10)1
In the end, Job received double of everything he once had (Job 42:12f). If the pattern continued, however, we would think Job would be blessed with 20 children. The reality is, his first ten children would be reunited in eternity and his new blessing included ten more.3 Job’s children were never replaced, instead he was blessed with ten more. The story of maturity is often much different than the story of today.
For the last 50 years, Vaden has struggled with depression. Along that journey he helped lead his family through his daughter’s teenage pregnancy, the sudden loss of his fifteen year-old son, and watched as cancer took his first wife.
Life was far from prefect, as Vaden continues to say today, but seeing God’s grace through his family, and fellow believers, helped him keep his focus on God. While often a challenge to do, he chose to bless God, not curse God. As a result, his pain brought him closer to God, and stronger in the faith.
Part of Vaden’s story (22:51), along with the biblical account of Job can be found here:
How do you respond to pain? I would love to hear your stories; comment below.
What do we do when we’re faced with difficult days? We have two choices – run or grow. It’s easier to run; we don’t have to face the pain. If we run, however, we’ll be certain to face the situation again. It’s harder to grow; we have to face the pain. If we grow, however, we’ll become stronger and more mature.
We inherently know that we have to grow. So why do we sometimes feel like quitting?
A painful day…
A little while ago I was faced with a difficult day. My plate was full of conflict, stress, building renovation problems, parishioners sick, budget constraints, and on top of that, our family is getting ready for baby #2.
The day was so overwhelming, I wrote these painful words in my notebook: “I WANT TO QUIT!” I wrote it all over the page. I wrote it in the margins. I wrote it over the letters that I already wrote. I rewrote it over in my head.
That evening, when I walked in the door, Deidre (my wife) knew something was wrong. She could see it on my face. “This is one of those hard days,” I said.
I vented some of the story – my feelings, hurt, pain and struggle. I couldn’t share all the details; I’m a pastor.
She looked at me and said, “This is why people quit.”
I smiled and humbly replied, “Those words have haunted me all day.”
But in those moments of honesty we both agreed – this is also when God is able to take that pain and our weakness and graciously turn them into growth and strength.
Pain can get the better of us. We put blinders on and we forget three fundamental steps in realizing God’s overall plan. Isaiah 40:27-31 outlines them perfectly for us. This isn’t a special 1-2-3 formula; rather, a framework of thinking that will refocus our pain (our weakness) towards God (our strength).
27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:27-31, NIV)
STEP 1: Recognize we’re tempted to TEST God.
Humanity has been tempted to test God from the beginning. Adam and Eve were tempted to question God (Genesis 3), the Israelites were tempted to question God (40:27), and we continue to do the same today. The pain is so great that we question God’s ability to bring us through it. The good news is, that that’s a normal response. Our humanity demands this spiritual struggle. No matter how much our humanity may derail us, however, God still loves us. We have to recognize that the temptation is coming so we can move on to the second step.
STEP 2: Listen when God responds with the TRUTH of His promises.
His #promises are all around us!...He knows our #pain and He’s waiting for us to recognize it. Click To TweetIsaiah responded with the truth: The everlasting God, the creator who never grows tired or weary and understands us completely, gives us the strength we need” (40:28-29). The problem is, we don’t always listen. The Israelites should have remembered God’s faithfulness to bring them out of Egypt (Exodus 14), but in their time of pain, they were blinded by their circumstances.1 We have to point back to a testimony in our lives or listen to the testimony of others. The truth of His promises are all around us! He sees us, He knows our pain and He’s waiting for us to recognize it.
STEP 3: Let go and start to TRUST in God’s strength.
We all get tired. Isaiah said that even youth need rest (40:30). But no matter how we feel, we have to let go and start trusting in God. If we do, God will RENEW us (40:31). Literally translated: God will exchange our weakness for His strength.2 We are gifted with a portion of God’s everlasting strength. Paul wrote it this way: “Clothe yourself with Jesus,” and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Romans 13:14; Colossians 3:10). All we have to do is let go and trust in Him.