This post is directed toward my fellow Christians but I’ve done my best to write it in a way that doesn’t exclude those who believe differently than I do. I wanted to share this because it’s what’s been on my heart today but I never want any of my readers to feel like they don’t belong on my blog. I’m trying hard to balance that but I recognize that I might not get it right all the time. So, feel free to let me know how I did!
This morning I remembered that I can listen to music now that my sound hypersensitivity is gone! I realized though that I don’t have any music. I lost my iTunes library when I got a new phone. Normally I would sync a new phone to my computer but my computer got left behind at my parent’s house because it was contaminated with biotoxins that are a problem for me.
As a Christian and a dancer, music was always one of my favorite ways to process my feelings and connect with God. What a bitter irony it was to lose my ability to take pleasure in music when I most needed its comfort. Instead of beauty, I heard chaos. Instead of spiritual peace, it brought physical agony and panic. It felt like a cruel joke. The overstimulation was so excruciating that I had no choice but to stop listening to music altogether.
As you can imagine, I was excited to reconnect with the music-loving part of me this morning while I did the laundry. So, I googled for a YouTube Playlist. I picked the first one that came up and started listening.
At first, I liked what I heard as I agitated our clothes over: songs about the beauty, majesty and love of our great God. But then songs started coming up that really rubbed me the wrong way. They made it sound like God would always fix our problems if we just ask with enough faith.
I knew that wasn’t true. After all, I have earnestly pleaded for deliverance over and over during these devastating years of illness and my prayers were met with silence. Jesus, the son of God himself, asked for another way and God did not spare Him from the cross. Some may argue that I did not have sufficient faith to get the results I wanted but no one can say that Jesus didn’t.
Then a song came on called “Chain Breaker” and that was it. I was done with this playlist!
The worst part of the song went like this:
“There’s a better life
There’s a better life
If you’ve got pain
He’s a pain taker
If you feel lost
He’s a way maker…”
Is this technically true? Yes, it is! I do believe that Jesus came to heal and restore us (I’ll get to that later) but this song is so misleading. It goes on to say…
“If you believe it
If you receive it
If you can feel it
What in the world?! This makes it sound like the healing is just sitting there waiting for us to accept it. I’m sorry but this is not a truthful or compassionate understanding of suffering. If I had gone into my illness with this theology, my faith would have been crushed and probably destroyed. This is not the kind of song sufferers need.
Now, I’m not trying to pick on this song writer in particular. There are plenty of other Christian songs with the same problematic themes.
In fact, as I was thinking about this, I was reminded of a song we used to sing in church when I was a kid. If you grew up in church you may have sung it too. It goes like this…
“I’m trading my sorrows,
I’m trading my shame,
I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.
I’m trading my sickness,
I’m trading my pain,
I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.”
I have really fun memories of jumping up and down and shouting the chorus, “Yes Lord! Yes Lord! Yes, yes Lord!!!” It was a blast!
But now that I know what it means to suffer deeply, I see that this is just a super-catchy song full of perfectly empty words! As if we can just decide to trade our suffering away! I wish!
Maybe you can do that with a stomach bug that would have resolved in two days anyway, but when you’re faced with a crippling chronic illness you realize that you’re really not in control of your own health. God is not a vending machine and our faith is not a bunch of quarters that can get us what we want.
The hard reality we need to grapple with is that God never promised us healing on this side of Heaven. Suffering saints die every day, still in the midst of devastating suffering. For many, deliverance never comes… or rather, never comes in this life.
And that my friends, is the answer to the problem of these shallow songs. Heaven! This is how we can have “the joy of the Lord”, not instead of our pain and sorrow, but in the middle of our pain and sorrow.
If we want people to be able to endure deep sorrow with true courage we need to give them a finish line to look forward to. A hope that is strong enough to carry them through even a lifetime of darkness. The only hope I know of that is robust enough to match the depth of our earthly sorrows is Heaven.
Because the truth is, even if I was miraculously healed today, nothing in this world could ever make up for the agony I’ve already endured. Even the good things that are a direct result of my pain are not enough to make me say, “It was all worth it.” No way!
My increased gratitude and enjoyment of life isn’t enough. My ability to connect with others who are suffering isn’t enough. My inspiring story that is helping people isn’t enough. And no, even the spiritual growth that came out of my pain is not enough to make it worth it.
And that’s okay! It’s not supposed to be enough! Only in Heaven will we receive final comfort for our suffering. Only in heaven will we be completely and permanently healed. Then, Jesus will take away our pain. Everything will be made right and all our deepest longings will finally be fulfilled.
Not only will our bodies be made new but the earth itself will also be renewed. We will eat and drink, work and play, love and laugh, in a community of real people on a real earth. No more evil and death, no more sickness and destruction.
Only in Heaven will we be able to look back on our stories and see the purpose behind our pain. We will see all the ways God was loving us and working for our eternal good even in the midst of crushing circumstances. Then, when we receive the reward that our suffering has wrought we will finally be able to say, “it was all worth it.”
Until then, we would do best to write compassionate songs that take into account that there exists a kind of suffering that will never be healed on this earth. Even in situations when the healing does come on this side of Heaven we may find that it is not enough to make up for the suffering. I am certainly finding that in my own healing journey.
So, in closing I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes from Dostoyevsky:
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
That’s what I’m banking my hope on. Not some “pain-taking” vending machine. And I hope that you, dear soul, will join me.
By the way, Brett and I made a beautiful PDF of my favorite resources for suffering souls. I created the content and he made it look fancy with his superduper graphic design skills. It’s available for free to my email subscribers. Click here to sign up and receive 5 Resources for the Suffering Soul.