When A Friend is Hurting
"Did I do something wrong?" Shauna asked me from over her cup of coffee, tears brimming making her sad eyes look so tired. "I mean, I just don't see how things could be going this badly in my life unless I had done something wrong - really missed the mark - and God is teaching me a lesson."
So, back to my friend, Shauna and her honest question from a hurting heart and perhaps back to you if you find yourself asking, "Why? Why is this all happening?"...Three things:
Honestly, this question is one where I could put any woman's name ...Mary's name, Cindy's, Karla's, and at one point in my life - my own. I hear it all the time when I meet with women sharing their hurt and asking the hard questions. Why are things going so wrong? How did I mess up to deserve this?
It's no wonder we think along these lines. From our earliest lessons in life, we see that things come together with consistent cause and effect whether good or bad or even neutral: We cry for mom...mom comes to pick us up. We reach out to a hot stove...ouch! In school, one plus one equals two whether we're playing with blocks, racing through a math worksheet, or trading snacks at recess. So much of our life experience is taught and learned through this basic law of the universe - cause and effect. This isn't just a physical law. We see it in spiritual matters too. In God's reliable Word we read, "You reap what you sow." And, while opposed to the Bible, the pagan teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism have a cause and effect teaching in the idea of Karma*.
It's natural and honest to at least look at the possibility that the choices we've made have impacted what we're now experiencing. Many like to comfort a friend in a difficult time with the empty platitude that, "Everything happens for a reason." While that may be true, it could also be the reason is you were a knucklehead and made a bad decision. But I digress...
What about Maria? You know, "How do we solve the problem of Maria...?" from the Sound of Music. While I adore, adore, adore this musical and the entire beautiful true story it's based on, the problem of Maria really is revealed in her sweet and theologically off-target song, "I Must Have Done Something Good." You remember that song, right? She's falling for the Captain and he appears to be falling for her and she simply can't imagine why she should deserve this, but "somewhere in her wicked, miserable youth...I must have done something good." because "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could." Cause...something good. Effect...Captain loves me.
Lovely but oh, so wrong and this sweetness actually infects our thinking. If we got something good because we did something good, then it must follow that since we're having such awfulness, we must have done something bad. Sad. Not true at all. Take a look...
Our wonderings and attempts to find a cause for the painful trial or situation we're in is certainly not new. We're in good company:
- Job's friends tried to find a reason for the horrendous calamity that had befallen him, and this event took place nearly 5000 years ago! But was it, as they had assumed, because of some secret sin of Job's? Nope! It was for God' glory.
- Before Jesus healed a blind man his disciples asked why he was blind in the first place. They figured it was either his own sin or his parent who had sinned for this man to deserve the punishment of blindness. But no. Not at all. Jesus teaches that no one had sinned. His situation wasn't an effect of sin, but a cause of glory! Jesus said, “but this happened [the blindness] so that the works of God might be displayed in him." and then he healed him.
- When, as Luke records in chapter 13 of his gospel, citizens in Galilee were murdered and their blood mingled with temple sacrifices, the disciples again tried to wrap their reasoning minds around this tragic and evil event...why? "Were these Galileans more wicked than others?" No, again, Jesus says. This had nothing to do with their sinfulness. And he simply used the incident to chide and warn them to repent.
- What about when Paul was bitten by a viper? Remember that? The astonished sailors around him gasped and figured he was a gonner and that he'd gotten what he deserved since he was likely a no good, dirty rotten, murderer! Nope. Again! It was to point to God's power and give Him glory!
- Cause doesn't seem to correlate to effect, does it?
1) No Versitudeisms: In the pain of that moment I would never offer a versitudeism (a Bible verse that is quoted out of context causing it to become a platitude of impotent optimism) like "all things work together for good...yada, yada, yada." No one wants to hear that. Don't do it. Don't say it. Grow deeper in your understanding of the Word and in the truth of who God is. You can offer better. Read the Bible and consider how you can "spur one another along in love and good works", how you can "bear one another's burdens".
2) Remember God's Track Record: Then, keeping in mind that Shauna isn't living in sin but is humbly walking with the Lord and reaching out to make sense of some hard things going on in her life, I simply offer a reminder of God's faithfulness. There's passage after passage in the Word to offer but Hebrews 11 (the "Hall of Faith") is one of my favorite reminders that God has been faithful through the lives of those who submitted to Him...and also Lamentations chapter three. It's a tough one to read, but resonates with us when we're in so much affliction like the author of this book. Buried in amidst the recounting of abuse, shame, sickness and carnage, comes a flood of hope because of the realization of God's faithfulness and love and mercies that are new every morning.
3) Prayer and crying - I've been lost before, hopeless before, in so much pain and sadness before and sometimes - oftentimes - the best encouragement I've received was simply the arms of a true friend hugging and praying and crying over me. The hurt is real. The sadness is true. But God has given us quite literally a superpower...prayer. Use it with empathy in times like this. Weep with those who weep. And let the tears flow. It's healing and mystically strengthening.
ok, four things...
4) No Fixing: Don't try to fix things or explain things. Whether you're the one in pain or the one listening to a friend in pain...don't. Instead, simply Love. Pray. Encourage with Scripture. Let God do the fixing. Let His Spirit do the explaining...if He so chooses. Otherwise, you come alongside and Love. Pray. Encourage.
The truth is there's no lack of pain and hardship in this world. Jesus reminded us, "In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."...and "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." Are you in need of a reminder of this peace? Let's talk. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Leave a comment. I'm curious about how you reconcile the life you're trying to live with the mysteries of why bad things happen and why we go through such hardships.
*Curious about Karma? I'd be happy to chat with you about how this false teaching has infected our Christian faith and how you can battle against it with the Truth of God's Word. Call me. Let's talk!