Where Is My God When It Hurts?

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

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23 thoughts on “Where Is My God When It Hurts?

  1. I’m so sorry you’re hurting…I know how it feels to have scriptures tossed at me in the midst of extreme pain. I’m sorry for that, too.

    I do love the scripture you ended with. My mom died last month. I’m comforted knowing she is living that verse right now.

    Hugs to you. I hope you feel better.

  2. John Richardson

    God loves you Cate. The question you’re asking is similar to some of the oldest questions ever asked about God. Some scholars believe that Job may be the oldest book of the Bible. There was a time when many people believed that disease or bad fortune was a sign that God was punishing those so afflicted. I believe God is a God of love. I believe he loves all his babies and that he is worthy of our love. If I didn’t believe that I couldn’t worship him. There was a popular book written a number of years ago titled, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” , by Harold S. Kushner. It was a #1 best seller. Kushner was a rabbi who wrote the book to answer some of the questions you are asking after the death of his three year old son as a result of a genetic comdition that caused him to age rapidly. I would suggest that you read it. I believe it will be hellpful. If you can’t find it, it was written in the early 80’s, send me your address and I’ll mail you my copy. Just look carefully at your life Cate before you decide that God is absent from it. I expect he’s there with you now. Please don’t give up hope. Tie a knot in the end of your rope and hang on. Praying for you. God Bless!

    1. John I’m guessing that you skim read my post because I actually mentioned Kushner’s book, and quoted from it. Or perhaps our connection between NZ and US isn’t quite there tonight. 😉 I haven’t decided that my God is absent from my life. Not at all. I also know that he loves me. I just struggle to understand some of his workings and don’t find instant answers in either the Bible or in what others say. It’s more a matter of needing to work my way through it all in my time and methods. Even though I agree that book is very good, it too doesn’t provide me with easy answers. I am pleased though that for others, they can draw their strength from such sources.

  3. Sitting here staring at this blank empty box, thoughts spinning in my head, knowing exactly what you’re talking about and where you’re coming from but whatever I could put in writing here is just words… All I can offer you is my hand, my thoughts and if I were closer to you, I’d reach down and try to help pull you up out of the “demon pit”, and no, I’d be the last person on earth to quote Bible scriptures at you… It REALLY sucks when we find ourselves face down in that pit of despair, be it due to physical or psychological pain, there’s no one answer that is “generic” and is a quick fix to everyone… Some will use the Bible as a “band-aid” of sort, others will take to drugs, food whatever but that still doesn’t take away the pain or the wound in our soul/heart/mind. It will just temporarily cover it up for a little while and sooner or later, we’ll have to deal with it again…
    The only “advice” I can give you, is don’t give up! Pull up your big girl panties and FIGHT. Believe me, I know it’s hard! Having lifelong PTSD myself and dealing with these demons on a more or less daily basis can and will get the best of you some days… But it’s important to get back up and show “them” that they’re NOT the boss, YOU are… Even if we loose a fight every now and then. Looking back through the years and when my PTSD first raised it’s ugly head, turning my world totally upside down… I can actually see/feel that today, I’m winning more battles than I’m loosing. Some days I’m even able to tell them to totally “F off”, I don’t have time for this sh*t right now and I keep on going, leaving them behind. Of course, they’ll catch up with me, but that’s a fight on a different day. We take one day at a time and not worry about what tomorrow will bring…

    As for the pain, that is one that I’m struggling with as well… I don’t have fibro (yet) even if my doc tells me that, we that do have a mental illness of sort and especially PTSD are more likely to develop fibro if we already have chronic pain, which I have in my back and am confined to my wheelchair when the pain is at it’s worst. Problem is, when you put these two sorts of pain together, the physical and the psychological they tend to boost each other to unbearable levels… I can deal with one of them at a time but both?! Nope, that WILL drive me bat-crazy some days… The PTSD you need to learn how to FIGHT on your own terms but the pain, your doc needs to deal with and give you the correct type and amount of medication to help you cope. Less physical pain will make your PTSD easier to fight.

    For what it’s worth….
    Comforting hugs and an outreached hand even if I’m far away
    //Cat

    1. Thank you. Thoughts and hugs are actually enough right now. If we were closer I know you and I would get on so well over coffee (or tea 🙂 ). Words just often don’t cut it and I appreciate your support.

  4. I don’t know what to say. The universe follows all these rules of physics, that are never altered. Any suffering coming from here, is not going to be removed by a god. I think that the physical and the spiritual level are connected, but not in a way that our mind can understand. Mind is not physical, nor spiritual. Mind often thinks it is spiritual, but only when mind is silent do we feel the presence of something larger.
    All saints and mystics die. Dictators and tyrants don’t live shorter lives than other human beings. Suffering is not good for anything, not for the spiritual, not for the psyche, not for the body, but I think that god is not connected to it.

  5. John Richardson

    No Cate, I did miss it although I don’t quite know how. I see your discussion of the book and your quote from it. It is a great book and I’m glad you’ve got it. I hope you find your answer because I think you are the only one who can. Any answer anyone else gives you is likely to sound trite and hollow in the face of your pain and uncertainty. I know that C. S. Lewis got angry at God when his wife died. Sometimes these are hard things to work through. Lewis eventually reconciled with God, but it took time. I do believe God is there for you Cate. Put it in his hands. Let him sort it out.

    1. Thanks John. Actually CS Lewis’s anger with God is something I often think about. I think that partly this is a journey of time, and I know I will get through it in the end. Thanks for your encouragement and wise words.

  6. I remembering asking God the same question. I couldn’t figure out why He would let me go through all of the emotional pain. I don’t really believe in God, or at least not the God the mainstream and radical religions believe in but I keep being told that everything has it’s purpose and that we’re never given more then we can handle. Maybe it’s true.

    1. That’s what I get told too. It might be true, I guess one day I’ll know. But other times it just seems like some people get too much suffering. Then again, who am I to question that?

  7. I can relate to the struggle of trying to find out why me? As I have probably stated before, i have fibro also. People have said to me that God has a plan. I also have PTSD. My response is always that someone has a plan, I am not sure it is God. Why would God hurt a child, tkae a life away, and cause my life to turn upside down just as it was starting to have a positive take. I cannot say things will get better, no one can! That is the problem. The truth is that I hope that your pain and anguish subside a little.

    1. It’s so hard to comprehend sometimes isn’t it? I agree with you. Why would God do (or allow) some suffering to happen? I might complain about my suffering but I know so many people have it so much worse than I do. That in itself says to me “stop Cate and don’t complain so much”. Then again,we’re only human. Maybe that’s the problem. :\

  8. I am sorry for your pain Cate. I don’t believe in God really…more like the universe. I don’t believe in a sense of purpose. But I do believe in something that might be a little odd. I believe that Mankind was put on earth to help each other. Instead we ignore, we look away, we create wars, we create suffering…I don’t know…tis just a rambling. Snow Patrol – Light Up?

  9. It’s interesting to me that as I’ve gotten older my faith has become increasingly uncertain. I ask myself some of the same questions you do, and have the same frustrations with religious answers you do. As I think you do, I say real answers are to be found within, not from any other mortal being. So of course I have no useful response to offer! But I do continue to wish you all the best.

  10. Jennifer Butler Basile

    “finding purpose in my suffering” – that is the key, isn’t it? I’m glad you’re still searching even if you haven’t found it yet.

    The passage you quote at the end of your post reminds me of an important lesson I learned from a wise man years ago (but forget quite frequently) – I won’t/can’t know it all until I meet God. Not quite what you were looking for, I know ; )

  11. Jennifer Butler Basile

    Reblogged this on Chopping Potatoes and commented:
    Another great post from Cate Redell at Infinite Sadness . . . or Hope?

    Her thoughts are what runs through many a tormented mind, I think, trying to figure out why its owner is suffering.

    In the darkest days of my postpartum depression, I peered into every corner, lifted every heavy layer up, searching for some reason why this was happening to me; some redeeming seed I took take forward and grow into something useful.

    God is not vengeful. I don’t think this was put upon me as punishment. I don’t think I deserve this.

    But are there some lessons I can take from it?

    I work extremely hard at controlling things, often to my own detriment. I am horrible at admitting I need or asking for help, much to my misery. I am a perfectionist, punishing myself with an impossible ideal.

    When my world spun out of control, these were all things that were impossible to maintain.

    And from my earliest days, God instilled in me a desire to help others. If even one person could learn from my suffering, would that be the reason for it? My ability to not lose faith and turn my trials into something positive?

    In the end, it’s all about perspective and how we choose to react to what’s given us.

    Cate’s post gets to the heart of that. Enjoy!

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