Rev. Susan Eaton
The Invitation of Suffering
There’s nothing like hard times to reveal what’s inside us. This pandemic has been a great revealer of how we deal—or don’t deal— with pain and suffering. It’s revealing that too many of us have been walking around with a Swiss cheese faith: A faith that’s full of holes and kind of stinks even though it tastes good and seems to make life better.
I think many well-meaning Christians have vastly misunderstood the role of faith as it relates to pain and suffering. There is a dangerous amount of prosperity gospel being perpetuated in the world today that proclaims that if we do all the right and good things life will be right and good.
And, gosh, that sounds good to our ears, doesn’t it? It sounds fair. It sounds like something I could probably accomplish. “All I need to do is put forth the effort, stick to it, and I’ll break free from any pain that comes my way in no time flat! Hardship will only last a moment — if it even comes at all — because, after all, I’m a good person putting good into the world. That’s the way life works and that’s the way faith works. God blesses those who work hard and do good.”
Unfortunately, this is not true. We may want it to be true, but if we are willing to take an honest look at the lives of even a few righteous people of faith, you’ll see this storyline begin to crumble.
Pain and suffering come to the “good” and the “bad”, the righteous and the unrighteous. True, some suffering is the result of sin and the world’s brokenness. Some suffering is the result of corrupt leadership. But some of our pain and suffering comes from our refusal to allow pain to exist.
Many of us respond to pain and suffering in this way: We simply won’t have it.
We try to figure out who’s at fault so we can have someone to blame. We seek to avoid, deny, and escape pain in various ways. But none of these tactics work. If we try to deny it, it remains. If we try to escape, we can’t break free. If we rage against it, there’s no relief.
Sadly, we can’t avoid suffering. And nowhere do the scriptures teach us that we can avoid it. Instead, faith extends an invitation to us in the midst of our suffering: An invitation to lament — to honestly pour out all our pain, questions, anger, and fears on the Lord, knowing that He can take it and even welcomes it.
If you’re not familiar with what lament is, perhaps this definition from the book The Louder Song by Aubrey Sampson will help:
“Lament is an overlooked genre of prayer found all throughout Scripture. There are actually more lament songs than praise songs in the Bible…Lament is a godly concept, a spiritual discipline, and a powerful handhold in our seasons of sorrow. God has given us the biblical language and practice of lament as a way to express our pain and survive our suffering.” (The Louder Song, pg. 13)
In lament, we are allowed to yell, scream, pound our fists or shake them in the air. We are allowed to be raw and vulnerable and heartbroken. There is permission to let it all out and ask our questions.
Lamenting teaches us that we can stay put in our grief and suffering while we wait for the light to reappear. It allows space for our questions and helps us find peace with the unanswered ones. It gives ample room for hope to sit with pain and deep sadness— allowing them to co-exist in the same space.
Lamenting helps reform our faith from a tidy prosperity gospel to the firm foundation that enables us to sit with our suffering without it shaking our belief that God is always good no matter what happens, and we are never unloved or unseen even if the worst does happen.
This is where I’ve been lately — learning to live with pain — to let it co-exist with me and with hope. I’ve gone through blaming, denying, raging, avoiding, but now I’m learning how to let myself just feel all the real feelings of pain without rushing to get on the other side of it.
I’ve always lamented really well, but I lamented from a demanding posture and tone. Once I allowed the pain to sit next to me and accepted that it was hanging around a while, I saw that hope hadn’t disappeared. It was there, too — sitting quietly, waiting for me to acknowledge its reality. And when I did, my tone shifted, and I’ve been softer.
Suffering, hope, and I sit together in silence, in tears, in song — whatever each moment calls for — with every emotion given permission to be expressed, felt, and allowed to remain. But I’m learning to focus more on hope because, you see, hope waits for what it knows is coming. It waits patiently and assuredly. It’s not deterred by the existence of pain. It’s comfortable with its presence. And the more I bring my pain to the Lord, the more opportunity there is for me to see the greater work He is doing in me.
I hope you’re able to get into this same space with whatever tough time you are going through. You’re not alone, friend. Never alone. Never unseen. Never unloved. God is already at work fighting for you. Receive his invitation to “cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7. You won’t regret taking him up on that offer. May you find peace in the midst of your pain.
How long, O Lord? Will you
forget me forever?
How long will you hide
your face from me?
How long must I bear pain
in my soul
and have sorrow in my
heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be
exalted over me?
Consider and answer me,
O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will
sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I
my foes will rejoice because
I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt
bountifully with me.
For further reading, I highly recommend The Louder Song by Aubrey Sampson.
Listen: Lay it All Down, Will Reagan, United Pursuit