After seven weeks of teaching my Bible class about dealing with pain and suffering, today I asked them, “What is the biggest take away you have learned about suffering?” As they talked, I began to summarize their thoughts on the whiteboard. Here is a list of their comments:
*We grow in faith through suffering.
*Suffering can be used as a testimony to glorify God.
*A diamond is formed under pressure; likewise, suffering develops character.
*Suffering is a process, and you have to let the process work you into a diamond. If you quit on God too soon, you just become a lump of coal.
*In the Holy Land, olives were pressed and crushed in a vat, making olive oil. Likewise, God allows us to suffer pressure, and God produces good things in our lives from it.
*We experience God’s presence in suffering– it draws us closer to God.
*Suffering forces us to make choices– will we be better or bitter?
*We must learn to see suffering in perspective: it is temporary and light compared to the eternal weight of glory God has for us (2 Corinthians 4:17)
*We are able to relate to others with similar suffering, and comfort them. (2 Corinthians 1:4).
*Suffering requires us to be obedient to share the lessons we learned with others, even though we might prefer to talk about other subjects. But when we talk about it, it helps others.
My wife and I were deeply moved by the new film, I Can Only Imagine. I was so emotional that I had to compose myself before I could drive home– it was that powerful.
You may know the song, but do you know the story behind the song? “I Can Only Imagine” by Bart Millard of the Christian band Mercy Me is the best-selling, most-played Christian single of all time. The new film by the same title tells the moving true story of the songwriter and how he wrote the song.
The film tells how Bart Millard’s father abused him and his mother, and constantly told Bart he was not good enough. [Spoiler alert—skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know the basic plot.] Thanks to a football injury and a music teacher’s insistence, Bart discovered he had a gift to sing. When his father told him to forget his dreams, he left home, turned his back on the girlfriend who loved him, and tried to escape his troubles by singing with a traveling band.
I won’t give away the ending, because the circumstances of how he recorded the song have surprising twists and turns along the way, but suffice to say that Bart had to face his fears to reach his dreams. And yes, the film dramatically presents the full song near the end of the film.
Dennis Quaid is amazing as the actor playing Bart’s abusive father. People who have endured abuse will feel the pain Bart feels from his father, but many people with sins in their own past, like myself, will identify with the pain of the father himself.
This is a Christian film, but it is not “preachy.” The story is raw, real and unapologetically soaked with the hope of the gospel. Go see this film if you like music, if you like romance, if your dreams have been crushed, if you have been abused, if you have abused someone, if you have a broken home, if you are grieving the death of a loved one, if you need forgiveness, if you need to forgive, and if you need hope.
Article copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:31,35, 37-39 (ESV)
Why did he or she commit suicide? Could I have done something to prevent it? Most of us have asked these questions when someone we love has committed suicide. While there are no easy answers, the Bible gives us help in this time of grief.
Let me suggest several truths that can help.
1) Guard against being judgmental.
This is not a time to judge the friends, family, and certainly not a time to judge the one who took his or her life. No one knows the pressures or problems another person faces. Jesus taught us, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, KJV) It will not help to judge others, nor to judge yourself.
You may have repeated the word “if.” If only I (or someone else) had said something or done something different, perhaps she or he would not have taken that precious life. Martha used the word “if.” In John 11, Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus was dying and they sent for Jesus to heal him, but Lazarus died before Jesus arrived. In John 11:21, “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'” But “if” is about the past. “If” cannot bring the loved one back, and it will not help us in the present.
Instead of asking “why?” or wondering “if,” we need to ask “what.” What can I do now? Jesus told Martha what she needed: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25, ESV)
So instead of asking, “why,” let’s ask “what.” What can we do to be better because of this?
2) Hold on to our hope in Christ.
There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room. So let’s address the matter directly. Is suicide a sin? Yes, it is. Is suicide the unpardonable sin? No, it is not. There are so many reasons why we should not take our own lives, which I will discuss in a moment, but the Bible does not teach that suicide cannot be forgiven. Mark 3:28-30 says that all sins can be forgiven, except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit refers to rejecting the Spirit’s call on us to follow Christ; this is not referring to taking one’s own life.
Our salvation is not based on the way we die, but based on the One who died for us.
3) God brings good out of the bad.
When Jesus died on the cross, the disciples thought their world had come to an end, and Jesus had been defeated. But instead, God was using it to forgive our sins, and then God raised Jesus from the dead to pave the way for us to have eternal life. God is in the business of bringing good out of bad!
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Jesus Christ is the permanent solution who makes our problems temporary!
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but he things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)
4) Let’s examine our own lives.
Life is a gift. We should not waste our lives by suddenly taking it, or by wasting it slowly by degrees, with meaningless living. Make your days count. Hug your children. Hug your parents. Say, “I love you.” Listen to one another. Reach out for help when you are in despair. Talk about your problems. We have a choice to be bitter or better because of this. If we can draw closer together as a community and with our families, we can be better.
Storms will come in our lives, but those who withstand are those who have strong roots. Years ago, a powerful storm blew down an oak tree in front of the youth center at the church where I was pastor. It crushed the roof and did major damage. Thankfully, it happened at night when nobody was inside. The reason it happened was that tree did not have deep roots. A tree that has deep roots can withstand a bigger storm.
The way you get deep roots is by a personal relationships with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. As you grow in your relationship with Him by faith, your roots get deeper and deeper, and you are more able to stand against the storms of life.
We will never understand all of the reasons why there is tragedy in life, but if we are rooted in Christ, we can hold on despite the tragedies we face.
The contemporary Christian group, 4Him, wrote a song about the tragic death of a friend, saying,
“When the reasons aren’t clear to me
When it all is a mystery
I want to know why.
And though down here I may not understand
I won’t let go of the Unseen Hand
For it holds the reasons why.”
Hold on to that Unseen Hand, my friend. He will be there for you.
(Below is a guest blog by Suzie Kolber on the subject of how to express sympathy during the holidays, which can be a difficult time for those who have recently lost a loved one. Suzie is a writer at ObituariesHelp.org. The site is a complete guide for someone seeking help for writing words of condolences, sympathy messages, condolence letters and funeral planning resources.)
The holidays can be such a fun, exciting time for most people. However, for those who have recently lost a family member or close friend, it can be a difficult, painful time. Everywhere they look, something reminds them of prior holidays spent with that person.
Depression is a common problem during this season for people who have lost their loved ones. If the anniversary of the death or the person’s birthday falls during this time, it can make the brightest days seem dark.
Many bereaved people tend to avoid others during this time. They don’t socialize or go out because they see the festivities as another painful reminder of their loss. On the other hand, friends and family members may tend to avoid the bereaved person because they don’t know what to say. It feels awkward to be around them and try to hide their natural excitement for the season.
While it is natural to want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the isolation only contributes more to the feelings of depression and loneliness. Family members and friends need to be aware of this and continue interacting with their grieving loved one.
What To Say
It’s normal to want to avoid someone when you don’t know what to say to them. However, your support and sympathy is needed, especially when someone suffers such a loss around the holiday season. The following tips will help you offer the comfort that is needed.
- Offer assistance for the person who still has to organize the holiday celebration even though they are grieving. For instance, someone may have lost a spouse but has children who want to celebrate. They may need help with cleaning, cooking or even shopping.
- Invite someone to your home for the holidays, especially if you are having a low-key celebration. This allows them to get out without being overwhelmed by the activities.
- Invite the loved one to volunteer with you. Doing something like creating gift baskets for soldiers can help a person feel useful and remind them that they are not alone. Others may be missing loved ones for different reasons.
- Be willing to talk about the deceased. Your job may be as simple as listening as the person relives fond memories. While you may think it would bring sadness to talk about the person who is gone, it can actually be helpful. The person is thinking about them anyway; talking provides healing.
If the person lives far away and you can’t visit during the holiday season, it is appropriate to send a flower or gift basket. You don’t need to wish them “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Instead, include a card that says that you are thinking of them. Just this reminder and a few lovely flowers can brighten their day.
Anytime is a bad time to lose a loved one. Suffering the loss during the holidays makes the pain even more severe for many. Reach out to those people and they will appreciate the comfort that you provide.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
Christian writer C.S. Lewis famously described his salvation experience as being “surprised by joy.” Joy is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22– and it is surprising how joy comes. Notice these three examples from the Bible:
*Joyful surprise of forgiveness from sin. When we are convicted of sin, we usually feel shame and may even experience depression. Yet confession of sin and God’s forgiveness brings the surprising result of joy. After David’s confession of the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, he cried out to God in Psalm 51:12, “Restore the joy of Your salvation to me.” God answered that prayer, for in Psalm 32 he exclaims, “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven… How joyful is the man the LORD does not charge with sin…” (Psalm 32:1-2, HCSB).
*Joyful surprise during trials. When we suffer trials, we may experience stress, anxiety and worry. Yet James says that God uses trials to produce a godly endurance and maturity, which once again is a surprising reason for joy. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:2-3, NLT).
*Joyful surprise of strength in the midst of grief. How can we experience joy in the midst of grief? Isn’t grief the opposite of joy? After the Jews returned to Jerusalem from exile, Ezra the scribe gathered all the people in the public square and read the law of Moses to the people and explained it to them. The people began to weep, grieved over their ignorant disobedience of God’s word. But the priests urged them to celebrate instead of weep. Why? They said, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10, NASB). It is natural to grieve when we experience loss in our lives, but when we take a look in faith at the big picture, we draw strength from the LORD, who is our Savior. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”
So my brothers and sisters, has life got you down? Are you ashamed and grieving over your past, and anxious and hurting in the present? Then look in faith to the wonderful future you have in Christ. Surprise! The joy of the Lord is your strength.
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
When Will I Stop Hurting? Dealing with a Recent Death by June Cerza Kolf is one of the most helpful, compassionate books I have read to comfort someone who is grieving. As a pastor, I have given several resources to people to help them with the grieving process. A church member who had lost her mother told me that this book was even more helpful to her than what I had given her, so I had to read it myself. Now I see why. Kolf writes as someone who not only understands the grief process, but has experienced it herself. She has a wonderful balance of encouragement and specific, practical advice. It is a resource that a grieving person will want to keep nearby to refer to again and again, and share with others.
The book is divided into three chapters: The Wound, The Flood, and the Rainbow. The first chapter, “The Wound,” explains the hurt and feelings of grief. Grieving readers will find themselves saying, “Yep, that’s me.” Yet they will find it comforting to see how what they are experiencing is normal, and they are not going crazy.
The second chapter, “The Flood,” explains the stages of grief and gives practical advice about making decisions and taking care of oneself through that process.
The third chapter, “The Rainbow,” is an inspiring and practical explanation of how one let’s go of grief and moves on in life.
There is an appendix that gives nearly 20 exercises with a “To Do” list to handle guilt, crying, loss of sleep, remembering your loved one, etc.
However, as good as this book is, I feel that Kolf could have strengthened the book with comforting scripture. She does mention two Bible verses, and talks about God throughout the book. On page 41, she gently recommends “a divine friend who loves me no matter what…This friend, Jesus, is available to everyone through prayer.” Since she chose to mention her faith, she could have strengthened this by citing scripture such as Jesus’ words about being with us and preparing a place in heaven (John 14:1-6), Paul’s words about finding comfort in God by comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:6), or Kind David’s beloved Shepherd’s Psalm, Psalm 23. I have seen people physically relax upon hearing the Twenty-third Psalm. Scriptures such as these could make this wonderful, helpful book even more “hope-ful” to the grieving reader.
If you see a video ad below this post, I do not necessarily endorse the product.
Her name is Sabrina. I don’t even know her last name. My two children and I were enjoying lunch at a local restaurant, when this attractive, beautifully dressed woman of color entered with her little girl.
Something more than her appearance struck me. Her girl (perhaps 3 years old) tried desperately to capture her mother’s attention, but to no avail. “Something is wrong with this picture,” I thought.
Understanding suffering helps to identify it, perhaps. I recognize it well. So, I began to pray for an opportunity to speak with this lady, whose daughter was now twirling down the aisle in a ruffled dress.
We finished lunch. The kids took my keys and headed to the van to read. My plan was to initiate conversation with this new friend who had spoken to me when I went to the counter. She liked my “Fruit of the Spirit” bracelet. I thanked her, and began to listen to her story.
I learned that Sabrina had flown back home to Georgia for a funeral that very day. One of her parents died years ago. Now the other was gone, too. Then she said, “Two weeks ago, I buried my husband. He committed suicide.”
There was a long silence. Sabrina motioned toward her precious little girl and continued, “She doesn’t even know her daddy’s gone.”
We sat there for what seemed an eternity, saying nothing.
For years I have shared my faith in Christ, and knew countless methods by which to do so. At that moment I felt compelled to simply tell my story.
Although very different, our stories had one thing in common. We both realized that sometimes life comes at you. Before you can catch your breath, the wind is knocked out of you.
Sabrina wanted to hear. So, I shared wave after wave of painful events I experienced as a young person. That was the hard part. Then, I was able to share the good news!
One night in my apartment in Athens, Georgia, I gave my life (and all my hurt) to the Lord. A poem called “Surrender” in a Home Life magazine riveted my heart. Immediately, it was as if my Heavenly Father whispered, “Baby girl, I know all your hurts. You are trying to be strong. Just give up. Rely on Me. Surrender everything to Me.”
The flood gates opened! I got on my knees. I gave Christ control of my life. Running from God was wearing me out, anyway! No longer desiring to lead my own life and make poor decisions, I surrendered my past, present, and future to Christ in a radical abandonment of self.
I told Sabrina that although I knew nothing about living the exchanged life with Christ, as Galatians 2:20 offers, this is exactly what occurred. I have never been the same! There was an unexplainable freedom and joy. Christ overwhelmed me with His love and peace.
I will never forget the hopelessness in her eyes when she asked, “What does it mean to surrender?” I told her about God’s love for us through Christ’s death on the cross and His power over death in His resurrection. To my amazement, I found myself offering my treasured bracelet to Sabrina. Tears filled her eyes as we parted ways.
Sabrina’s question haunted me for days. “What does it mean to surrender?” At that time, I only understood what it meant to me personally. It was a radical abandonment of self to Christ. As I searched Scripture, words like “submit,” “yield,” and “offer up” ourselves took on deeper meaning. Ultimately, surrender is the posture of our heart humbled before Christ’s Lordship.
Because Sabrina was experiencing complicated grief, and was still somewhat in shock, I did not expect her to make a decision to follow Christ immediately. I did, however, envision that she would benefit greatly from our divinely-orchestrated conversation later in her journey.
Although there are many benefits to a “Surrendered life” to Christ, three obvious benefits are:
Healing Begins – We literally change focus from self to Christ, and He sets us free! John Piper says, “The healing of the soul begins by restoring the glory of God to its flaming, all-attracting place at the center. We are all starved for the glory of God, not self.”
1 Peter 5:6-7 (NASB) encourages to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God… casting all your anxiety (cares) upon Him, because He cares for you.”
In the gospel, we “see and savor the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). This kind of “seeing” is literally the healing of our disordered lives.
Maximizes Study of God’s Word – The attitude and posture of our hearts, a “yieldedness” to Christ through faith, increases our receptivity of God’s Word. When our hearts are receptive, we gain clearer understanding.
In Romans 12: 1-2, we are encouraged to “Offer yourselves to God” first, that we may be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
Overcomes Deceptive Thinking – Truth always trumps deceptive thinking. Jesus, in fact, defines reality! For years I have had a front row seat in the counseling office to witness the truth of God’s Word (when applied to receptive hearts) expose and overcome deceptive thinking.
Submission is a protection against deception. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, NASB).
Christ transforms people by exposing the blind spots and disconnects in our lives and relationships. Our goal is not to overcome our issues necessarily, but rather to engage them with a growing knowledge of Christ. It begins by bowing to Christ’s Lordship.
Although we may never meet again here on this earth, I hope to see Sabrina again one day! She’ll probably be wearing the bracelet I gave, or should I say, that I “surrendered,” to her.
Question: How would you have answered Sabrina’s question, “What does it mean to surrender?” Do you remember your own radical abandonment of “self” to Christ’s Lordship?
(Sherri Edenfield Hall is a Biblical Counselor with Creative Counseling Solutions for Women, and Inspirational Speaker, who resides in Macon, GA. To inquire for speaking engagements, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The grief process is always very difficult and especially so during the holidays. Even the smallest memories will bring about a flood of painful thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we don’t know what to do or how to deal with these thoughts or the empty place on Christmas Day. Here are a few helpful suggestions:
Wrap a favorite keepsake or framed picture of your loved one, and give it as a gift to another grieving family member.
Create a special ornament with the name of your loved one and hang it on your Christmas tree.
Decorate a candle and light it at meal time in memory of your loved one.
Make a donation to a favorite charity in the person’s honor. Create a scholarship to keep the memory of the loved one alive and announce it at a holiday gathering of family and friends.
Purchase a Christmas book, perhaps a favorite of your loved one, and donate it to your local library or school. Ask the librarian to place a label in the front cover in memory of your loved one.
Bring your loved one’s favorite food to share at Christmas dinner. Mention their name in the blessing over the food.
Encourage grieving children to draw pictures and create gifts inspired by their memories of the one who died, to give to other family members.
Decorate and hang a cut-out star in your home, write on the star your hopes and dreams for the future. Thinking about tomorrow is part of the healing.
Once you have remembered your loved one, make sure you remember yourself. Take care of your needs. Be gentle. Do what you can and no more and no less.