Some seasons seem relentless. One family tragedy comes stacked on another as everyone struggles to find a footing. Everyone seems to have a story of a year that just felt like too much. A friend shared with me all of the challenges that fell into one year that culminated in her father’s death saying, “I hope I never see a year like 2011 again.” Years of medical challenges, family dysfunction, big life changes, and significant losses leave us reeling. It feels like punishment from God as we know that in his sovereignty he could put an end to the pain.
Our family struggled with a rough year that was marked by many prayers and lots of tears, but somewhere along the way we found joy as we clung tightly to God. At times, we asked God hard questions, like why us. We wrestled with what God could possibly be teaching us through this frustrating season. As we walked through the chaos, we found some valuable truths to lean on.
So much of God's plan is beyond our understanding that it can be hard to see God’s love through our pain. Scripture reminds us that there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate us from God's love (Romans 8:38-39. That includes the current crisis or the past pain--they don’t get top billing. Sometimes God feels distant or indifferent to our suffering, but that is never actually the case. We know that Jesus wept over pain, we know that God promises to work things for our good, so we can be brave enough to trust in God’s compassion when the world feels like it is coming apart. Because even as our world feels uncertain, the love of God remains constant and sure.
The Psalmist also asked difficult questions of God. Why do I suffer while the wicked prosper? How long will this go on Lord--will you forget me forever? It may feel like we are the only one hurting, but we are never alone. These Psalms call out to God, but they also return to the foundation, ending with the resolution that "still I will trust in God." God remains the one faithful fortress. God walks with us through every challenge and is our comfort in times of sorrow.
It is in overwhelming losses that we discover how little in life is truly under our control. Everything that we try to manage somehow gets derailed and we are left floundering for how to keep our lives and ourselves together. We are people who long to control our surroundings, and crisis times are a reminder that we are not in charge and we never were. The sooner we learn to lean on God the better. His plan is better than our own anyway!
Every season of life has its unique joys and pains. We may experience seasons that challenge us physically, emotionally, or spiritually, or sometimes all three at once. The Bible is full of stories about desert times where trials are experienced and faith is refined. Life seasons may seem difficult, but ultimately we will also be able to say "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4). A season can feel like a trial, and you may wonder what God could possibly be trying to teach you through an experience. Some of those answers may never come in this life, but we hold on to a higher hope.
Often we move through life thinking God is good, but not that necessary. It is from the bottom of struggles that we look up and recognize our need for God. Too often we try to accomplish things under our own power without first reaching out for God’s leading. A season of struggle resets our focus and reminds us to reach out to God who has power beyond our comprehension and trust that he will work in our circumstances.
In the midst of pain, we tend to circle our wagons and isolate from the world. When one family struggles, the body of Christ is supposed to step in and be the church. It may be hard to reach out and ask for help when we need it, but God is helping us to build interdependence on his people. God longs for the body of Christ to have unity and that doesn’t mean that we are in agreement about all things, but rather that we step up to care for one another as a family built in Christ Jesus.
Struggle and loss are not not fun, but they are not the end. Nothing separates us from the love of God!
Rev. Deb Koster