All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
even the light has gone from my eyes.
My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
my neighbors stay far away. …
Lord, I wait for you;
you will answer, Lord my God. …
Lord, do not forsake me;
do not be far from me, my God. ~Psalm 38:9-11, 15, 21
Throughout my life, I have found refuge in the Psalms because when I read the author’s words, I see a man who is seeking God, but who has some intense emotional suffering, unanswered questions, and unmet longings. Unfortunately, this is a side of a real, authentic relationship with God that is often hidden in the church.
I read Psalm 38 this morning. It was a good song for me because I’ve been battling a lot of negative emotions. Yesterday I woke up feeling depressed and not knowing why. I felt tired and unmotivated to do anything at all, even though I have a lot I need to do. I know so many people who are stronger than me and can still work pretty hard even when they’re struggling. But I stayed home from class and work the past two days, feeling weak and inadequate for doing so.
Unfortunately, when there are people in our midst who are hurting (including ourselves), we often don’t know how to react. We feel pressured to sweep it under the rug. For those of us who are suffering, there is so much pressure to fix our problems as soon as possible. It’s as if you’re not a good Christian unless you can solve a problem within three days, or some other arbitrary time limit.
Others of us have loved ones who have been suffering for a long time. We feel a similar pressure, like we have to “fix” someone, or else we’re not a good friend or a “fruitful” Christian. We think our friends, when they tell us the hurt they have, just want us to solve their problems. Since we usually can’t, it’s easy to feel a sense of guilt when we’re around them. This can even lead friends of sufferers to avoid or abandon their friends in their greatest time of need!
Oftentimes, though, what a hurting friend needs most is not a solution. They just need to feel like a human being.
This kind of “fix it” thinking often is not God’s timing, nor is it the deepest concern of His heart! When we do have negative emotions and complex problems, it’s a great opportunity to see God’s longsuffering for us.
How did you react when I wrote above that I was feeling depressed? How do you usually react when a friend tells you they’re feeling down? Do you become so uncomfortable with suffering that you forsake the important relational virtue of longsuffering? Maybe you don’t know how you should react. But I think we can take a hint from God’s reactions to our suffering.
Since we are welcomed as God’s dearly loved children (see Hebrews 4:16 and Ephesians 5:1-3), we can feel safe to reveal our struggles to Him. We can be comfortable crying, hurting, screaming, or even complaining while we’re in the same room with Him. He can tolerate us being broken, being ourselves just as we are.
In the presence of Jesus, I don’t have to put on a face. I don’t have to feel this oppressing idea that God’s highest desire is to fix me. No! God just wants to be with me. Sure, God calls me to be righteous, and in Christ I am redeemed (Isaiah 44:22). But He redeemed me so that I could be free to return to Him whenever I need a hug.
It’s great to know my weaknesses are not too much for God to handle. Even when our the church falls short (which it always will!), remember that Your Father is a safe place to hide.
If you know people who will endure through your sufferings and still recognize you as a person, spend time with those people. If others have a hard time exhibiting longsuffering, gently let them know about what you desire from your relationship with them during your trials, and exhibit love to them regardless of how good they are at it.
And even when you feel like you don’t have a close friend or companion, a person who can handle you, a person you can share your secrets with, find refuge in your heavenly father! When nothing seems familiar, when you don’t understand your life (or yourself!), and when nowhere feels like home, relax in the truth that God knows you, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. He’ll take your hand.