Pain is Not Un-Christian

C. S.Image via Wikipedia

One of my favourite authors is C.S. Lewis. I love his Narnia series, and I have read them out loud about five times now: once to my cousins when they were young; once as a camp counsellor; and three times to my children.

I also challenged myself a few summers ago to read through his non-fiction works, and I did. I loved Surprised by Joy (you can read my comments on it here), but I was really touched by A Grief Observed. As someone who has also gone through grief, I found it real, refreshing, and melancholy. And perhaps it was the melancholy that I liked. This wasn’t one of these “Just look to God and all will be joyful again!” type of books. This was one of those “sometimes life is just awful”. And isn’t that closer to the truth?

Today, for Good Friday, I thought it might be good to return to this question about how the dark moments fit into our lives as Christians. I think that it’s a misnomer that Christians are always supposed to be happy and nothing is supposed to get to us. God, after all, is a God who cries. Perhaps the times that we are closest to Him, Lewis once said, are not in times of ecstasy but instead in times of grief. That is when we touch God’s heart the most, and understand the tears that He shed.

I don’t think we should be ashamed of our tears, or think that it means we haven’t healed, haven’t surrendered, haven’t advanced. This world is fallen, and life is pain. God understands that. To be a Christian is not to feel no pain; it is to have God carry you when that pain comes.

I have written books about emotional healing, and I’m working on another right now. Again and again I hit a brick wall when I really dig deeply into the way the church often handles pain. We think that it is something that we need to get over, that the pain itself is somehow an aberration of life, a betrayal of faith, and something from which we must emerge.

I’m not so sure. I think joy and pain can coexist; and to think that pain must be banished is also, I believe, to banish love. Pain is simply what we feel when the object of love is taken from us. It is a loss. In that loss, we often feel God’s love much more acutely, and hence that is why pain and joy often are experienced together. But to say that a grieving parent must somehow get over their grief, or that a betrayed wife must heal from her loneliness, I find harsh. I don’t think God asks us to heal; I think God asks us to turn to Him in these times, and it is then that we are given strength, and mercy, and peace.

My mother does not pine over my father, who left her over 35 years ago. She has a full and rich life, though it did not turn out the way she would have hoped. But every year, at Christmas, when we sing a certain hymn at church, it all comes flooding back: the desperation she felt, realizing she would be a single mother at 29; the loneliness; the grief; the betrayal. Because she sang that song to me in the midst of her grief, it has the power to take her back, and she feels briefly sad again. It does not mean that God has not ministered to her; it is just a reminder that this life is hard, and that we do still bear the marks of a fallen world while we walk upon this world.

If you are bearing those marks more acutely today, I do understand. I have been betrayed by a father. I have lost a son. And I can tell you, too, that I also experience great joy. There were days, though, when I couldn’t feel God, and when it was all I could do to breathe.

I wrote a little book about it called How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life. If you’re sick of Christian books that tell you that you should be happy, you’ll appreciate this. And if you have a friend walking through sorrow, and you don’t know what to say, it can help.

And today of all days, I hope that, if you are walking through sorrow, grief, or even just a funk, that you will still be able to turn to God, even in that pain. He is there, and often He feels closest when we feel the most vulnerable. May you feel God carry you.


Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    >I've known great sorrow in my life, and it's something I've come to have strong feelings about. Someone I highly respect once said that our faith doesn't protect us from bad things happening. What it does is give us the resource we need to cope with those bad things when they inevitably come into our lives. Trials and suffering have the power to turn us to God, if we will let them, and He has the power to get us through those times.

    I went through severe postpartum depression with my youngest child. It has never really gone away and my doctor thinks I'll need medication for years, if not the rest of my life. It has been the hardest thing I've ever gone through, hands down. But, I have learned so much from it. I feel like God took this opportunity to take me apart and remake me in a form better suited to my long-term happiness. My brain isn't working the way it should, and my body is out of my control, but God has been teaching me to let go of my need to control and to lean more on Him. He's taught me to trust him more, and lean less on my own understanding.

    There's a poem I first read as a teenager which had a huge impact as I was trying hard to cope with the pain of an abusive father.

    Each is given a bag of tools,
    A shapeless mass,
    A book of rules;
    And each must make—
    Ere life is flown—
    A stumbling block
    Or a steppingstone.

    Bag of Tools, R.L. Sharpe

    That idea – that I could take what I was dealing with and use it to make myself stronger and better – has been a powerful influence in my life. God gave me the power of choice, and I can use that power to turn to Him and to fight to grow closer to Him.

    It's natural to fear and try to avoid pain, but I strongly believe that pain is not only unavoidable, but even necessary. We need this times and God loves us enough to let us have them – but never alone, unless we choose to be. If we turn to Him, He is there.

  2. Bonum, Verum, Pulchrum says:

    >On another note, have you read his book, "'Till we have faces"? It is a real page turner and fiction to boot.

  3. Tiffany says:

    >This is so true! When we lost our daughter, we dealt with a lot of different advice on how to get past it. It has been three years and I still cry and grieve over our loss often. I feel that God has used this tragedy in our lives to open our eyes to our need for Him even more and to help us to lean on Him. Our minister said yesterday that sometimes we have to have struggles to grow. I think that is so true! Thank you for tackling this misconception!

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