As I’ve been contemplating joy over the past few weeks my inbox has been filled with people going through serious seasons of pain. A young mother potentially facing a scary medical diagnosis, another losing a second child in a miscarriage and may not be able to have any more, a family facing bankruptcy, a father losing his job, as well as people recovering from past abuse, debilitating results of a traffic accident, or betrayal of a loved one.
Life can be excruciatingly painful at times.
Often times, I’ll respond with encouragement such as, “You are absolutely safe in the Father’s hands, no matter what transpires here. May you find the rest in his affection for you and may he be glorified in all that unfolds here to sort you out and lead you onward in his life.”
Often the response back is an apology for not doing better, or a confession that they are being overwhelmed with fear and doubts as if by doing so they aren’t living up to my prayer for them. Then that only adds to their pain, it doesn’t lighten the load. And prayers are never something to live up to, but to find refuge in.
When I pray I am asking God to do something. I’m not pressuring the other person to pretend they are doing better. Yet haven’t we all felt that pressure? Someone prays for healing and we have to act healed, or for joy and we have to smile and act happy afterwards. What has religion done to us? Has it made us believe that the trusting life in God grows without pain, without seasons of doubt, and without blinding tears?
Then why did Paul tell us not only to rejoice with those that rejoice, but also to weep with those who weep? Why did Jesus during his time on earth offer up “prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears?” If Jesus found the reality of the broken creation so painful, that it led him to tears, and even to doubt God’s presence with him on the cross, why would we think we should be stronger? He wants to have fellowship with us in our suffering as much as in our joy.
When someone prays for you or blesses you in time of pain, please don’t feel the need to pretend all is well even if they want you to. Take it as God’s invitation into your pain and find him there. When I pray someone will find rest in his affection, I don’t want him to pretend to have that rest when their guts are churning inside. I want them to hold their pain before him until is rest finds them. Drawing near him in our tears, anguish, and doubts opens a door to greater wisdom and engagement than any pretense ever will. Some of my best moments with him have come out of tear-stained eyes.
I want people to discover a God whose love and comfort is greater than anything this world can throw at them. And in standing with them I realize it may take weeks or months for that reality to break through in a way that will consume their pain in his incredible affection. So I would rather weep where you weep, than have you waste one ounce of energy pretending what is not yet true in your heart.
And I think he would too.