Why Do Christians Need to Make It All Better?
By stephanie s. smith
May 29, 2012
Break-ups. Layoffs. Loss of a loved one. Rejection. Personal failure. A life-changing diagnosis. Christian or not, some of these things will happen to you, if they haven't already.
How often have you known Christians to absorb the shock of tragedy and then, without missing a beat, rear their heads and say, “But God is good. There is hope. I’m better for it now”?
But sometimes this is dishonest. Sometimes it doesn’t get better. And sometimes it’s not good.
And saying it is, is as inappropriate as wearing white to a funeral.
How do we honestly express pain as Christians, believers in a God who redeems all things? Do hope and grief have to be mutually exclusive?
Resist the urge to resolve
I’ve heard several editors say they make a practice of chopping off the concluding two to three paragraphs in Christian writing, not because the writing isn’t good, but because this is when Christians consistently shift into autopilot optimism. They present the story, the sorrow or the sticking point and then rush to resolve it. But what would happen if we let the pain sit for a while? What would we learn if we paused to listen to the pain instead of working to fix it? What if, in the story of our own lives, we allowed the loose ends to lead us into transformation, rather than forcing a quick “takeaway”?
We would also do well to remember this in comforting others. For every grieving person who is blessed by a comforting comment, there are 10 more who receive these condolences as the best of intentions fallen inopportunely flat. As much as we want to help and express our care, handouts of truth nuggets will never mean as much to the afflicted as wrestling through to this conclusion for themselves. Resist the urge to make cheap sense of pain. Instead, practice what Jill Briscoe beautifully calls “a ministry of presence”—offer a hand, a meal, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear.
Recognize a time for everything
If you’ve ever been to a Passion play on Good Friday, you know that the story is the same every year. Jesus is crucified against a black sky by an angry crowd. The women cry on the outskirts, in the shadows. The guards spit on the corpse. The tomb is sealed. But what if one year they did something different—suddenly a trumpet sounds, Jesus bursts out of the tomb, alive and laughing, He who was five minutes ago declared dead. The grieving party is over, and everyone breaks out cupcakes and Easter punch.
That would rob the Passion story of its aching, raw center, making it into just a nice story. Yet this is often what we do—rushing ahead to the resurrection, the resolution, that is made powerless in its prematurity.
Perhaps there is a reason Christ was in the tomb for three days. Perhaps it shows us that sometimes when we face pain and loss in our own lives, the resurrection is not in view yet, and that’s okay. And yes, redemption can break through the tomb like it did two thousand years ago, but sometimes we will have to wait, to keep walking through the grieving process and keep our eyes open.
The Gospel story gives us a helpful pattern for this grief, requiring us to walk faithfully, thoughtfully, through each scene. It requires us to witness the violence of Good Friday, the disturbing details of which the gospels do not censor. It requires us to wade through the shadowlands of Holy Saturday, unsure and in between. And then it invites us to experience resurrection. But all of this is subject to God’s timing, and sometimes we have to wait. When you find yourself in the ache of the meantime, take comfort in knowing that the resurrection is ahead and God will bring you there in His perfect timing. And believe that He is transforming you even now in the waiting.
Be willing to walk through the pain
We all have wounds that haunt our histories, and there are three ways we can respond to them. We can live in denial and superficially skirt around the edges, we can sink so completely in our grief that we get stuck, or we can commit to the good, hard work of walking through our pain. This last path takes the most courage, but it also leads the way into healing.
Author Ian Morgan Cron describes this process in terms of a plane crash. There are experts, he explains, who can walk through the debris field where a plane has gone down and, by analyzing all the broken pieces and where they’ve landed, they can figure out exactly what happened to cause the crash. This is the task of anyone who ever experienced brokenness—to walk through the wreckage of our own lives, to identify the pieces, to investigate what really happened—and in doing so, we will bring ourselves to a place of honest, hard-won healing. Because the purpose of walking through our pain is never to stay and wallow there, but to walk out of it.
Let go of control
Pain, grief and loss are all themes in the Bible that are integral to its story, and when we gloss over them in our own lives, we miss out on the full depth of the Gospel story. It is true that we have this incredible hope in Christ, and sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to shout it out. But as much as we crave resolution, the final word is never up to us; it’s up to Him. We don’t need to fabricate redemption. We just need to wait and trust in Him to bring it about.
Stephanie S. Smith is a twentysomething writer, editor and book publicist addicted to print and pixels. She runs her business, (In)dialogue Communications, from her home in upstate New York, where she lives with her husband and blogs about the Incarnation and embodied faith at www.stephindialogue.com. Catch her tweeting at @stephindialogue.