I’ve written a lot about suffering on this blog. It’s dangerous for Christians to ignore this topic while things are going their way. We’re all going to face suffering, and if we’re not ready for it - if we haven’t carefully considered the theology involved, if we’re expecting God to protect us from all pain - we will be shaken.
But even if you’ve accepted the fact that you will endure some suffering, and you know that God has many good purposes for it, you may yet have some unrealistic expectations, which is why I appreciated Charlene Nelson’s realistic portrayal of the experience of suffering in “Suffering Is Not Magic and Mountaintops.”
Christians, myself included, talk a lot about the deep things they have learned through suffering, but sometimes our talk might leave people with a sanitized view, like suffering draws a tidy straight line towards Jesus and holiness, and those who walk the path are always glowing. During the most challenging year of my life, when I felt anything but glowing, my number one question was: Why doesn’t it feel like God is bringing anything good out of this?
I was reading my bible, praying, singing hymns, and seeking to please God in the middle of suffering, probably more than at any other time, but rarely did I feel like I was actually growing. And rarely did I feel super-close to God. I felt my sin more desperately and painfully. I felt my need for God to sustain me at a far deeper level than other times. But I was still broken in my heart, and neither the physical or emotional pain I felt would leave me often. Sometimes I felt like God must not see me or really understand how shattered and lost I felt, because if He did, wouldn’t He see that He needed to remove His stroke from me?
There were a few “mountain top” moments, but mostly clinging to the edge of the cliff. Mostly pleading for water in the desert. Mostly seeking a way out of the wilderness...
So many times, I have said (in my doubt) “God is not making me better spiritually. He isn’t making me stronger. He is tearing me apart, and I don’t understand why.”
I really struggled with that for a time. I couldn’t see or feel that God was doing any amazing kind of work in me. It wasn’t until recently, over a year later, that I got to have the experience of realizing that God indeed had done good work in me, and that previous days of trouble had not been in vain.
Please read the rest of her post for more. She encourages all of us to be open about our struggles and to allow others to be honest with us about theirs:
[S]uffering people need to know they can be safe to struggle alongside other believers, and not have to pretend they are on a mountaintop perpetually. They can say: “This is hard, and right now I am barely getting by.” We need to get comfortable with that.