What if I Can’t Accept My Suffering?

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

For years, I had struggled with health issues. Plagued by auto-immune problems, anxiety, and OCD, I had to accept physical limitations and challenges with schoolwork, but I could not make peace with the mental disruption and chaos in my life.

My mind was constantly in overdrive, full of overwhelming anxiety, inappropriate thoughts, and interfering noise. I almost never felt calm. While I managed to act composed in public, my thoughts were always raging.

The strain of combating this unceasing, vicious stream of intrusive thoughts left me unable to deal with other life challenges or interact well with family members. There were good moments, but overall, when I wasn’t sobbing on the floor, I was tense, irritable, and on the verge of exploding.


Why, God, why?

I could present nuanced and detailed arguments for why God lets His children suffer. I knew that evil entered the world because of sin, that God ultimately defeated it through the cross, and that He allows suffering in our lives for our growth and His ultimate glory. I also trusted that one day, God would welcome His children into a kingdom with no more tears.

However, as it became increasingly difficult to function each day, this knowledge no longer gave me peace. Captive to my unwanted thoughts and irritable behavior, I grew increasingly resentful.

Through my suffering, God produced greater compassion, humility, and gospel dependence in my life, and I knew that I should rejoice. But couldn’t God have accomplished the same good through a litany of other—less painful, more acceptable—circumstances? If I had to be sick and crazy just so that I would see my helplessness apart from Christ and worship Him, wasn’t God twisted and terrible?

I couldn’t hate God, so I hated myself, chasing these thoughts in circles with no hope of resolution.


Why can’t I stop?

My physical problems were morally neutral, but I equated my wild thoughts with sin and felt incredibly guilty. My anxiety, anger at God, critical thoughts about others, hate-filled emotions, and the stream of inappropriate, unwanted thoughts were unacceptable. But no matter how hard I fought to preempt or discard negative thoughts and feelings, I could never stem the tide.

Over time, I began to understand that neurological issues were the root of my conflict and disorder. This realization comforted me, but even though I did not feel responsible for the thoughts entering my head, I still had to fight them. I engaged in a constant tug-of-war between wanting to pardon myself and wallowing in guilt. Much of my anguish stemmed from the fear that every awful thought I had was documented, and that I would face that record on Judgment Day. As I worried about how God would measure my extenuating circumstances, I lost sight of the fact that my record was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).

As I heard my pastor preach each week, studied Scripture, and engaged in Christian community, God used these ordinary means of grace to deepen my belief in the gospel and expand my understanding of its power. I saw that my sin and brokenness are both dead and that I don’t have to obsess over my guilt or innocence, because I am free from sin and alive in Christ. How can I rail against God for allowing me to suffer when He has saved me from my sin and credited Christ’s righteousness to me? How can I be angry with Him when His Son has taken the crushing weight of sin and death for me?


God answers

Over time, my life circumstances improved. I still struggle with my health, but I no longer deal with the type of intrusive thoughts that made my life miserable. I received the resolution that I wanted and have seen my growth through suffering. But for a long time after, I continued feeling that God was unjust. More often than not, my grateful reflection over spiritual growth gave way to yet another internal argument over whether or not there was any justification for what God had required me to endure.

I can neither understand nor explain why God designed my life the way He did, but I know that He is good, that He is powerful, and that He is loving. Because of what I have suffered, I know that my faith is real. God took away what I valued and depended upon most—the self-righteous morality and dignity that I had worked so hard to maintain—and drew me nearer to Him.

My happy ending didn’t arrive when I experienced relief or got an explanation. Rather, resolution came when I grew to love my Savior more than my desire to dictate my own life. Charles Spurgeon, the English preacher, once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” I have used this quote to reframe my perspective, accepting that God calls me to something greater than my ideas of what goodness is: He calls me to Himself. My only boast is Christ, not what good I’ve done or what sin I’ve fought victoriously against. I will accept the goodness and value of whatever leads me to cling to God.

How Should the Church Respond to Health Disorders?

Written By Eudora Chuah, Singapore

Clare* sat up in bed, half an hour past her bedtime. “What’s wrong?” her mother asked, as the 10-year-old proceeded to dash out of her room.

I don’t know. I think I need to check my school bag again. What if I forget to bring something to school tomorrow?” she wailed, evidently distressed. Despite her mother’s attempts to reassure her, Clare’s panic did not fade. “I know I checked—but what if I missed something out?”

Fast forward to the present. Clare is now a teacher in her 20s. These days, she finds herself re-reading her lesson plan submissions over and over again to ensure they are impeccable. Despite that, she is hardly ever satisfied with the finished product. It’s the same when it comes to how she conducts herself. After any parent-teacher meeting, she would wonder, “What if I didn’t conduct myself professionally enough?” Other times, she finds herself questioning, “What if I didn’t give that parent a satisfactory reply to her email?

But unlike the past, Clare knows exactly why she’s behaving this way. A couple of years ago, she was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This involves the constant fear of the worst possible scenario happening, even when the fear is irrational.

Initially, the diagnosis was difficult for Clare, a second-generation Christian, to accept. It caused her to question her faith. Christians aren’t worrywarts, she often thought to herself. So was her constant worrying due to her lack of faith?

Well-meaning friends whom Clare confided in about her struggles occasionally quoted Jeremiah 29:11 to assure her of God’s providence and the resulting peace that comes from knowing God is in control. While she tried to take comfort in those words, she couldn’t help but feel that the one-liner “solution” for anxiety was too simplistic. This was especially because God’s peace often felt elusive to her.

It was only on closer reading of the full chapter that Clare realized her initial understanding of the verse was inaccurate. The promise to “prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” had been given to the Israelites who were in exile. They had to experience 70 years of exile and wandering before God delivered them from their enemies (Jeremiah 29:10). That put an entirely new spin on the passage for Clare. Clare recognized that God wanted her to cling on to hope of His ultimate deliverance in the midst of her struggle and press on in her walk with Him, just as the wandering Israelites did.

Later on, Clare also read and was encouraged by the stories of men of faith who were used mightily by God despite their struggles with mental health issues. William Cowper, a poet and hymn writer, experienced four episodes of paralyzing depression throughout his life. Yet, his perseverance in the faith despite his anguished circumstances is captured in one of his best known hymns, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”.

Knowing Clare’s story and journeying with her has got me thinking about how we, as a community of believers, should respond to the topic of mental health issues. And here are some helpful ways I’ve thought of:

1. Be open to talk about mental health issues within the Christian community.

If the church does not act as a safe space for people to express themselves regarding mental health struggles, it creates the impression that depression and anxiety are bad or wrong. In turn, this could lead the believer with mental health struggles to perceive that something is wrong with his or her faith.

2. Accept “secular help” where necessary.

God intervenes through human agents. These could be doctors and therapists with necessary expertise to assist depressed or anxious people back to mental wellness. Medicine and therapy can, and should, be an integral part of recovery, as deemed appropriate by the medical team.

3. Accompany a loved one or friend to their first appointment.

Clare was very appreciative of her cell group leader who accompanied her to her first appointment. Though it may have been a small gesture, it spoke volumes because it validated the struggle she faced, which could strike anyone.

4. Invite Christian speakers to share about mental health issues within the church.

Clare attended a talk about depression last year, and saw how it helped the audience have a better understanding of how depression impacts the sufferer and his or her loved ones.

5. Be empathetic towards those who struggle.

This could be as simple as inviting friends who struggle with such disorders to church activities—and to be understanding, should the individual decline the invitation or decide to leave halfway through the event.

Let’s be a community that provides both spiritual and practical support to those among us who are facing these problems!


*not her real name

ODJ: healed

July 23, 2013 

READ: Mark 8:22-38  

Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected. . . . He would be killed, but three days later He would rise from thedead (v.31). 

But my theology and practice have often collided whenever I didn’t see God move in the way I expected. Recently, however, God unpacked a few more layers of understanding for me as I stepped forward to receive prayer for a torn meniscus at a youth service.

With teenagers gathered around me, I felt humbled to be the recipient of their prayers—especially since so many of them struggle to believe their prayers are valid or desired. But the greatest honour came as I heard the prayers of a 27 year old woman on our youth ministry team. In her life, God’s answer to cancer had come through a mastectomy, not miraculous deliverance. Profoundly moved as she prayed about my need, I saw in that moment the greatness of God and the complexity of His ways. My minor torn meniscus, her life and death battle, and one faithful God. Prayer is a place of deep privilege.

Romans 11:33-34 reminds us that God’s ways stand far above anything we can comprehend. But there are some things we can definitively know about healing:

• Jesus’ death and resurrection restores our brokenness (Isaiah 53:5, 61:1-3; Matthew 11:2-5).

• Jesus’ triumph did not exclude suffering(Isaiah 53:3-4; Mark 8:31).

• God does not reject but rather welcomes and encourages our requests for miraculous intervention (James 5:13-18).

Just as the blind man in Mark 8 didn’t receive his healing the same way as others who had been healed, so too do our stories vary in the ways God works out His plans for our lives.—Regina Franklin

Read Isaiah 59:1-2, Matthew 13:57-58, James 4:3 and 1 John 3:22. According to these passages, what are some of the things we must address before bringing our needs to the Lord?  
What life experiences have shaped your understanding of God’s healing power? How do your ideas line up with Scripture? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

ODJ: the need to know

July 13, 2013 

READ: Job 38:1-21 

Who is this that questions My wisdom with such ignorant words? (v.2). 

Why? Our 10 year old son is especially adept at asking this question with great frequency. Because his questions have moved from innocent curiosity to occasional open challenge, my husband andI have chosen not to overlook the habit. Paying close attention I realised Micah was asking questions not to gain understanding, but in order to gain information so he could negotiate his way out of whatever we had asked him to do.

Since the Garden of Eden, human beings have succumbed to the temptation for greater knowledge (Genesis 3:5-6). Surprises are nice when it comes to birthday parties, but beyond those occasions for gifts and well wishes we don’t normally like to travel the unknown with limited information.

The drive to know what the future holds becomes even greater when hardship strikes. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t desire answers as much as we desire control. Information, in and of itself, cannot bring peace, as even Solomon—the wisest of men—acknowledged (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18). Much like a child who desires to renegotiate the rules, we often bring our questions to the Lord, not because we want to understand His ways but because we want to see His position so we can better argue ours.

However as Job realised, the ultimate prize is not the answer we receive, but the relationship we cherish. Recognising that God’s wisdom far surpassed his own, Job had a decision to make: continue to demand answers or surrender his own will to the One who is greater (read Jeremiah 17:7).

The key to Job’s freedom came in his recognition of God’s sovereignty(Job 42:2) and his willingness to repent for thinking he had a better way (v.6).

—Regina Franklin

Read Psalms 19:9-14and 139:23-24. What does David recognise about his own heart in these passages?  
What are some questions you’ve been bringing before God recently? How do you respond when God gives you an answer you don’t want to hear? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)