Life isn’t always easy.
I often struggle to handle the responsibilities and difficulties each day brings, as I’m sure we all do at some point. Suffering, especially for Christians, is expected. Thankfully, God provides for us through his Spirit and through the church. The Spirit comforts us, the body of believers helps us bear our burdens, and we press on, supporting others along the way.
At times, however, I’m tempted to see suffering as my identity. Sometimes it’s because of an especially painful situation; other times it’s due to a particularly urgent need that seems to go unmet. Regardless of the circumstances, the result tends to be the same: I fixate on the difficult situation and begin to view all of life through the lens of that specific pain.
When I shift into that way of thinking, I tend to dislike certain passages of Scripture. For example, consider Psalm 42. The psalmist gives the grieving soul much to which to relate. He writes, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:3). As the psalmist recounts his pain in the situation, we sympathize with his sorrow, seeing in him a voice of recognition of our own hurt, an affirmation of our own experience. Yet the psalmist doesn’t end with the expression of grief; he progresses into the next step of the process, one I find uncomfortable if I’m trying to hold on to hurt: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5). Though the pain is real and strong, the psalmist knows it to be a season that will pass. He will again rejoice in God, will return to praise his king. I read and am reminded that pain does not define me no matter how much I may want it to. While I may desire pity, I have no good reason to extend mourning past what is appropriate.
All suffering sits within a broader reality, one that encompasses the pain in a greater promise. We may feel forgotten by God (Psalm 42:9), but we never are. We may feel shame at the taunts of enemies (Psalm 42:10), but we follow the one who will never put us to shame. No matter what we face, we can remain confident in the Son who has overcome this world (John 16:33), in the God who causes all things to work together for good for his own (Romans 8:28), and in the Spirit who helps us in our weakness with intercessions and “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26-27). Because of who our God is, suffering will never have the final word.
So the psalmist leads us to respond to our pain with perspective. “Hope in God,” he writes, “for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:11). True, this life includes pain. True, sorrow and lament are healthy responses to the darkness. True, difficulty endures longer than we would like. But these things do not define us. Suffering will come. “But,” as the author of Hebrews writes, “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39). We stand, not in our own strength but in the strength he supplies. His grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9), enabling us to hold fast to hope as Christ holds fast to us. Indeed, we can count our trials and sufferings as joy because our God uses even these for our good (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4).
I don’t know what you’re facing right now. I won’t pretend to know your life or your hurt, nor will I attempt to minimize your sufferings by comparing them to others. Pain is real, and life is hard. But if you know Christ, you have hope and help no matter the season. If you know Christ, you have access to peace that passes understanding, to grace that sufficiently helps you in your weakness, and to love that endures all things. And you have reason to face the pain and to keep pressing forward in faith. So hope, stand, and worship.