Facing Suffering That Lasts Longer Than a Season 

Sometimes short-term crisis feels easier than chronic trials.

Perhaps, it has something to do with how we have all been taught about seasons of suffering, but no one really talks about those kinds of trials that don’t go away in this lifetime.

I hear Christians talk about seasons of suffering a lot. I hear testimonies of how God brought someone through a season of suffering and out the other side. I hear people say, “after you have suffered a little while, God will do the same for you.” I hear passionate speeches about how God’s mercies are new every morning. And somewhere along the way, this is implied to mean that one morning you will inevitably wake up and the suffering will be gone.

I’m not sure these verses mean what people think they mean.

I think these verses are much more about God’s mercies being present through the suffering, not necessarily that God’s mercies will be the means of bringing our sufferings to an end. I think these verses are more about how our afflictions are short in light of eternity, than a promise of their quick passing here on earth.

How do we face suffering that lasts longer than a season? Suffering that doesn’t have an earthly end date. Suffering that is harder to get through because you can’t necessarily hold on to hope that things will change.

As I consider this question, four thoughts come to mind.

  1. We need to learn the language of lament.

In her book, No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece states that, “lament has become the prayer the church forgot.”

She lists a variety of clichés we so often hear in times of suffering such as “everything happens for a reason” and “God works all things together for good.” And she then provides these wise words: “We say these things because, somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the biblical language of lament.”

I find this so profound. The reason we resort to clichés is because we have forgotten how to grieve alone and with one another. We have forgotten that finding healing in the midst of chronic suffering has much less to do with finding answers and solutions than it has to do with lamenting before God and among others in the midst of that suffering.

We have forgotten how to cry out like the Psalmist did in Psalm 13 and in many other Psalms.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13).

2. We need to resist the urge to isolate, and find ways to reach out to our faith community.

I have written before about the difficulty of remaining in community in the midst of physical limitations. But despite this reality, I truly believe we need to do everything within our power to not fall into isolation.

Learning the language of lament cannot happen solely in isolation, but must be shared with others.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). 

We need those people who will mourn with us, who will listen to our stories, and give us a helping hand.

When we physically struggle to get around, we need to seek out online communities. We need to ask community to come to us. We need to ask for the accomodations we need to get to community.

And community needs to become a place where we both receive and give help, even as we suffer.

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (I Peter 4:19). 

3. We need to find ways to live normal life in those moments when life is far from normal.

When life is hard, sometimes the most faithful and trusting thing we can do is complete the normal tasks of life, going about our daily routines when all we want to do is freeze or run. Psalm 23 paints a picture of this when it talks about eating a meal in peace even when chaos surrounds. In this Psalm, we see the Good Shepherd preparing a table for those he loves when they are surrounded by enemies.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5). 

He prepares a table. He doesn’t provide food to eat hidden in the basement. He doesn’t pack the food away to be carried on the run. He prepares a table. Why? I believe because faith does normal life and daily routines even in the midst difficult of times.

Instead of cowering in our beds, we take a shower, eat our breakfast, and read our Bibles. Instead of trying to fix unfixable situations, we go to work and church, even as our greatest fears surround us. We take care of our kids, make dinner, and keep a regular bedtime.

We ask God, “What do you want me to do in the next five minutes?” and try to do it, regardless of whether it is brushing our teeth, eating lunch, calling a friend, or lying down and patiently waiting for the flare to pass.

4. We need to remember that our sufferings are but for a little while in light of eternity.

 When people remind me that the difficulties I face are  but for a season on earth, I just feel frustrated. I feel frustrated, because they do not know that to be true.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard Christians promise other Christians things that are simply not promised.

“I know you will find the husband you want.”

“I know God will give you the baby you want.”

“I know God will heal you.”

“I know that relationship will be restored…”

These things are simply false guarantees. We hope these things will happen. We pray these things will happen. We work towards these things happening. But if they don’t happen, we hold on to the hope that this life is not the end of the story.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

3 Comments

  1. Esther, I don’t have the words. Thank you for this encouragement, I need it so much today. Last week I reached the point where I just couldn’t put on the ‘brave face’ one more day. I saw the rest of my life stretched out ahead and filled with the same painful (literally) struggle every day…and it was too much to bear. But I guess one good thing about letting down the ‘brave face’ is that others can see you need help! I thank the Lord that he provided loving and caring people to help me…or just listen! I think you are so right about us losing the language of lament. The misunderstanding of God’s promises underlying the kind of unhelpful statements you list above makes those of us not (yet) healed feel like we are in the minority, that something must be wrong with us or that we are deficient somehow in our faith. I think I have certainly discovered through my chronic pain the ‘language of lament’ but as you wisely point out, lamenting alone can definitely lead to isolation and thence to despair. Thank you for the encouragement to seek out a community who will share our lament…I’m endeavouring to do this at the moment although I’m finding it very tiring. Thank you for your reminders from the Psalms. I love the Psalms even more now since my pain…they are so real! I find Psalms in musical form are a great comfort too. I’m enjoying singer/song-writer Sandra McCracken’s ‘Psalms’ album right now …so beautiful!

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