Last week I wrote about struggling to find hope in the midst of the chronic pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia (see Fatigued Hope). I admit I’m still battling this one. I don’t think there is a simple answer, yet I am frustrated by having previously written about hope, but not being able to find it to apply in this situation.
A number of people commented, in relation to that post, that I should perhaps look to my spiritual beliefs. Hence my question: where is my God when it hurts? The question is phrased as it is because I believe that spirituality is an individual thing, and as such where your God is when I hurt is not actually of much significance to me. It is in terms of how you might find comfort in your trials, but for me personally, it only about my perception of who my God, or higher power, or whatever I like to call it, is for me.
When I google the question ‘Where is God when it hurts?‘ I find that Google kindly has about 95 million responses for me including a book title, by that name, by a Philip Yancey… which I’m sure my father owned. I suspect I would have come across it as I dealt with Dad’s enormous collection of books after his death. Maybe I should have stopped to read it, although I would have been there forever if I had taken that approach to every book that caught my eye.
Quite frankly the answer to all my questions was probably in my garden shed (that’s where Dad kept his library), or maybe I could say right under my nose. What’s more, if my father had been alive, he would have been quick to answer my question for me. He was, after all a Christian minister, well versed in theology and my blief in God is based on the Christian god figure (although not some of the organisational aspects of churches). But even if he had been here, that would have been his answer, not mine. And I suspect I would have been still wondering.
The reality I learnt long ago is that other people’s views on spirituality actually don’t answer my questions. They might provide the answers for them, but I have to find my own answers. So I’m not even going to bother with Google’s suggestions, or what I know would have been Dad’s.
I believe that religion serves a different purpose for each person. Nothing is right or wrong, as we are each different people with different needs. My own beliefs form a basis for how I treat other people, and I think I’m slowly forming a means of how I treat myself.
Translating that into hope in spite of trials is not something I have yet achieved. Oh, I was trained well and can quote a million Bible verses at myself about having hope and trust in the God I was brought up to know, but that doesn’t actually cut it for me in terms of finding purpose in my suffering.
I find it incredibly frustrating when I am told that everything happens for a reason. Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t, but it seems an incredibly cold way of comprehending, and giving reason to why some people suffer so much.
This posted started in terms of my own struggle with pain and fatigue. I know that it is nothing compared to what some people suffer each day, and actually in that I can find a little peace for myself. I can be thankful for what I have and have not. But I will find it incrediblyy annoying and frustrating if you tell me to find joy in my pain, just because my Bible tells me to. It just doesn’t work that way for me.
A book that I have found useful over the years, mostly to dive in and out of because I have yet to read it cover to cover, is Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen To Good People. I like this book because it is written by someone who has had plenty of bad things happen. He knows suffering yet he still somehow believes in who he sees as God. Here is an excerpt:
“I have to believe,” one friend said, “that everything that happens in life, happens for a purpose. Somehow or other, everything that happens to us is meant for our good. Look at it this way. You were a pretty cocky guy, popular with girls, flashy cars, confident you were going to make a lot of money. You never really took time to worry about the people who couldn’t keep up with you. Maybe this is God’s way of teaching you a lesson, making you more thoughtful, more sensitive to others. Maybe this is God’s way of purging you of pride and arrogance, and thinking about how you were going to be a success. It’s his way of making you a better, more sensitive person.”
Harold Kushner - When Bad Things Happen To Good People (p. 30,31)
It’s a pretty common way of thinking. Suffering is God’s way of teaching us a lesson and making me a better person. Me? I hate it when I am told that. Everything in me gets angry because I think things like ‘What was wrong with me before?‘ and ‘Why do I get this lesson in suffering when others get off scot-free?‘. Oh, and,‘Why does God hate me so much?’
That frame of thinking is easily said to another person (sadly) but for me it makes God into a hateful , hurtful and vengeful god. And that’s not who my God is. My God doesn’t want me to be hurt, and has great compassion for me and all others. If it works for you, that’s great but it doesn’t work for me.
Having said that, I know what doesn’t fit for me but I still have no answers in terms of needing to find hope in chronic illness. I still need to find some purpose to it, and I still need to find a way of accepting it as my reality. Some years ago I came to the point where I could accept my mental illness. It’s not that I liked it, but I could accept that it is part of me and what makes me who I am. I can even see some purpose to it in terms of sharing my experiences hopefully in a way that will encourage others.
But accepting the physical illness is not easy for me. I’m struggling to find purpose in day after day of pain and fatigue. I struggle to live with it because my life becomes so impaired by it. I also struggle with the invisible nature of it, which means that people around me assume and expect me to do more than I am physically capable of. Yet I want to be able to do those things. I don’t want to be so limited, but I also need compassion from people. If I accept these illnesses and the chronic nature of them, I feel like I am giving in to them. I don’t want to do that.
So where is my God when it hurts? Actually I’m not sure. Quote the Bible at me, and it will leave me cold. I know all that in my head, but my heart struggles to find personal purpose and hope. I admire people who are able to take their faith and apply it to their current situation, but right now that isn’t working for me. I guess I’m still a work in progress, and I hope my God treats me gently.
I finish with something my mother used to say to me when I was young. I had no idea what it meant, but somehow it’s still stuck in my mind. She just used to quote the first part.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12 – King James Version
- Fatigued Hope (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)