Written By Juan Carlos Tulalian, Philippines
One afternoon last December, I received a text message from my former youth pastor asking me to pray for his wife, who was facing complications during delivery. When he called me later to explain the situation in detail, I could sense the tension in his voice. Both his wife and their baby were in critical condition, and he feared that they would not survive.
The next morning, I received an update from him that his wife had survived, but their baby had not. As I read the message, I felt an immediate sense of loss. I couldn’t imagine the pain my pastor was going through.
No one can prepare for such sudden tragedies, whether it is death or a doctor’s diagnosis that we have an incurable disease. We may start asking: Where is God? How do I apply what I learned about suffering to my life? So how can we cope with such situations?
When Typhoon “Haiyan” hit the Philippines in 2013, it destroyed many places and left dead bodies lying in the streets. News footages showed scenes of a crying child, a father looking for his family, an injured grandmother, and many other victims of devastation. It was terrible; it was like a horror film playing out in reality. My heart had ached for those affected. Now, I felt just as lost for words when I heard about the loss of my pastor’s baby. I had no words of comfort, and I could not bring myself to utter lines like “It’s okay!”, “God has a purpose”, or “It’s the will of God.”
Some people try to numb their feelings of pain and loss by blocking out anything that would remind them of those feelings. But that doesn’t change reality. These experiences have taught me that escaping reality is not the solution. We need to face the reality that pain, hurt, and loss do exist:
(1) Embrace our feelings
Acknowledge the feelings of pain and loss. Let’s not mask our feelings and pretend that everything is okay because it’s not.
Through counseling, I learned to be open about my feelings instead of bottling them up, which included moments where I cried openly. Let’s look for trustworthy friends and fellowship groups whom we can share our struggles with and who can comfort us and point us to God.
When we embrace our feelings, we are acknowledging our humanity and this helps us see our need for God in life.
(2) Don’t be afraid to grieve
It’s okay to cry and grieve over our loss, and to cry out to God like the writer of Psalms did—“My God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . “How long Oh Lord will I wait?” . . . “Why are you downcast Oh my soul?”
Jesus is able to bear all our burdens. He knows what we’re going through and He grieves along with us, just as He did when Lazarus died (John 11:33-35). So let’s bring whatever we’re experiencing—anger, hatred, loss, hurt, pain, agony—to Him and cast our cares on Him. He understands what we are going through in life because He faced loss and pain Himself.
Let’s hold on to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith, our hope and future. He will wipe the tears from our eyes.
(3) Accept our situation
Pain, hurt, loss, and suffering are inevitable. But this is not a call to just grin and bear with tragedies in life; we can accept them because there is a hope to look forward to.
The apostle Paul tells us that every pain and suffering that we currently face is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). And James teaches us that it is for the development and maturity of our faith that we go through trials of many kinds (James 1:2-3).
When I lost my job as a youth minister, it was hard for me to accept it. I lamented and asked God many questions, but it seemed as though God was silent. It took me a long time to accept the loss and realize that God had intended for me to grow beyond ministering in the church setting. He led me to serve in the community and be involved in social welfare work.
It’s usually after we realize that God allows things to happen for a purpose, for His glory and for our maturity that we can truly accept our situations.
(4) Entrust ourselves to God
Even when we pass through the darkest night of our souls and no light comes along our way, let’s trust God. Remember that He is faithful to His covenant, and will never leave nor forsake us.
Through prayer, devotion or even in fasting, let’s seek Him each day. No matter what comes our way, let’s always call out to Him, rely on His grace and rest upon Him.