With the popularity of social media it seems we know more about people than ever before. We know their good times though holiday snaps, happy families, beautiful homes, good jobs… then it goes wrong, for someone, somewhere. Someone we know or a friend of a friend. An accident, burglary, cancer diagnosis, sudden death… we perhaps, somewhat voyeuristically, crowd round them in a cyber world in shock and disbelief. While many will offer practical and emotional support, others will fan the flames of anger and injustice. Life is shit. It’s so unfair!
But, Jesus told us to expect all this. In fact, He promises ‘you will have trouble’ (John 16:33), which isn’t a phrase you’ll want to think of over the nicer messages!
Like me, one day your life could look very different… trouble comes knocking.
Your body doesn’t work the way it should anymore.
You develop anxiety over something unexpected.
Your job or income is threatened.
Your relationship breaks down.
You’re involved in an accident.
You are harmed in some way.
Someone in your family is taken ill.
Someone you know dies.
Something, anything, could have a profound affect on the rest of your life and how you are able to live it. And it’s often at times like this we turn away from God, confused about why our prayers aren’t being answered or why we have to endure this new situation and suffering.
Life is hard
In our society, we expect a large degree of perfection. Way back when, magazines touched up images of models to make them look perfect. This was one level of perfectionism that most people could ignore. However, the popularity and accessibility of social media amongst all ages and sexes has skewed how life is viewed. Life is edited to sound more interesting. Pictures are filtered to look better. The life we present online can show an unrealistic snapshot of what it truly is.
As a Christian, learning about Jesus, we are never told that our lives will be easy. I can see, now that I have explored further, that the message of ‘God Saves’ is not ‘God will solve all our problems’. When Jesus healed and raised people from death He was not just rescuing them from those afflictions, but was demonstrating who He really was and the power He had. (As we know, we often want evidence in order to to believe.) Jesus told us quite clearly that we will always have illness, poverty, evil and suffering, and that God will love and support us through it all and – ultimately – wipe every tear from every eye.
It seems a morose way to view life and contradicts what we are to believe in the love of God. But our suffering and God’s love go hand in hand, in equal measure.
When my daughter died, I didn’t understand why (I still don’t) but I did feel very strongly that Jesus was with me (and I had been so separated from my faith up to that point that I couldn’t even pray to God to save her). I felt a presence. I felt such love and grief alongside mine. I may not have understood what was happening to us, but I felt understood.
‘To be understood, as to understand.’
To be loved as to love with all my soul.’
Make me a Channel of your Peace, Prayer of St Francis
So Jesus’s message was we should not be surprised by the trials of life but know that we are blessed when things are going well. The good times shine out and become even better.
Happiness in poverty
Growing up was tough. Our mother had to raise four children on very little financial, physical or emotional support. Alone. Poor. Tired. Life a monotonous cycle of scraping money together to pay bills and feed and clothe everyone. We lived below the poverty line in Thatcher’s Britain, where single parents were ostracised and considered outcasts of society.
We learnt to adapt to our daily suffering, yet still, I have many happy memories of that time. We entertained each other. We found ingenious ways to cook the little food we had. When the heating and electric ran out, often on a Sunday afternoon, we got duvets, lit candles and read books, played games or sang songs. We bonded in a way that stays with us today. We appreciated hot water, warm beds and the taste of a chocolate bar (not quite as bad as Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but you get the idea). We knew we had it rough, so we made the most of the good times.
There will always be flies among the roses
Life’s all about perspective. When we view the world through rose-tinted lenses we are shocked, affronted, hurt by anything that distorts our view. Yet, with clear lenses on we see the beauty and the ugly living side by side. A bit like this fly I captured resting on a rose.
I loathe flies, they disgust me, yet just because I dislike them and know they only feed off dirt and spread germs, they still exist. My feelings don’t change their existence. I also know that the fly will fly away, but the beauty of the rose will last much longer.
It’s not until we recognise what is normal – the good, the bad and the ugly – that we can really understand Jesus and what His sacrifice did for us. We can begin to feel more comfortable with our suffering. Less bitter. More hopeful.
There’s joy to be found in suffering!
This was a big dilemma for me for many years. How can those who suffer such terrible illnesses or problems have such hope in their faith through it all? Surely they feel ignored by God or even punished in some way? But I have realised that rather than being a depressing view of life (one which I avoided committing to) … seeing life through Jesus’s perspective, I have never felt more joyful!
Before, I was always chasing the next thing. Trying to realise my goals to be successful, financially independent, happily married, have healthy well-behaved children, the best figure etc. Yet I always saw the faults more than the blessings.
I lacked confidence at work (I didn’t get where I was by the usual education methods, I worked hard, used my gifts and it paid off, but still I doubted myself, I expected more, that I should be more). I thought my marriage was flawed because we didn’t do things other couples did or didn’t go out to dinner once a week. I found it hard to trust. I beat myself up over having a postnatal body, flabby, scarred, imperfect. I believed myself a bad mother every time I yelled at my children or felt frustrated by their behaviour.
I challenge myself constantly but actually, by knowing that I’m allowed to be imperfect because it’s normal … that the negative aspirations were abnormal… was incredibly liberating. By accepting that life isn’t all roses – that there are always flies buzzing around – has helped me feel greater hope and greater awareness of God’s goodness.
It’s with these clearer lenses on that – despite the hard upbringing, the imperfections, the pregnancy losses and the death of my eldest child – I go to bed and count my blessings. I suffer with anxiety as a result of these things, but I see the blessings in my life now as giants beside the sufferings.
Expectations of prayer
When I prayed before I really got to know God, I would ask for perfection. I prayed for a happy marriage, healthy life and children, success, and security… things we all hope for. So if nothing went my way I believed God wasn’t listening or cared, yet if it did go well, I was happy. Like a child wanting a toy.
Knowing God and what He actually provides, and why, rather than being a genie granting wishes, is the real love and support that we need when life does what it will do… cause trouble.
I still pray to God for healing and security and all those things, but I also am thankful for what I have, for what he’s done, for using my suffering to help me get more out of life. I don’t expect my problems to be resolved, but I know He will help me to resolve them – sometimes in an obvious way, other times in ways I don’t realise until much later.
God knows exactly what I need, and when, but I need to seek Him first, not just expect it. I find it hard not to live life anxiously waiting for bad things to happen, but I try to remember that I need to be mindful of the here and now.
‘For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’
Matthew 6: 32-34