All of us at one point have gone through a difficult season: the death of a family member, a sudden financial crisis, an unexpected illness. Hardship is one of life’s few certainties. The question is not if it will happen, but when it will happen.
Whenever I enter a difficult season, I remember the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Unlike us, Jesus knew exactly what was coming and when it was coming. In a few hours’ time, he was going to be mocked, beaten and crucified. Yet Jesus used his moment of anguish as an opportunity to trust in God – and we can learn from his example.
Here are six encouraging thoughts that we can hold on to when we walk through dark and lonely times:
Suffering is universal and unavoidable
Suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t matter where you are from, what ethnicity you may be, how much you have or don’t have. No one is immune to it. Even Jesus, the Son of God, experienced suffering. At first this might not seem encouraging, but admitting the fact that suffering is a reality everyone experiences helps us realize we are not alone – and that’s an encouraging place to start.
Suffering is not a result of punishment for sin
This is perhaps the biggest lie we believe when we go through times of suffering. When we experience difficulty in life, it is very easy to think that God is punishing us for our sin. This could not be further from the truth. Sure, we may suffer due to the consequences of sinful decisions we make, but God does not send suffering as punishment for our sin. That’s not the kind of God he is. Instead, God will use suffering as a tool to refine our faith and ultimately bring us closer to himself.
Suffering is temporary
Though it doesn’t make it easier in the moment, it’s good to remember that all suffering is temporary. Scripture says that we will suffer “a little while” (1 Peter 5:10) and that our sufferings are only for the “present time” (Romans 8:18).
At times we may think we’ll never see light again. While we’re in the middle of the dark night, though we may feel completely lost and utterly hopeless, we trust that Christ can resurrect anything. Just as Jesus was on the cross for six hours and in the grave for three days, there is a set limit to our suffering. It is temporary.
God loves me and has not forgotten me
It’s so easy to forget this truth when we are enduring hardship or are confronted with tragedy. God promises that he “will never leave you nor forsake you” and that he is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
The Apostle Paul, who according to church tradition was martyred for his faith, asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”
“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 8:35, 37–39).
When we feel most alone and our hearts are the heaviest, God is right there with us.
God empathizes with me in my suffering
Perhaps we don’t often consider that God the Father suffered that night in the Garden of Gethsemane as well. This was not a one-sided affair. The Father and the Son shared intimate fellowship from all eternity. God was able to empathize with Jesus because this suffering was a shared experience. And if God empathized with Christ, if he made a way for Christ, won’t he empathize with us and make a way for us, too?
When we suffer, it’s okay to ask “Why?”
“Why?” isn’t always the most helpful question, but it is usually the most human. We see the humanity of Jesus on display in the Garden of Gethsemane as he essentially asks, “If there is another way . . . Why is there not another way?”
It’s also okay to not understand why we are having to endure suffering. God’s ways are not our ways (see Isaiah 55:8–9). And even if God explained what we were going through and gave us his reasoning, it’s likely we wouldn’t understand, let alone agree with it. Asking “Why?” does not show a lack of faith but reveals faith. It’s acknowledging that God alone has the answers to questions we desperately desire answers to.
In times of suffering, I refer to this list. It helps me climb my own mountain of suffering and enables me to accept my struggle. This list is a constant reminder of certainties in the midst of suffering, and when I meditate on it in my own dark nights, I so often find the peace and presence of God.
Adapted from “The Mountains Are Calling: Making the Climb for a Clearer View of God and Ourselves.” Copyright © 2018 Jarrett Stephens. Published by Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.