Many people struggle with this critical question when unfortunate events strike. Death, abuse, and loss are just some examples prompting this question. At nine years old I asked this question when my father unexpectedly died in a tragic accident. He was volunteering to help build a church in a neighboring town when a strong gust of wind moved a truss, knocking my father off the building. Between the tears, anger, and small bouts of depression I experienced I have continued to work through this deep question of life. I am sure many of you have also been struck by difficult life events. The hurt is real and I sincerely hope your healing process has begun. But is there something more we can do to address the hurting among our communities and answer this timeless question for ourselves?
Leave Out Common Phrases
After tragic life events I hear many common phrases which make me cringe. For example: “God only gives you what you can handle”, “This will only make you stronger”, “It’s God's Will”, “They're in a better place” or “This is just a test from God.” I think we often misunderstand how these well known phrases impact others. When these phrases are used God becomes connected to or even responsible for these events and we miss the opportunity to acknowledge the pain that is present. Instead of offering impossible answers, focus on being comforting; express your sorrow for their loss, help out with specific things the person needs done, or provide a welcoming presence and listening ear.
Listen and Understand
It is natural to try to avoid or remove pain, especially when it comes to those we love. "You're ok", "I've seen worse", or "I will handle it for you," are just a few common responses. Saying these phrases does not take away the pain, but instead minimizes the person's feelings. We must allow others to feel what they are experiencing, such as rejection, guilt, or loneliness. Again the most important role for us is to listen and be there for the individual. God has made you, so your presence can be comforting, your ears can listen, your words can be empathetic, and your heart can love.
Ask Deeper Questions About God
God is supposed to be all powerful, all knowing, and always present. Then why does God allow terrible things to happen if God knows they will happen and has the power to stop them? What if God is all powerful but just chooses not to act? How does inaction represent God's all encompassing love? If God doesn’t act, is God all powerful? If God is always present does that mean that God too is suffering along with us? If God is suffering with us does God truly feel my pain?
I think these are questions we have to wrestle with to truly understand who God is in our lives. Answers to these questions may be different for each one of us but I know I choose to believe in a God that loves me and suffers with me. God is love and love is powerful above all else.
As unfortunate as my father's death was for my family, I reflect back and see how it bonded us together with love. The love united us together as a family unit. That love between us and the love of our community (church, neighbors, friends) carried us into coping with and understanding the death. Although my siblings and I all came to terms with the loss in our own manner and time, it was through the suffering that we eventually saw God right there along with us, loving us each step of the way.
It's hard to find God and feel hope in those moments of suffering, when terrible things happen in our lives. But hope lives in both the best and darkest of days. A hope that calmly shouts, I am here with you! God has positioned you to be a vehicle for that hope, a comforting presence for others. How you respond can be vital to the healing process of others and the spiritual journey they are on. Love is powerful!
Find time this week to share your story of a difficult time in your life. This could be with a friend, neighbor, or loved one. I encourage you to write on our blog if this story impacted you.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.