This will all work for your good.
He’ll use your pain to comfort others.
All this pain is temporary. One day we’ll be in heaven.
All of these things are true. In fact, they are take-it-to-the-bank, rock-solid promises of God. When we’re going through pain and difficulty, people try to comfort us with these truths. Or with platitudes like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” or “Everything happens for a reason.”
Ironically, the very promises and people that are supposed to make us feel better can often make us feel alone, misunderstood and angry. Whether intended or not, their words can make us feel that our pain is not legitimate. That we shouldn’t be feeling depressed, discouraged or frustrated.
There will come a time when God’s words will provide comfort. But when we are in the heart-wrenching throes of overwhelming circumstances or inexplicable pain and difficulty, that is our reality. The promises of God — as precious and true as they are — can seem maddeningly elusive.
In that moment, we can’t see God’s plan. We’re struggling to believe that it will be used for our good. We can’t fathom the day that our pain will be over. Although we may be begging for God to show up, we can’t feel His presence or see His activity.
Recently, I was talking to a group of women who are in the middle of some very deep, seemingly unending valleys of pain and disappointment. One of the women said something like this: “When I’m in pain, I don’t want answers or explanations. I just want to know someone understands and truly cares.”
When God’s words don’t bring comfort, He wants to use flesh-and-blood people who can demonstrate the mercy and love of Jesus in a tangible way. But not everyone is “safe” to share our pain with. Many people mean well, but simply don’t understand. Others might question the depth of our faith.
Our tendency can be to isolate. To protect ourselves from more hurt, judgment and disappointment. Don’t. Instead, ask God to bring kind, wise, supportive people into your life. Pray for discernment. Then take the risk to reach out to them. Here are a few qualities to look for:
They’re “Me too” people.
That’s what my pastor calls them. How do you find them? Well, it does involve some risk. It’s difficult to find them without being a little vulnerable. If you sense a connection with someone who seems compassionate and “real”, share a bit of your struggle. If they hear your heart and respond with “me, too” and are vulnerable in sharing their own struggle, they’re a keeper.
They know when to be quiet.
In his book, The View from a Hearse, Joy Bayly tells the story of two men who came to comfort him after the death of his three sons. The first came with answers. He said that God had a plan, that God could work if out for good, and that God would give Joe strength.
The second man came simply to sit with Joe. He did not speak unless spoken to, but he prayed with Joe and sat in silence with him. Joe writes that though both men had good intentions, he couldn’t wait for the first man to leave and he couldn’t bear to see the second man go.
Sometimes God will bring “second men” (or women) into our lives when we least expect it.
For a period of months, I traveled weekly to a health clinic a couple of hours from my home. A friend called me one day and said, “I’m going with you next time. I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer.” Honestly, I didn’t want her to go. I felt too emotionally fragile to make conversation. I was too weary to put on a happy face. But I knew this friend well enough to know that she really wouldn’t take no for an answer.
When I arrived at her house to pick her up, she ran up to my window and said, “I’m so sorry. I realize I have an appointment today. But I called “Sue” and asked her to come with you instead. I really don’t want you to be alone.”
Sue went to my church. She is a wonderful person, but I didn’t really know her that well. Making small talk with a friend seemed overwhelming. Making conversation with someone I didn’t really know was more than I could take. I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.
With a sweet smile, Sue got into the car. As I began to drive, we were both silent. Finally she said in the sweetest, most sincere way possible, “Melinda, I want you to know that you don’t have to talk. You don’t have to make conversation with me. I’m not here for you to entertain me. I’m here to support you and pray for you.”
And she meant it. A bond formed between us that day. On a couple of other occasions, I invited Sue to go with me. She has become a sweet source of prayer support and encouragement to me.
They know great pain but are better – instead of bitter – for it.
There’s a woman at my church who I’m honored to call friend. She absolutely radiates Jesus. You would never guess her difficult and painful past of abuse and broken relationships.
Another amazing woman that God put into my life has been through a horrific history of sexual and emotional abuse and abandonment by her father. She has an ongoing battle with depression, but it does not define her.
My friend Janine has been waging an exhausting battle with AML leukemia over the last four years. She has had multiple courses of chemotherapy that nearly killed her and ultimately a bone marrow transplant.
These women know pain. They are real about their struggles and doubts, but battle everyday to claim joy, hope and victory. And they exude the power and peace of Jesus as they rise above their circumstances.
These women inspire and encourage me. They don’t judge my doubts and feelings. They pray for me often — and I do the same for them. Because of their hard-won credibility and wisdom, they are able to speak truth into my life and experiences — in ways others couldn’t.
I am so grateful for God’s promises. Without them, we would all be lost and hopeless.
But when they don’t feel “real” to us, God often brings people into our lives who can embody His love and are live, walking and talking evidence that He is faithful. That His grace is sufficient for us. That He will never leave us or forsake us.