There are times of life–seasons, when gray clouds roll in and just stay. There are days when our weeping lasts more than a night, and the joy has not come in the morning. It is those days in which our faith in Jesus has a lot to say, but often our culture has very little. Sadly, even our cultural Christianity has taught us to despise or suppress these difficult emotions. Religious folk have wrapped them up quickly and labeled them as unfaith, unbelief, or just ‘wrong.’ Gratefully, this is not the story of life with the great Divine.
My first year of marriage was full of frustrating health problems. A year that I thought would be full of joy and fulfillment was instead full of tears and discouragement as we sought to find the sources of my pain. I found myself often crying at worship Sunday mornings, with questions of “Why?!” and “HELP” and of course the silent prayers of utter fatigue and “I can’t do this anymore!”
Our society at large despises suffering. Our American culture has fine-tuned us for comfort, comfort, and more comfort- teaching us to avoid pain at all costs, so that when we do experience pain and difficulties we numb it, ignore it, disregard it and shame ourselves for having it. We repackage this pain so easily it becomes almost a reflex. Emotional discomfort? Grant me relief with a swipe on our screen. Conflict with friendship? Pour me a drink. Difficult relationship? AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS. Societal woes? Offer quick solutions, or let me write a check so that I can ease my guilt as I walk away. Sadly, the church often remains a reflection of those values, those in pain should remain silent, suffer quietly, and above all: Never complain.
Perhaps this is what makes this current day and age so difficult. PAIN & suffering can no longer hide and be pushed to the corners. It has been laid bare. The wounds made clear. The makeup/veneer off. The fancy robes revealed to show a body that has many ills. As is typical, pain elicits many normal responses from us. We recoil, we look for answers, we search for healing and pain elimination, and at times are able to offer compassion and care for those hurting (including compassion for ourselves).
But what do we do when the begging and praying and the answer to removing your discouragement and difficulty is “no”? What then? Thankfully Jesus shows us how in his most trying time.
It is there, in the garden: We see Jesus not numbing the pain, but staring it in the face. It is here, in the garden, where Jesus demonstrates his life with his Father is not out of sorts when one of the members is terrified to the point of sweating blood. Here in the garden, when despite his Father’s great love, the answer to avoiding suffering was “no,” there was not another way. And in the same way, Jesus asks us, “Can you drink this cup?” It was his will to endure a cross, enduring the sin and the shame. This final week leading up to his crucifixion must have been excruciating! The mental anguish, the emotional uncertainty, the temptation to escape. The dark clouds were billowing and rolling in on Jesus and yet the only option was forward through the unknown, towards the pain. His triumphant entry summoned in him the knowledge that this was the last teaching, the last supper, the last time to be together, the last embrace. This was a triumphant march to death on a tree.
My year of pain led to a greater understanding of my body–and my lack of care for it. I learned more about nutrition and balance in areas of my life. It gave me a greater appreciation for different paths of health, more holistic methods, that addressed the root of my problems. It also gave me compassion knowing my perceived righteousness did not equal a reward of an easy life.
The Isaiah prophecies reveal that Jesus was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). This knowledge of Jesus was not lost on those who closely followed him. Paul, a man also no stranger to suffering, wrote, “I want to know Christ–yes, to participate in his resurrection and participate in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” (Phil 3:10) Sometimes the only comfort in this pain-filled world is that Jesus suffered pain and his spirit can comfort us–not as one distant to it, but as one who has walked through the gray and knows the light on the other side.