Sunday I watched the Super Bowl. The Chief players and fans celebrated. The 49er fans suffered in their loss. I watched the camera show some of the 49ers players after the game. You could see in their faces and body language how painful the loss was.
Loss is a part of life we can’t avoid. The list of losses is unending. We experience the loss of those we love through death. Divorce is an ugly loss. Friendships and close relationships are lost through conflict, betrayal, and hurt. We can lose the love and respect of those who are important to us. We lose things like a career or a dream. We lose our health or physical and mental abilities. We lose money and possessions that were valuable to us. Losses are non-stop. With each loss there is pain and it is added to the previous pain.
With a loss that brings pain, we face a critical option. Will we engage the pain and grieve the loss, or choose to neglect the grieving process in order to avoid the pain? Some try the John Wayne approach and just push through the loss and pain and focus on other things to avoid grieving. Others find ways to mask the pain. We might do that through drugs, alcohol, porn, cutting, eating, spending, video games, workaholism, and more. These hide the pain for a while, but they can never remove the underlying cause of the pain, so it keeps coming back.
Eventually, if we don’t face the pain and grieve our losses, the fruit of dysfunction will cause even more damage to us and those we love. Our unresolved grief can manifest itself in so many ways: addictions, worry, fear, anger, depression, chronic complaining, relational isolation, or excessive control, as well as a host of emotional, health, and physical symptoms of ungrieved losses.
I’m learning from my own experience that our ungrieved losses are silent killers. Ungrieved losses continue to have a powerfully negative effect on us. We have to find a way to grieve our losses.
Jesus openly grieved in a garden called Gethsemane (see Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-44). When you read the story you see that he is clearly in pain and sweat like drops of blood. Because he had foreknowledge, he could feel all the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain before it happened. So, what did he do? Ignore it? Hide it? Medicate it? Fight it? No, he cried out with deep emotion, begging God to take the current and impending pain away. Jesus was grieving! He faced and brought out what he was feeling inside. He faced his pain and brought it directly to God.
Jesus modeled how we grieve. We face the pain that’s inside and bring it to our outside world. We express the pain of loss in words. We express the emotion of the loss. We share the pain with God and with safe people who can listen and not judge or try to fix us. We join a group like GriefShare. We talk to a counselor (call our church office for a referral). The point? Don’t let ungrieved losses rob you of life. Don’t face the pain alone.
Suffering is one of those things that everyone will deal with at some point. None of us are exempt from the touch of sin in this world. Suffering is difficult for anyone regardless of their relationship with God, but knowing Jesus and all of his promises can add a layer of complexity to our difficult seasons. If God is good, then why does he allow suffering to occur? This question was the topic of my message last Sunday. If you missed it, you can watch it by clicking here.
Suffering was never part of God’s plan for humanity. Genesis tells us that sin entered the world through man and woman choosing their desires above God’s perfect gifts for us. We’ve paid the price ever since. Even though we live in a world ravaged by sin, God promises to never leave us in the midst of our pain.
For some of us reading now, you are in a season of pain. Maybe it comes in the form of depression, unhealed emotional wounds, or tragedies that time has never healed. For some, you know others going through great difficulty.
As I mentioned before, followers of Jesus have to reconcile the joyful promises of Jesus with our current realities. Sometimes knowing that Jesus never leaves our side is not enough to break the cycle our minds feel. While Jesus IS enough for all of us, knowing Jesus is enough can be hard for our hurting brains to comprehend. This might lead to thoughts that it would be better to end the suffering or that everyone else would be better off if they didn’t have to deal with your problems. If you’ve found yourself thinking this during seasons of suffering, I want you to know that you’re not alone. You have value. The world would miss you. God still has a purpose for you.
When I read John 11, I see a God that is not far off and separate from our pain. On the contrary, in this story, Jesus is with Martha and Mary during the grieving for their brother. Scripture says, Jesus was deeply moved and began weeping. Their story is also our story. What I find interesting is that Jesus is not only weeping with Mary and Martha, but he never scolds them for struggling with deep emotions.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and I don’t want to underestimate how the world and ultimately Satan is attacking those reading right now. If you are having these thoughts or have made plans, it’s not too late. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness but an act of courage. It takes incredible strength to stand up and say you need others to walk with you.
If you need help, please reach out to someone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately. Our church also provides many free resources to help navigate seasons of suffering. If you’re not in immediate danger, you can call our office at 520-298-5395 and get a pastor at any time. We have many care groups, offer free in-person peer counseling, and have an online group available for those that don’t live in Tucson. Call our office or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be happy to connect you with the right resources.
Pain and suffering is only a problem if we go through it alone. The good news of Jesus is that we’re not alone. Be courageous today.