Shattering Stigma with Stories: A Reflection, part 3

The conference “Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church” was so packed with meaningful content, we didn’t even break for lunch, but we were in fact nourished by both delicious food and delightful comedy. A troop of stand-up comics who have mental illnesses, including: Dave Mowry, Molly McNabb, Lorayne Dille, and Tara Rostad, shared true life experiences as well as quips that helped break down the stigma with laughter. An upcoming book No, We Really Want You to Laugh will tell more of their stories.

After the comedians performed, Pastor Jerry Beres of Meadow Springs Community Church shared his struggle with ADHD. He illustrated that mental illness is analogous to any other broken part of our body; it’s harder to accept, though, because there is no obvious cast to help people understand what’s wrong. When we have ACL surgery, we go on medication and go through therapy and wear a brace–the brace helps people understand and accept what’s wrong. Then he threw a leg brace over his head and said, “We can’t do that with a broken brain.”

Pastor Jerry likened a broken brain and drugs treatment with diabetes. With diabetes, it isn’t enough just eat right. People have to take insulin because the pancreas doesn’t produce enough. And if a diabetic patient doesn’t take their insulin, the physical ramifications are dangerous. Diabetes is life-long. Same goes for the brain and mental illness. It isn’t enough to eat right and think positive; the brain needs drugs to replace the chemicals it can’t make for itself; if we don’t take the drugs, the ramifications are dangerous.
It was then time for a special guest — a young woman from Tuscon, Arizona named Kelcey Rockhol. Kelcey shared some of her experience living with commanding voices telling her to do threatening and dangerous things. She was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder and the road has been very difficult, struggling with stigma at work, in the faith community and in the neighborhood. She poignantly described how her husband would have to track her down in rain storms at night where he would find her wandering in only her bathrobe and slippers.

Through it all, Kelcey has maintained hope. With an articulate voice full of strength, she showed a small painting of the word hope and said she was holding onto it like David held onto the smooth stone he used to defeat Goliath. Kelcey shares a marvelous reflection on her experience entitled, “From Roots and Lungs.”

The next speaker was one well known by those within the Lake Grove Presbyterian congregation. It was Debbie Sanders, the pastor’s wife. Debbie had worshiped and served the church faithfully for many years but had yet to come out in public with her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. With quiet humor, she explained she would speak on three subjects (a typical pastor’s outline): moving from the hell of mental illness to the hope of mental illness. As she described the hell, she spoke of seasons in her life where she had cycled rapidly, refused treatment, and had to be restrained. She endured years of living in a fog due to medication, as well as her illness. With both angst and perspective, she commented that her children had to deal with her inconsistency as a parent who sometimes made them clean the house spotlessly and on other occasions let it go.

As for the hope of mental illness, she mentioned the loving companionship of her husband Bob (who received a hearty applause), as well as the steadfast support of many who kept things going when she was falling apart. Meals were prepared. Errands were run. Children were scuttled back and forth. Debbie also mentioned the crucial role morning prayer and devotions have played in her maintaining a semblance of order and balance in her life. The crowd gathered felt so inspired by Debbie’s speech that they gave her a standing ovation.

After a break, we relocated to the Sanctuary for a Panel Discussion: “Ask the Professionals.”  Panel Members included Ryan Hosley, Beth Schmidt, Luann Sohlberg, Joyce Brors, Robin Garvey, and Kelcey Rockhold. Topics addressed by the panel included: helping your children when they are dealing with depression and self medicating with alcohol with a child, when to have an intervention, and how to find the right professional mental health care provider.

As the event wrapped up, Angela Leet held out the hope of a future mental health ministry at Lake Grove Presbyterian and mentioned ways people might partipate in this. Bob Sanders then closed in prayer.

Several of the speakers hung around for conversations with conference participants. I was struck by the glowing remarks and the energetic response. I was also exhausted and hearing voices, so I made a relatively quick exit to my motel.

This reflection is the third in a three-part series. Part one is here and part two is here.

God Blesses Job: Throwback Thursday

The following reflection is taken from a sermon entitled “God Blesses Job” based on Job 42:1-6, 10-17 originally delivered on October 23, 1994 at Cochranton Presbyterian Church.

Job stands up to God and raises the painful question, “Why?” He faces head-on the mystery of suffering. He does not run or try to hide from it.

Job is humbled by the response of God. God, in effect, puts him in his place. Yet, God also receives Job’s prayer. God listens and responds. It’s hard to hear the compassion in God’s response, but Job no doubt feels great relief that God has heard his cry. God gives no reason for Job’s suffering, yet God does not heap blame on Job, either, as his friends do. Just that the Creator would hear his plea gave Job a ray of hope. The universe is not some benign entity unconcerned with human affairs, nor is an evil force in charge, bent on human destruction. God is not a machine, nor is God just some cosmic cop. God is one who listens, who cares, who responds.

Not only does God hear Job’s prayer, God has also heard the bad counsel of Job’s friends. Remember – they tried to convince Job of his wrongdoing. You must have sinned, they contended, or God would not be punishing you. While Job raised questions of God, they pretend to answer for God. God is angry. “You have spoken of me what is not right.” They have misrepresented God in such a way that their hurting friend was further isolated in his pain. Instead of a caring hand, a loving shoulder, a listening ear, they offer Job bad theology. God rejects their pat answers. God accepts Job’s prayer.

In time, the story tells us, God blesses Job more than before. He is healed. His family returns, his wealth. He has strong sons and beautiful daughters.

Notice the text does not say God restored Job’s fortunes and relationship in response to Job’s prayer. God’s reasons for blessing are just as mysterious as the mystery of Job’s suffering.

Also, if you consider what Job has been through, this happy ending becomes an extraordinary act of faith. One writer puts it this way, “For Job to resume his life as it was before is to risk losing it all again. To have twice as much as before is to double the risk. To once again embrace his wife is to embrace new life, in spite of potential suffering and unanswered questions. To have many children and no answers or assurances can be, in itself, a profound expression of humility and trust.

Job demonstrates great faith first in looking for God in the midst of his suffering, then in discovering the grace of God beyond it. Job’s great faith allows him to trust, even after painful losses. This is difficult to do. Anyone who has watched a loved one die, anyone who has struggled through a miscarriage, anyone who has suffered the loss of a relationship through divorce knows how difficult it is to trust again. We want to shield ourselves from the pain. We want to pretend it doesn’t affect us. We want to protect ourselves and so we build layers of distrust, live with more caution, knowing that at any moment we could get hurt again.

Vernon is a man who found great enjoyment in his work. He was not exceptionally skilled, but he was dependable. Suddenly, his company asked him to take early retirement. He accepted, thinking he had no choice. Now Vernon stays at home, wondering what to do. He’s afraid to get another job. He avoids seeing his former co-workers. He feels left out and alone.

Jane Smiley in her book One Thousand Acres tells the story of a woman who loses hope after a series of miscarriages. She tries to put them out of her mind; she tries to avoid the grief. Instead it follows her around, infecting all of her relationships. The pain is like a dull ache that never leaves her.

Mildred used to love going to church. She used to sing in the choir. She taught Sunday School. She served as a deacon. Then suddenly, she became ill.   She spent two weeks in the hospital. She didn’t tell anyone. Nobody asked. Nobody visited. Now she stays at home and watches church on television.

At times pain and loss cause us to close up, to hide, to avoid the risk of loving, of hoping again. Job doesn’t do this, or if he does it doesn’t last. Job trusts. Job opens himself up to God and in so doing this receives great blessing.

❤️Hi E ~ this is a pin from David's 'Job' board ~ he really likes your uncle Kenneth's boards and your boards ~ I helped him set up his boards ~ he doesn't have a lot of time to do it ~ just like you ~ he likes to get bible verses to pin xo How are you Little Lamb?

Shattering Stigma with Stories: A Reflection, Part 2

After I shared my story at “Shattering Stigma with Stories,” we were excused for a break. We were a little behind schedule, so the emcee Tara Ralstad (half) jokingly gave the 300 attendees 7 minutes for a restroom break.

I used the time to visit the prayer chapel where I prayed with four intercessors from the church that the voices inside my mind would subside such that I could focus on the stories for the rest of the day.

Back from break, a young man named Aaron Smith spoke eloquently about his fear of opening up in public about his mental illness. While a gifted writer who explores the impact of a troubled mind on his blog and in other social media outlets, this was the first he had dealt with it face-to-face, in front of nearly 300 strangers. Aaron’s step out of the darkness of fear into the light of self-disclosure was a huge leap of faith, but only for him, but for many who witnessed it who struggle in silence. (To read more about Aaron’s talk, see “Ten Minutes of Bravery“)

Next up was a woman named Carol, who talked about recovering from an addiction to prescription drugs. Carol served as a professional in the medical field and saw addicts abuse the system, but it took a long time for her to recognize she was just like them. It was only after she lost her job and was at risk of losing her license that she hit “rock bottom,” entered treatment, and joined a 12-step program for healing. Telling her story at this conference was part of her twelfth step of sharing the good news of her spiritual recovery to others.

Next on the agenda was a Panel Discussion. Parents of folks with mental illness shared how stigma had impacted them, as well as their deep concerns and often sense of helplessness not knowing what they could do to best help. Patrica and Tom Alston, Vincent and Sara Salvi, and Judy and Mike Rinkin all spoke from the heart — a heart that has been broken for those wounded and often feeling alone. One touching moment was when a parent shared how she had offered to buy a cell phone for her son and his response was, “Other than you and Dad, who would call me?”

The next speaker was one of the conference organizers — Leanne Sype, who talked about her battle with anorexia. Leanne shared how she had been warned she was on a path toward death and only grudgingly accepted treatment so her children wouldn’t be left without a mother. Ultimately, she would relapse and start the cycle downward, a cycle she continues to face to this day. Spiritually, she has come to realize that God “delights in her in spite of her disorder,” but practically she still carries an image of herself as overweight. One of the most wonderful moments of the day happened right after Leanne’s speech when her father, who admits to having been somewhat nonchalant about her illness, gave her a huge hug and almost refused to let go. Leanne describes this beautifully in “What God looks like at a mental health conference

Having been filled with emotions from such powerful stories, before lunch we enjoyed an artistic interlude.  Jennifer “Jen” Predoehl of Blue Plume Studio came on stage and, while a lovely original song she wrote and recorded played, she painted an image of a human figure arising out of the darkness. I found it to offer hope for those of us who have faced dark days, that we can discover our humanity in the midst of it.

It was time for lunch and I retreated for prayer, protein, and (prescribed) pills. I had been inspired by the day and wanted to persist to the end, with many wonderful speakers ahead, and knew I needed a break.

This reflection is the second in a three-part series. The first is here and the third is here.

Shattering Stigma with Stories: A Reflection, Part 1

As I write this, it’s been just over 36 hours now since I spoke at the “Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church” conference at Lake Grove Presbyterian in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Unable to sleep tonight, I thought God might be nudging me to pray and then attempt to describe some of what the experience was like. I still feel largely inadequate to the task of taking it all in. Sort of like breathing underwater. But I will take one sip at a time and hopefully in the process be nourished and offer nourishment to others.

The day started with Pastor Bob Sanders extending a welcome to the almost 300 gathered around tables, in chairs and standing in chairs against the wall. This sea of people included church and community members who had been impacted by mental illness and/or who wanted to show greater compassion for those of us with troubled minds. Pastor Bob led us in prayer and then we sang together a couple of worship songs, joining our voices with Jon Jones in praise to the One who gives our hearts and minds peace that passes understanding.

The first speaker was emcee Tara Rolstad, who shared her distinct perspective as a caregiver for children she had welcomed into her home.  These children battled very complicated mental health issues due to severe early life trauma. With a huge measure of compassion and just the right dose of humor for relief (and sanity), Tara navigated the rough terrain loved ones of those with mental illness face as they travel the road to diagnosis, treatment, setbacks, and stigma.

The next speaker was Rand Michael, a professor from George Fox University who humbly confessed he was not the first choice of the committee. His rigorous romp through some of the Biblical and spiritual roots and assumptions of mental illnesses proved that while he may not have been the first choice, he was certainly the right one. Again, with great humor, he delved into the Greek words, the cultural context, and the history of interpretation (even drawing on Google) to conclude that while Jesus did not likely have a mental illness (as some purported to suggest), he certainly reached out to the marginalized such that we can safely assume that one of our roles as followers of Christ is to share hope with those who have troubled minds.

I spoke next. My aim was simply to share my story — as a man who had battled bipolar for almost three decades while wrestled to maintain faith (serving much of that time in pastoral ministry). Starting with my wedding on October 6, 1990, moving through the birth of my two daughters and the pursuit of my career, I described my rise through the ranks. Then, I described my fall as I was struck by a psychotic episode that landed me in the hospital with little prospect to continue work, maintain my marriage, or live even a somewhat mentally healthy life. By God’s grace and through the prayerful support of many, I largely recovered and enjoyed more than a dozen additional years in pastoral ministry and father of now four children. This came crashing down again one Saturday night in March of 1998 when I tried to take my own life. Yet, thanks be to God, I did not die. Said better, I was brought back from death to new life in Christ.

What happened immediately after my talk is something of a blur. I’m going to need to consult a program and talk with other attendees n order to do justice to the other speakers. It’s not that I wasn’t interested or engaged, it’s just that I felt empty in body, mind, and spirit. It was like I had poured out myself in sharing my story and had yet to be filled. At the risk of connecting a stigmatized Biblical metaphor with mental illness, it was like in the parable of Jesus when he talks about casting out one demon and seven more entering in. Christ cast out a demon as my story had been shared, but now I was vulnerable to further attack.

The voices inside my head that are never far away got louder. I felt a chill in my bones. I asked the prayer coordinator if I might meet some intercessors in the chapel and a team was assembled. With compassionate care, they surrounded me in a circle of prayer. I felt in large measure protected and ready to return to the event and listen to more powerful stories. I won’t say I was completely free from attack. At one point, my psychiatric nurse sister noticed I did not look well and got me some Salmon Jerky for protein and Risperidone to combat the voices. But, through this all, God’s grace was abundant and his protection was mighty.

I praise God for being a part of such a special day in the life of the Church. I have no clear notion of what lies ahead, but I’m ready to follow wherever God leads.

(This reflection is the first in a three-part series. You can find part two here and part three here.

Finding Life (in obvious places): Columbus

Columbus Roberts was only a boy when he came to America on a boat. He moved to Kentucky and married Minerva. She gave birth to twelve children — including Zelmer, who became the family historian, and Grover, who became the town drunk. Grover married Jaretta, who gave birth to three children — among them Joe Etsy, who was lazy and shiftless. Joe Etsy married Bessie, who became Nanny in her later years and smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. They had eight children — including Veston, who was born Glen’s cousin, and Ronny, who was shot by a jealous husband. Veston married Patsy, who became the grandmother of Amber.

But it all started when Columbus came over to the new world on a boat. That’s where all this started. And it was good. At least that’s what they say.

life in obvious places

A Broad Place: Delight in Disorder Tuesday

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;

he brought me into a spacious place. (Psalm 118:5)

Before the birth of our first child, Sarah, I was battling a rough patch of depression. I was in a new pastorate and unsure of myself. Though God always provided, we had very little to live on. I was excited about becoming a father but also fearful about what kind of father I would be. I like to think I provided Alice the support she needed to have a reasonably enjoyable pregnancy, but I’m sure there were many days she wondered how I would function as a father and just how this whole marriage thing was going to work.

I turned to the LORD in some intensive prayer, asking for help to prepare for this major life change. I began to journal again, particularly on the Psalms. Not only did I lift up prayers, but I listened expectantly for God to respond. I could sense myself growing closer to the LORD, to Alice, and to this little baby growing within her.

By the time the baby arrived, it was as if God had set me in a “broad place” where I could function well. It’s actually fun to watch the video of the hours right before and after Sarah’s birth. I don’t look like my usual sullen self or like some maniac bouncing off the walls. Alice has said I look just like “the man she most wanted to marry.”

Prayer may not always be a magic panacea to cure all ills. It is, however, a lifeline we can draw on when we are in distress, when there is no place else to go. Rather than make it an occasional retreat, why not make it our first line of defense?

Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Special Note: Delight in Disorder is hitting the road. I will be speaking in Lake Oswego, Oregon on this Saturday (October 18) at the conference —  “Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church” to be held at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church. We are looking for prayer warriors to lift up the conference and the on-going mission. Members of our “Delightful Prayer Team” receive regular e-mail updates with brief petitions and prayers. If you would be interested and feel led to serve, contact me at tony@awaywithwordsforyou.com .

Job’s Complaint: Throwback Thursday

The following reflection was taken from a sermon entitled “Job’s Complaint” based on Job 23: 1-9, 16-17 first delivered October 09, 1994 at Cochranton Presbyterian Church.

Last week, we looked at the beginning of the book of Job, where Job loses his family, his money, and finally his health, but still maintains his faith. Three friends came to be with Job. They sat together with him in silence.

This week, we pick up later in the story. Job’s friends have broken their silence. They have spoken against Job. “What did you do to deserve this? You must have sinned greatly,” they contend. Job maintains his innocence. Though his pain and suffering are great, Job continues to call on God. His call becomes a bitter complaint before God who is no where to be found. Job says of God,

If I go forward, he is not there;

or backward, I cannot perceive him.

Yet Job maintains faith in God’s power to restore, to heal, to bring something good out of such an awful circumstances.

 God knows the way that I take;

when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.

Job doesn’t hide his anger, his frustration from God, nor does he hide his awe, his great respect for God’s power. He calls on God to rescue him from the darkness of suffering.

On the surface, Job appears to hold conflicting views about God. On the one hand, he experiences God’s absence and bitterly complains about his unjust suffering God has allowed. On the other hand, he still believes God is merciful, willing and able to heal – worthy of great respect. Job lives in faith in the tension of these two views. Within this tension, he longs for peace, even if it be in death:

If only I could vanish in darkness,

and thick darkness would cover my face.

People who have experienced great suffering often have deep wisdom difficult for the rest of us to understand. They have searched the heart of darkness and now see light where our eyes fail.

In his book Days of Grace, former tennis pro Arthur Ashe tells the story of his battle with AIDS. As he experiences pain, as his body weakens, he finds great comfort and strength reading the Bible and reflections from writers of spirituality. One such writer was Dr. Howard Thurman, who wrote about “the ministry of pain.”

Dr. Thurman writes, “pain has a ministry which adds to the sum total of life’s meaning and, more importantly, to its fulfillment.” Ashe reflects,

The pain of life may teach us to understand life, and in our understanding, to love life. To love life truly is to be whole in all one’s parts; and to be whole in all one’s part is to be free and unafraid.

Facing our pain, we discover hidden resources, inner strength. We can overcome our fears and be free to more fully experience life, to appreciate the abundant life God provides in Christ.

Entering the depths of pain, Job struggles with what appears to him God’s absence, only to find God right there, in the midst of his suffering. God shines a light even in the deepest darkness.

"But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:10 KJV)

Finding Life (in obvious places): Dad and His BMW

We talked through the spaghetti dinner. I only ate a couple forkfuls, but had three servings of the salad with Mom’s special dressing. We cleared the table, then sat down on the sofa with some coffee. Mom spoke first.

“Just what went wrong with Julie, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I don’t know. She wanted something more stable. It was a mutual thing. We’re both better off now.”

“She was a very nice girl.”

“She’s not dead, Mom. We just couldn’t get along, that’s all. I’m sure she’ll meet someone better for her, someone with a future in banking or something.”

There was a long pause as I looked up to the ceiling.

“And things are going pretty well at work, are they?”

“Sure.”

“Son, do you need some money?”

“No, mom. I mean, thanks, but I’ll make it. Don’t worry. I’m taking out an ad for a boarder. It’ll pay the heat bill, at least.”

“A boarder?”

“Yeah. Probably some college student. Or somebody just starting off.”

“You’re going to let a complete stranger move into your home?”

“Sure Mom. What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong? You won’t even consider moving in with your mother, but you’d let a complete stranger…”

“Mom, we’ve gone over this.”

“But you’re short of money. It only makes sense.”

“We can’t live together. I need to be on my own. I need to. Well, I don’t know. Think about my future.”

“Your future? Since when did you ever think about your future?”

“Let’s just forget it, okay?”

“How can I forget it?”

“Mom, I’m tired, okay?”

“You’re tired? You’re always thinking of yourself. You’re so much like your father, it scares me.”

“You always bring dad into it.”

“I don’t care. You are just like your father. A selfish, inconsiderate…”

“Stop it. I’m leaving, okay. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

I just couldn’t talk with her about Dad. I never could. Not since he fell in love with his motorcycle and they ran away together. Dad and his BMW. She couldn’t understand why I wasn’t as bitter towards him as she was. I guess I couldn’t understand, either. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t talk about it.

Man. Motorbike. Custom. Cafe racer. Gold helmet. Beach. Manly. Lone wolf. T-shirt and jeans. Fresh. Be fresh. Made fresh. Candy From A Stranger.

Intimate with God: Delight in Disorder Tuesday

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.” (Psalm 91:14)

For much of my faith development, I have been a staunch Calvinist in terms of divine sovereignty. We love because God first loved us. Love comes from God for no good reason but that God is love. We can do nothing to earn God’s love in this life or the next.

For a few years, however, I worshiped and studied among conservative Mennonites. While I could not embrace some of their theological assumptions, I did find some of their beliefs to provide a refreshing corrective balance. It is good to sometimes concentrate on what we do for God instead of always looking at what God does for us. Our actions do make an ultimate difference.

I like the term I’ve heard many Mennonite ministers use – it is the “synergy” between what God does for us in Christ and what we do in response that ultimately results in a life-giving, saving relationship – one that begins now and lasts through eternity.

To use a medical analogy, in Christ, God offers us an eternal cure for physical diseases and mental disorders. This does not mean that all who “find Christ” are healed in this life. It does mean that in God’s time all who are “in Christ” will receive new bodies, new spirits and new minds that will be disease-and-disorder-free. Though we don’t see this in our present life, we trust it will happen in the life-to-come.

It is only by God’s free grace that Christ’s saving love comes to any of us. This saving love does not mean we can sit back and get everything we want. It means we now have a relationship – an intimate relationship – with One who will never leave us nor forsake us, who ultimately heals us. Within this relationship, we have a responsibility to love the One Jesus taught us to call Abba, Daddy. Only then will we divinely delight in the midst of the disordered messes we make of our lives.

Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Special Note: Delight in Disorder is hitting the road. I will be speaking in Lake Oswego, Oregon on October 18 at the conference —  “Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church” to be held at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church. We are looking for prayer warriors to lift up the conference and the on-going mission. Members of our “Delightful Prayer Team” receive regular (1-3/week) e-mail updates with brief petitions and prayers. If you would be interested and feel led to serve, contact me at tony@awaywithwordsforyou.com .

The Patience of Job: Throwback Thursday

The following reflection is taken from a sermon entitled “The Patience of Job” based on Job 1.1, 2.1-10 first delivered on October 2, 1994 at Cochranton Presbyerian Church.

The book of Job tells the story of a man who has it all, who loses everything, yet still keeps his faith in God.

Job is a prosperous farmer. He is wealthy, with many people working for him. He is surrounded by a large, loving family. He has a good reputation within the community. He is known as an honest man with a great deal of integrity. All of these things flow from his deep faith in God and his persistent turning away from evil, from wrongdoing.

Then something happens. The story says that Satan, or the Accuser, contends that Job’s faith is the result, not the cause of his good fortune. Take away the wealth, the family and you take away the faith. God permits this and Job is stripped of his money.   Still, he maintains faith.

The Accuser doesn’t give up. “Maybe Job’s faith isn’t built on his fortune, but take away his health and I’m sure he would curse God.” Again, God permits this and Job is inflicted with a dreadful skin disease, leprosy. This painful disease also alienates him from his community.

Many troubling questions arise from this story. The most troubling to me is, “How could God let this happen?” If God loves Job, why let him suffer?

People who experience pain and suffering at some point come to this question. There is no easy answer. We believe God is loving. We also believe God is all-powerful. Somehow, for some reason, pain and suffering fall through the cracks of God’s care.

Trying to defend God’s love, some claim that God must not be all-powerful. God must have limits; or else God would lovingly remove suffering, gently ease our pain. This view, however, runs against our faith in God’s Sovereignty, that God in control of all life. It also limits our hope. If God is not in control, who is, and what will ultimately happen to us? Job maintains faith in God’s power and love and inspires us to do the same.

When faced with suffering, others have taken another route. If God is in control, God must not be loving or such awful things as leprosy, such as AIDs, such as abuse, war, poverty wouldn’t happen. This is the argument of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevski’s novel The Brothers Karamozov. Look around, terrible things happen, sometimes even in the name of God. How could a loving parent permit such tragedy? This question drives Job’s wife to mercifully say, “Put an end to this pain, curse God and die.”

C.S. Lewis, in his book A Grief Observed, struggles with this question of God’s love and power as he faced the death of his wife. Lewis writes that for him, there was never the danger of losing faith that there was a God, but of “coming to believe such dreadful things about God.” Pain and suffering can distort our view of God. God can become some terrifying being bent on our destruction, or some callous observer who watches from a distance and does nothing.

Job’s faith is threatened. What he believed about God was challenge by this awful disease.

It’s sad, but true that often when people experience pain or suffering, they become alienated from their faith community. This isn’t always the case, but often it happens. Part of the reason, I think, is our limited portrayal of God. We work hard in the church to present God in a positive, joyful light. We want to celebrate God’s goodness, to share the good news of God’s love. We can become obsessed with the positive, such that we turn away those experiencing negative aspects of life.

And yet, God is equally involved in the dark side of our lives. God is present in our pain. God shares our suffering. God listens and understands when we cry out, like Job, “I loathe my life. I wish I had never been born.”

I picked up a book in the library last week called No One Saw My Pain: Why Teenagers Commit Suicide. It is alarming that while we are improving our treatment options for persons in pain, still many young people opt to kill themselves rather than endure a life that has become for them a burden.

As Christians, we have hope to share. Life is worth living. We are not alone in our pain. We model this faith as we listen to someone in pain, as we stand beside those who suffer.

Job’s friends do just this. Chapter 2, Verse 11: “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all his troubles, they met together to go and console him.” Their friend is in pain and they go to be with him. They don’t pause and ask, “Just how contagious is this leprosy?” They don’t hesitate and wonder, “What will people think if we hang out with a leper?” They go.

When they see Job from a distance, they barely recognize him. They cry together, grieve with him, sit down beside his bed in silence for 7 days and 7 nights. No one spoke a word, for they saw his suffering was great.

Henri Nouwen writes, “The beginning of healing is in the solidarity with the pain.” When we discover we are not alone, that someone cares, our healing process can begin. Job’s friends have caring instincts, they know as one writer puts it, that “their tears and rituals of compassion and grief were more potent than words.” When a friend is in pain, your presence means so much. Don’t worry that you’ll say the wrong thing. Don’t worry that you can’t explain how God could let this happen. Go. Be there. Sit together in silence.

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