“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”-Romans 5:3-5
I used to love the mantra “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” adding layers to my hard shell with each new hardship. From the outside, I appeared healthy, strong and thriving. But on the inside, I was broken, hurting, weak. I hid beneath my shell, not allowing others to penetrate through for fear of being found out. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was anything but strong. I was afraid of being hurt and betrayed as I did not trust easily.
When I learned that God loved me and wanted to be with me in my struggles, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. But the more I learned, the more I wanted Him to be there with me. While people would let me down, He would never leave me or forsake me. I may not always like His answers to my prayers, but He would be there through the pain and joy.
Since then, I’ve heard a lot of Christ followers respond to suffering in many different ways. Some helpful, some not.
“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
But really, I think he does. When we are given more than we can handle, we are forced to lean into Him and His strength. He calls us to give Him our burdens so He can give us rest (Matthew 11:28-29)
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
But really, is the goal really to toughen up? Or does God call us to a more complex strength, one in which at times we are weak, and He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9)?
Today, as I was reading through some old journals, I was reminded of how so often we accidentally make suffering worse by saying things like this. But I think there can be a better way. We can remember that we need to bear with one another in love. That we need to experience our suffering, instead of pushing through it or avoiding it. We also need to allow our loved ones to suffer, no matter how difficult that seems.
Because in the end, we all need to face the pain. And in doing so, we can learn to endure.
P.S. Kate Bowler’s book “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved” goes into much more detail about the unhelpful things that Christians can say. I highly recommend it to everyone!