Suffering 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. David recalled “I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from Your sight. ‘But You have heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to You for help (Psalm 31:22),” and we can be there to remind each other where to turn when we fear God has turned His eyes away from us.
Scripture is clear, that God uses times of trouble and pain in our lives to sanctify us- making us more like Jesus. As Romans 5:3-4 says “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” But sometimes that truth gets presented as if suffering is a magic pill you swallow, making you grow at rapid fire speed.
It is also clear that suffering can cause us to rely on God more wholly, and draw closer to Him. As one of my favorite psalms says: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).” People often experience that God’s presence seems nearer to them, and their fellowship with Him is sweetened, during times of great pain. But is that always the case? Do sufferers live on a perpetual mountaintop experience of closeness to God?
It’s not a super hard question really. I mean, have you ever had a stomach flu? Or even a bad head cold? Did you feel super close to God all day, every day, while you walked through that? When your head was hung over the toilet, were you amazed with the godly attitude that just seemed to rush over you the more you vomited? Probably not, right?
Because suffering is still suffering, and it feels like suffering. It doesn’t often feel like magic and mountaintops.
I’m sharing this because I’ve wrestled with it. 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.
And so it was grating at times when people assumed I was experiencing this fantastic spiritual growth and a constant heightened spiritual experience, because it wasn’t reality.