I hate when people offer “God has a plan” to assuage whatever pain, frustration, or struggle I am experiencing. In lieu of anything helpful to say in the face of profound misery, however, I also offer platitudes to somehow cover a person’s pain and move onto something pleasant or at least fathomable. What else is there to say when I can’t understand suffering—mine or anyone else’s?
In the book of Job, he has three friends who silently joined him in his misery in chapter two. I appreciate that. It takes guts and strength to sit quietly with someone who is hurting. Comfort is most eloquent in its silence. For the rest of the book, Job’s friends berate him in the name of love and righteousness. They want to redirect his path to God. But it is quite evident that they are also rather pleased with their wealth of wisdom and righteousness. They must be wise and righteous, otherwise they’d be decimated like Job.
When someone is hurting, I want to be the one who lightens his load. I want to be that ray of hope in their despair. How arrogant. The difficulty in keeping silent is I am admitting the deficiency of wisdom and words in the face of suffering. We are all powerless in the face of pain, grief, betrayal, and despair. Even the most devastated person knows in some dark corner of his being that the pain will end, he will adjust, life goes on, and there must be a reason. But in the moment? There is only pain.
Pain hurts. Suffering is difficult. Everyone tries to avoid suffering because it isn’t fun, no one likes it, it shreds the heart, and it feels never-ending.
So why do I gloss over that fact? Shouldn’t I get real and acknowledge that it hurts? For years I have swallowed my hurt, frustration, agony, grief, pain, and despair. I shrug, smile, and say “life goes on.” Recently I recounted a laundry list of trauma from the last seven years to a therapist. She stared at me when I finished and asked how I’m still functioning. I shrugged and told her I’m a survivor.
Those traumas I listed are gut-wrenching, soul-shredding, agonizing events that shattered my world, my identity, and my perception of God. But when I recounted them, my eyes were dry. I chuckled.
Suffering necessitates pain. Without pain—emotional, psychological, physical, or spiritual—we wouldn’t suffer. So if suffering is supposed to count for something, why am I so afraid to admit that I’m hurting? That I have feelings that aren’t positive?
My life is hard. I am hurting. Hundreds of people may look at my life and wish they could exchange their struggles for mine. Hundreds of other people may look at my life in horror and suddenly appreciate their own struggles. It doesn’t matter. I am hurting. My life is hard. It is my perspective on my life.
And God met me in my suffering. He spoke to me. He reminded me of his promises, assurances, and comfort. My God sat down next to me and showed me that he is working, he does have a plan, and he loves me.
I can’t say that x, y, and z happened for reasons a, b, and c, but I know that he sees and feels my pain. I know that he is refining me for a future that will make all of my suffering worth it. I can join Job in saying “I know my Redeemer lives” (19:25). He will exchange my suffering for steadfastness, completion, and the crown of life (Jas 1:3, 4, and 12).
Until I acknowledged my pain, saying, “this hurts,” I could not say with conviction that there is a purpose to suffering. Why would I need to acknowledge some special purpose that would turn the broken, black, pulsing pain of my life into a radiant, life-giving shower of steadfastness if I never acknowledged that what I was experiencing was painful? I have been given a difficult life. It hurts. But I know that I can trust that God has a plan for my good and his glory. How? Because He says so:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans for wholeness and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).