I am hurting today. For all the implications of what is going on with my housing situation. For baby Caleb and his family. He is still not doing very well. And for some friends who are facing and still trying to recover from some situations where “difficult” is an understatement. Many different types of suffering.
While my situation is not the most earth shattering, it weighs heavily on me today. And I see my friends hurting with me and feeling very unsure of themselves in how to respond and help me. When they try to be a comfort, I cry more. I know the truths they are stating to be true. But the truth, while it doesn’t necessarily hurt, doesn’t address what I am feeling. It goes right past the place of pain. Because the pain is not coming from doubting the truth of various theological propositions. I went back through my drafts (I love LiveWriter, thanks Lingamish!) to find the following quotes which I had copied down several weeks ago.
1) In the face of tragedy we ought to be silent, present and loving. We need to let the natural, painful reaction happen.
2) We ought never to speculate about causation. Job’s counselors were not totally wrong, but they were totally wrong in what they said when, and God condemned them.
3) In worship, I would cash all the checks God wrote on Rom 8:28, Genesis 50, Psalm 90-100, etc. But not “in the face” of a suffering person. They can come and hear that or ask to hear it when they want to hear it.
4) Humility….not just theology, makes for good pastoral care. Jesus loved people as people not projects.
5) Everything I would ever tell a suffering person would be based on God’s character revealed in Jesus, not on God’s decree.
6) When I do pastoral care, I use this model: 1) Fact, 2) Feeling 3) Faith. And in that order.
A comment from the same thread is posted at Boar’s Head Tavern, and I also found it helpful:
Is it possible to be completely committed to Reformed orthodoxy and not recite ANY of the Reformed formulations about providence to the sufferer in the moment of immediate suffering?
Is it sinful to not quote any of God’s Word in some moments, but rather listen, hold, cry? Must one be uttering God’s Word at all moments of comfort? Can silent presence be a godly, biblical way of ministering to one who is suffering?
It has not been the case that I’ve not believed the Reformed systematics that were quoted to me while I was in the midst of suffering; I did believe the propositions already and I was not wavering. Rather, I was UTTERLY uncomforted by the recitation of these propositions.
I recommend reading the whole comment.
As I have walked through the heaviness and uncertainty of my housing situation, I have found myself not to be very tolerant of my friends’ words of comfort. The things they say are not untrue and, for that matter, are often things that I have also affirmed myself at various points during the past two years of ongoing difficulties. Right now, I find that they do not comfort me as a response to my cries and anguish. Not because they aren’t true, but because my cries and anguish have very little to do with whether or not I believe that God is sovereign, that God has a purpose and that God is and will continue to be faithful wherever I live.
My cries are all about being unsettled, about uprooting my children again, about the compounded grief of divorce, moves, career changes, abuse, loss, moves, more moves and general unsettledness. I am in pain. To some it may look disproportionate to the realities of the situation, especially considering what God has already carried me through, but that does not change the depth of my hurt right now.
The pain (and sometimes panic) has me flailing all over the place emotionally. But as Glenn Locke says in the above quote, I am not wavering in the truth of the propositions. Well, maybe sometimes it sounds like I am, but it’s a wavering from being exhausted up here on the surface, not a wavering at the core of my being. The freedom I feel to waver and question and cry out to God comes from the deep seated assurance that not only is He a sovereign God, but He does care for me and love me, that nothing is hidden from Him and that although life with Him does not always feel safe, that I really am safe to cry out to him with all the honest anguish of my heart.
When I hear assurances and affirmations of truth, I don’t know how to respond in that moment. Rereading the above quotes helped me come up with this answer. Maybe I should print it out and hand it to my friends when their comforting words just make me want to cry more (I probably won’t, but the thought of having a pat response to hand back makes me smile 🙂 :
“Please do not feel like you need to give answers to convince me to stand firm in my faith. I know my emotional flailing is painful to watch. And I know you want to help me. Thank you for caring. But please do not try to fix my doubts. If you are worried that my doubts are taking me in a wrong direction, pray for me. If my doubts are taking me away from God rather than drawing me near to Him, your words will not change that. It is painful to watch, I am sure. But, please, will you trust God at work in me enough not to have to say things to correct or help my thinking right now? Even though having nothing wise to say feels inadequate, please just share in my pain without having to reassure me that God is in control, is good and has a perfect plan. Hold me when I’m flailing, cry with me over the phone. And rest inside of yourself that my cries of pain and doubt do not mean I’m giving up my faith or belief in the things about God that I, along with you, also believe to be true. Please do not try to convince me to stand firm. It might make you feel like you are doing something productive to help me, but it just leaves me feeling like my real cries are being missed. As I come out of the deepest place of pain in a few days or weeks, I will again want and be glad for words that remind me of God’s faithfulness. But today those assurances do not touch my pain. What touches my pain is feeling, seeing, hearing you share in my pain with me.”