I have recently had a number of people going through some very difficult times ask, “Where is God in my pain?” Considering I’m a therapist, it makes sense I have these types of conversations. It’d be strange if I was a Walmart greeter: “Hi, where do you keep the milk? And where is God in my pain?” I’m an ordained pastor with three Masters Degrees including a Masters of Theology, so my answer… sucked. In my defence, just because I have education doesn’t mean I’m smart… or have social skills (my wife would argue the latter is more the problem for me). In fact, I think it’s fair to say that education in some ways makes us dumb because we can end up overcomplicating things as we miss the simplicity of life. As someone who is far from being academic like most of my former peers, it’s typically easier for me not to sound intellectual (yea for being smart and dumb at the same time). Normally when I’m in a conversation with someone going through a rough time I like to say, “I’m sorry you’re going through this; it’s really terrible,” or “Wow, that really sucks,” as I try to show I understand how difficult their situation is. In less intense moments I’ve gone so far as to say, “Stuff like that makes me glad this life is temporary and there’s a better one I can look forward to,” or I’ll add the logical idea, “On one hand, life is terrible and it’s full of suffering while at the same time, it is a precious gift we’re meant to try to enjoy as best we can.” I didn’t use either of these with these people (I’m not that socially dumb). These replies are best reserved for people in better spots and don’t mind a little logic. A line I’ve never used before, but is very true is life gives us a taste of what the next will be like, so we need to be careful how we choose to live because the next life can either be like the worst moments of our lives or it can be absolutely incredible like the best moments of our lives. I’ve never said this because, again, I’m not that socially dumb. I’m mentioning it now, however, because it is the ultimate truth and it should be noted. In the end, all that we have and know is temporary, which can give us hope or anxiety depending where we the future.
Over the next couple weeks I will be exploring this question, “Where is God in my pain?” My hope is to give you material that will help you find how you want to answer this question. When it comes to talking to someone who is suffering, there is no clear answer because there is no “one answer fits all.” Even further, some answers suit different personalities better than others, so what I will use won’t necessarily work for you. Thus, it’s good to explore a variety of ideas, especially since we’ll want to have a few different options to use if our first attempt to answer doesn’t work like I had happen.
In general, when someone wants to share something personal with you they are looking for at least one of the following: (Please note: correction or criticism aren’t on this list)
- Hope: Hope is a powerful thing. Sometimes all we need for having hope is someone to be good to us. When everyone in the world feels like they’re against us, it can be incredibly painful.
- Sympathy & to feel cared about: Feeling cared about helps us feel like we’re not alone and that we matter.
- To feel understood: Feeling understood helps it feel like the other person is actually listening. Other times, when someone is upset with us or angry about something we’ve done, sometimes we simply want to be understood that we weren’t trying to be bad; it just didn’t work out as we planned.
- To feel affirmed (aka not crazy): I’ve had a number of people, men and women, be very grateful when I’ve helped them see that what they were going through was pretty normal. The one thing that can make a bad situation worse is feeling like you’re crazy or that no one else has experienced this before.
- To feel connection: Sharing our hearts can help us feel connection with others. This is the reason many kids love sleepovers because things often get shared late at night when tiredness reduces filters and often leading to stronger bonds.
- Safe: Sometimes people share things because they feel safe and sometimes it’s to see if someone can be trusted. Either way, the person sharing is putting themselves out there in hopes that it will lead to something good and it won’t backfire.
- A plan: Offering a plan is what gets a lot of husbands in trouble, but quite often when a guy shares, what he’s looking for isn’t some type of validation for his feelings, but to be given a plan for making the situation better. Women, however, usually want one of the previous categories. I will also point out that when people say “God has a plan,” it typically makes others want to hit them. Saying God has a plan is like saying, “He knows something you don’t know, sucker.” It’s rarely encouraging and worse than giving a plan to help someone because it’s saying there’s a plan, but you don’t get to know it.
Looking at this list, you can see that when it comes to why there is so much pain our world, we are put in this position of deciding whether we go more emotional (i.e. the first six) or logical (i.e. number seven). These are two very different routes. I try to avoid logic when someone is suffering because that can make me look callous to their feelings. At the same time, I’m a guy and emotion isn’t my strength, so I’m limited. My mom is amazing at sharing emotion with people. There’s a reason I’ve always loved talking to her when I’m down whereas my dad was the worst. Like a lot of men my dad’s generation, he was tough. He never cried, and I mean he never cried. When his daughter was 16 and in the hospital after a bad car accident, he didn’t cry. When a table saw ripped through his hand, he didn’t cry. At his own mother’s funeral, he didn’t cry. When the Toronto Maple Leafs sucked (which was pretty much all the time), he never cried. He was tough. He was a man who demonstrated strength and perseverance. Yea, that’s not who you go to when you’re down: “You had a rough day? Huhn… Did I ever tell you how my dad never hit me with his hand? He preferred to use his belt the metal part, but I’m sure your day was really tough.”
I should point out that I’m very grateful I had this balance. I needed my mom’s ability to listen and my dad to role model how to be tough. A lot of parents seem to forget that we need a balance. We don’t need two parents ready to listen and hug us when we’re down. We need one to be gentle and the other to tell us to suck it up (in a nicer way). We need both sides, which is why it’s important for women to use their strengths and for men to use theirs while respecting our differences. Too often I hear one parent looks down on the other because they have a different style – you’re supposed to. Even if these roles are reversed like with my mom’s parents where her dad was very gentle while you didn’t mess with her mom; even my dad wouldn’t. He was tough, but she… had power.
I’m not nearly as tough as my dad was, and I’m also not the gentle spirit like my mom. I’m somewhere in between. Ultimately, this means I need to use what I have. In my case, it’s this strange middle ground between rugged and soft. This middle ground means I can be good at going either a little logical or a little emotional. It’s like my brain is afraid of committing to one side. And that’s okay. I need to appreciate who I am just like I can appreciate who my parents are, and the style they offer. That’s not an excuse to be rude or not try to give people what they need (i.e. sympathy or to feel understood), but there is a point where you can’t be angry at a dog for being a dog and a cat for being a cat.
How we listen to someone or how we deal with our own pain can go either way, more emotional or more logical. Ideally, when bad things happen, it’s good to have emotions and allow ourselves a chance to feel what we need to feel, but then to have logic take over in order to heal. When we physically get hurt, we need to take a moment to have an emotion like to cry or be mad, and then we need to be logical and work through it. The same goes with our emotions (our body and heart are very similar).
I like to see God as being the perfect balance. On one hand, He tells us to suck it up because we’re stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and on the other, He is emotional and cares (the Old Testament is full of God having very emotional moments while the New Testament has lots of Jesus being emotional. When it comes to pain, I love Stephen Stanley’s song, Hurt with the chorus: “God knows it hurts for you/ And it hurts for Him, too.” He’s our parent. He cares. Even if He doesn’t cry like my dad, he still doesn’t want to see us in pain. It just means his tear ducts don’t work (or something more likely). God wants us to know He cares and after a moment, He wants us to get back up and keep going.
When I’ve been in bad spots, I’ve often gone to Psalm 69 (it’s an easy number to remember) because it reminds me I’m not the first to be struggling. The writer has been here, too. Even more, God knows we feel pain, which is why it’s in His book; He wants us to feel understood: “Save me, O God,/ for the waters have come up to my neck./ I sink in the miry depths,/ where there is no foothold./ I have come into the deep waters;/ the floods engulf me./ I am worn out calling for help;/ my throat is parched./ My eyes fail,/ looking for my God…” (Ps 69:1-3)
This week may you consider this topic of where is God in my pain.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)