We Christians like to make up a bunch of sayings to make people feel better in their grief and pain. It seems like an art that we have well mastered to sound like Truth, when it isn’t Truth at all. It’s not even in the Bible. We say these sayings in an effort to comfort, but really they just fall flat.
A few classics are: “Jesus never gives us more then we can bear.” “Lay it at the foot of the cross and Jesus will take it away.” “Jesus doesn’t want to us to suffer. He wants us to be happy.” “Lean into Jesus. When we lean in, He gives us strength.” I’ve said this stuff before. I really believed it too. But when I believed it I hadn’t been the one suffering and broken. I was just a person who didn’t know pain well and was trying to comfort someone who was in immense pain. It was trite and it was unkind.
The church’s theology of suffering has been poor as of late. Especially the American church. I don’t know if it’s because we live in such a prosperous country, so then we feel like we need to be prosperous theologically as well? Or if we just simply don’t want to suffer and we don’t know what to do when we do suffer, so we’ve just made up one liners in order to try to feel better about our circumstances and the circumstances of others.
I probably sound very cynical at the moment…
I have had an ongoing annoyance with these one liners for years.
The one that got me most recently was when a friend who is suffering called and shared that she had some friends telling her to, “Lean into Jesus. When we lean in, He gives us strength.” I wanted to poke my eyes out. I got so frustrated. Then my poor friend was the brunt of my frustration, because by then I went into protective mode. The poor advice broke my heart.
When I hear, “Lean into Jesus.” I hear another command. I hear another task. I hear something else that I’m not doing right. When I hear this, I think to myself, “Am I not leaning in right? Life doesn’t feel any better. I love Jesus. He saved me, why isn’t He with me? Where am I messing up?” When I hear this, I get insecure. All I hear is how I’m not leaning in good enough and I’m just continuing to not “lean” the right way, because I still feel pretty crummy.
I understand that these things are said with generous hearts and hearts that truly want to be helpful, but this isn’t helpful to the one who is grieving and the sufferer.
Jesus didn’t say, “When you lean into me, I’ll make you feel better.” or “When you lean into me, that’s when I’m going to give you strength for this trial.” No. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for MY power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) He died for this trial! He died for this suffering! He died for this grief! There is no amount of “leaning” that we can do to make our circumstances change. To make what He has already conquered better. His grace is enough for it.
The fact is, is that there is nothing that we can say to make someone feel better or make their grief disappear. We cannot change someone’s circumstance when their child has died. We can’t bring a spouse back to life. We can’t always put a marriage back together. We cannot always stop someone from abusing drugs or alcohol. We can’t change someone’s sin. But Jesus died for all of this stuff. He died for death and sin and shame and heartache and grief and lost relationships and our kids’ bad attitudes and our bad attitudes.
Griever, it is OK for you to not be OK. It is OK to feel lost and broken and out of sync and not feeling good about anything. It’s OK. It’s OK to feel terrible. It’s OK to ask Jesus what He is doing, because you don’t understand. (I have yelled and screamed and wept asking what He was doing.) If Jesus has you, He is not going to lose you. It doesn’t matter how many trials, how many deaths, how many life shaking and changing things that happen in life, He died for this and He is stuck to you with his love that is so strong and fierce that He suffered and died for you and conquered death so that there is and will be a very hopeful end to your story.
…many of the worshipers at the Lord’s hill are desperate people holding on to Yahweh by their fingernails because they know they have nowhere else to turn.~Dale Ralph Davis, Slogging Along the Paths of Righteousness
We ARE desperate people in need of a Savior. A Savior who loves us, who wants us, who died for us, who gives us grace and not more rules or laws that we need to live up to, especially when we are in the midst of pain. Jesus is big enough and strong enough to keep us. To take care of us and to drag us by our fingernails until He takes us Home.