God in the Midst of Suffering

It’s been far too long since I’ve written anything. And I am sorry for that. 

I am sad and frustrated with myself that it seems like such an overbearing and heavy responsibility to write something that will inspire, encourage, enlighten, challenge, and/or otherwise entertain you. I read so many other blog posts by amazing authors and think, “Those were awesome! They said what I would have loved to have said…and, they said everything better than I ever could have.” 
 
And I get discouraged. 
 
And I don’t write. 
 
And I blame not writing on being overwhelmed with work. When in reality, though I do seriously struggle with working long shifts and getting limited sleep throughout the week such that my body has to catch up on rest on the weekends, I also know that I tend to replace writing with mindless activities like watching movies or shows on Netflix. There I can escape my discouragement, depression, and disappointment by zoning out into a fantasy world of lives and relationships where my competence, my abilities, my appearance, my wisdom, my life are not in question. 
 
As you just read, I battle anxious and depressive feelings. Sometimes they are extremely overwhelming, sometimes they are just purely annoying. And as most folks know, depression is one of those things that, regardless of its genesis (be it a chemical imbalance, the result of a situational stressor, a symptom of a medical condition, etc.), has a horrible stigma. It is not something we like to talk about, let alone disclose that we struggle with it.
 
We like our worlds to be full of happiness and hope and positive feelings and uplifting words and warm fuzzies. Depression gives us none of these. And, depressed people don’t exactly display these attributes well either.
 
When we feel sad, low, ho-hum, blah, dysthymic, depressed, or worse, dysphoric, our first inclination is not to be a beaming light of joy and positivity to those around us. We tend to be more self-loathing, critical of others, pessimistic, self-depreciating, despairaging, lethargic, and flat-out cranky. All of which are probably reasons why we are not too fun to be around too…just sayin’…
 
So what a lot of folks do is put on a mask–a facade, if you will. They try to stuff their negative feelings away, plaster a fake smile across their faces, and force themselves to interact with others in a cordial, or worse, overly sacrine manner. (This is especially true in situations and circumstances in which people are typically “expected” to “have it all together”–like at church!)
 
I, unfortunately, learned this practice way too well, way too young. I was the token “good kid”–I had to have it all together. I was strong; my faith was strong, my body was strong, and my mind was strong. I was not weak, especially in matters of faith. 
 
I. Was. Strong.
 
Strong people don’t suffer with depression or anxiety, right? They don’t have shameful problems that can’t be exposed, right? 
 
People who have strong faith are overcomers. They persevere through adversity because Jesus is their strength, right?
 
Not always.
 
On the surface it sounds good. It is the “right” answer to say that people who have a firm foundation in Christ persevere through adversity because the Holy Spirit empowers them to do so–and that is my reality now. But it wasn’t always the case.
 
Like so many others, I had the “right” vocabulary, the “right” answers, the “right” way of being, but not the right heart. I believed that my heart was too ugly for anyone to really see, especially Jesus. I felt like if anyone really got to know me, the real me, with all my hurts, confusion and shame, they wouldn’t like me–they wouldn’t love me. Jesus wouldn’t love me–even with as much hope that I had that he would.
 
I felt like I had to deal with all my negative feelings–shameful feelings–in my own strength. Because, after all, I was strong!
 
So, in all my efforts, I was the good kid. I was the strong, honorable, righteous one. I made myself acceptable before God…or so I thought. I could stuff down depression, anxiety, same-sex attractions*, pride, greed, lust, envy, anger, and every other nasty ugly, undesirable thing that tried to rear its stinky head in my life…or so I thought. I could rid myself of all iniquity that would keep me from the presence of God. Because, after all, I was strong. My faith was strong. I believed that strong faith conquers all of what I consired the “bad” things in my life.
 
And people with strong faith don’t struggle with any bad things, right?
 
Wrong!
 
People with strong faith do struggle with these things and more. People with weak faith deal with these issues. People with no faith face the same internal battle. People suffer. All people do. 
 
Whether it is a mental health issue, a moral issue, a physical ailment, a learning difficulty, a sexual issue, an ethical dilemma, or an “I don’t want to obey the rules” kind of a deal, we all have something that plagues us. Something troubles us. 
 
Jesus said it plain as day: “In this world there will be trouble” (John 16:33, NIV). We believe that. We know that is true. We experience trouble on a regular basis. 
 
So why don’t we believe his next exclamation?
 
“But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
 
Take heart! Some translations say, “Be of good cheer!” Or, “But cheer up!”
 
The message is clear: we can take heart knowing that Jesus has conquered, overcome, even defeated the world and all its trouble. We can cheer up when we truly believe and acknowledge that he has defeated sin, death, and the devil on our behalf. Period. That’s it. He’s done it. There is nothing you or I can do to conquer our troubles.
 
Having strong faith doesn’t defeat our suffering–Jesus does.
 
It’s our job then to merely trust that Jesus did what he said he did and will do. And as we trust that Jesus is our healer, our comforter, our hope, our righteousness, we can begin to trust that what he says about us is true too–that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, that we are chosen, that we are precious and honored, that we are lovable and loved. 
 
Paul writes in Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God for those of us in Christ Jesus. If we are in Christ Jesus, if Jesus Christ has a place in our hearts, and we take Jesus at his word, then we are able to live abundant lives–lives to the fullest. Why? Because we have a new identity. We ARE the righteousness of God in Jesus. We have his identity–we have been infused with his essence.
 
We don’t HAVE to fear or be anxious. We don’t have to allow sorrow and the depths of despair to rule our lives. We can walk in authority and know that Jesus has conquered all the nasty evil in this world. And while we walk in that authority we can face all the nasty evil things we feel and experience with that very knowledge–Jesus has overcome it. As such, we can too. 
 
This is not to say that we will not suffer. Oh no!
 
We surely will suffer–don’t you remember what Jesus said about having trouble in this world?
 
But we can suffer well. We can suffer knowing that ultimately with the Holy Spirit’s power through us, we can also overcome whatever obstacles are plaguing us.
 
Because God is with us. In the midst of our storms, God is with us.
 
He sees our hearts–the good, the bad, and the ugly. And he STILL loves us. He will never leave us. That is a promise. And God is not like us mere humans, he NEVER breaks a promise.
 
But here is the caveat: This does not mean that people will not still do horrible things. This does not mean that sickness will not overcome you or your loved ones. This does not mean that you won’t ever stub your pinky toe again. Moreover, this does not mean that you will win the lottery.
 
What it means is that when you do stub your toe, get sick, or have horrible things happen to you, God is with you in the midst of it. And yes he can and often does protect you from the situation being worse, but the reality is this: 
 
We live on this side of eternity. 
 
Until ALL is made new with the coming of Christ as Triumphant King over everything, we still have difficult lives at times. But, we also can and do have amazing lives filled with glimpses of heaven and God’s kingdom made manifest here on earth. 
 
And that is glorious!
 
I encourage you, like I often have to remind myself, to see where you can find those glimpses into Glory. Be it shrouded in waves of depression or anxiety, it is there. 
 
Seek God’s glory in the midst of your pain and suffering and you will find it.
 
Seek God in the same midst, and you will find him…arms open wide with love in his eyes.
 
Keep on keeping on…
 
In Christ’s love and mine…
 
 
*I need to clarify something here: For some people, including myself, the experience of same-sex attractions can cause distress. Only a small number of people never experience any distress related to experiencing sexual attractions to the same gender. As a matter of fact, most all of the sexual identity development models available in the social sciences literature have “confusion” or “dilemma” as one of the first stages that sexual minorities go through. Whenever we are faced with an experience that falls outside of what we each consider “normal,” there is a residual confusion or negative internal reaction. So if you are someone who has NEVER experienced ANY internal negative feelings about having same-sex attractions, then, Praise Jesus! That is seriously awesome. But know that you are a minority within a minority. For most everyone else, it takes us a little while to get to this place of not feeling any negativity regarding our experiences of same-sex attraction. For me, it took realizing that Jesus loves me, all of me, just as I am.
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3 thoughts on “God in the Midst of Suffering

  1. Dr Carr.

    So much to respond to here. First, I am so encouraged by this post. It echos my own faith experience and resonates completely. Also, your vulnerability is a gift. It is truly appreciated.

    I think my beliefs are much less orthodox than yours, yet we share an overarching understanding that God is faithful. If our different beliefs lead to the same conclusion, there must be some objective truth in there somewhere.

    I’ve been writing recently about my experiences after the 9/11 terrorist attacks (I was intimately involved with the World Trade Center rescue and recovery scene). A lot of messy stuff was stirred up after the Boston marathon bombings and I’ve decided to embrace it rather than repress it. One of the recurring themes in my latest revisit is that God was there with us. He hadn’t forsaken us. In a very real way, we were sanctified by the tragedy and became more Christ-like to each other as a result. I’m not sure if that thought makes any sense.

    All that to say this post resonates with me. Thank you for writing it.

  2. Dr Carr.
    I tried to reply before but I think my comments were eaten by WordPress. Forgive me if this is a repeat, but I really want to reply….

    First, this post is very encouraging to me. It resonates with me in an essential place.

    Also, thank you for your vulnerability. It is a gift and it is appreciated.

    I think my beliefs are probably far less orthodox than yours. Even so, we both have come to know that God is faithful. When two very different paths lead to the same place, I’m pretty sure there’s some objective truth being affirmed.

    Recently, I’ve been writing about my experiences after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I was intimately involved with the World Trade Center rescue and recovery effort. The Boston marathon bombing churned up some messy stuff, and I decided to embrace it rather than repress it.

    One of the recurring themes that’s emerging is that God was with us there – He had not forsaken us. In a very real way, we were sanctified by the tragedy. We became more Christ-like to one another as a result. I’m not sure if that thought makes any sense, but I think it’s germane to this post.

    All of that to say thank you for writing this. Your words mean something special to me.

    Peace,
    David

    • I’m so sorry, David, your reply didn’t get eaten by WordPress, I just hadn’t gotten to my email to see that I had a reply until now. My bad!

      Regardless, I am very glad that you found my entry to be encouraging. And I cannot thank you enough for your service to the people of NYC and the entire country on that tragic day. I also have no doubt that God was with you in that process and sancitfied it such that you and so many others came out more Christlike because of it. I pray many blessings on you and great healing of your heart and mind as you respond and react to other situations like Boston. Radical acceptance is key in dealing with traumatic experiences.

      Thank you so much for your response and again for your service to others.

      Bless you, David. Keep on keeping on…

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