“Why has Jesus let me suffer so much?”
This was the question one of my clients asked me a couple weeks ago. I saw eyes filled with confusion and pain as she looked to me for the answer. It was an answer I couldn’t give her. Part of me felt helpless as I longed to give her some profound explanation that would bring some degree of consolation and understanding to her heart. The other part was inspired, because in that moment, as she sat in her pain, she had the courage to ask the question that most people never let themselves ask, yet lingers in the depth of each of our hearts: Where was He?
Where was He when my dad left me? Where was he when my boyfriend raped me? Where was He when I got bullied and taunted on the playground? Or when I laid awake at night crying myself to sleep? Or cutting myself on the cold bathroom floor? These questions are real. People’s pain is real. They’re searching for answers.
We must be cautious, both as Counselors and as Christians, in our response to these questions. When people ask these questions, they’re not always looking for some theological explanation of suffering or a seminar about the beauty of redemptive suffering. Yes, there is beauty and value in redemptive suffering. Yes, God brings good of all things. But to someone walking in darkness, words are not enough. They need to feel Jesus. They need to know He is there. They need to be able to look back on every memory and see His presence. If they are to have the strength to carry on and find healing, they’re going to need more than just words; they’re going to need to feel Jesus carrying them.
This doesn’t mean we don’t comfort people in their pain or offer them the wisdom of the Church and the Saints on the value of suffering. We do. And we must. But we should be weary of trying to give people an answer that only Jesus can give them. We shouldn’t be too quick to spat out a Scripture verse that we fail to ask them about their experiences and their sufferings or seek to understand what led them to this place of confusion and hurt. As their brothers and sisters, we should never, ever question the depth of their faith because they have questions or because they have doubts and wrestle with trusting God. Asking questions takes courage. Feeling pain takes courage. Admitting you feel like Jesus let you down takes courage. The Church hasn’t existed for over 2,000 years because it’s filled with a bunch of non-feeling, non-questioning robots. The Saints asked questions. They felt abandoned by God. They walked in darkness. They suffered beyond comprehension. They asked Him where He was. Jesus on the cross cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me (Mk 15:34).” Can we therefore not also ask this question?
As we get older it’s easy to tell ourselves that God was there in the midst of everything with us, and we know He was, but that little child in us, the part that felt alone, overlooked, worthless, and abandoned, isn’t so quick to believe this truth. It is this part of our memory that needs healing. It is this part that needs answers. I’ll never forget walking back through the memory of the time when I was in the fifth grade and I got made fun of on the playground by one of the boys in my class for being chubby. My little heart was so embarrassed and I feared going out to recess. I was 10 years old but the lie was implanted that I wasn’t beautiful and I wasn’t worth much. My innocent mind didn’t understand the immaturity of little boys or the harshness of the world. It didn’t matter how many people told me I’m beautifully and wonderfully made as I got older, the lie still lingered. Freedom didn’t come from repeating Psalm 139 over and over again. It came from Jesus. It took walking through the memory, with Him holding my hand, for me to start to see He was there. He stood in front of me, trying to protect me from the daggers of that little boys words. Even when the words still pierced my heart, He never stopped working to untwist the lies. He continues to work on me and I continue to go to Him, asking Him to let me experience my beauty before Him. When we begin to experience healing we can start to believe the powerful words of Blessed John Paul II:
“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us and does not now bear with us.”
We all have these memories that need healing. We all have those moments that we need to see Christ helping us bear our cross. Some memories are more painful than others. Some people have heavier crosses to carry than others. But each one of us needs to see Jesus in those moments when our innocent eyes might not have seen Him or our tender hearts might not have felt Him. It is only when we have this experience with Jesus that we can begin to see the good that He’s brought from our pain and the ways He’s used it to shape us into the unique, beautiful, unrepeatable child He’s made us to be. Without this, we are only left with questions. Without this, every time someone tells you that suffering is a gift, it will be difficult to believe. Once we receive healing the interior battle between us and our crosses will cease and we will be able to make peace with our wounds. The wounds will become only scars, reminding us of a place that was touched in love by the wounded hands of Christ. It is the cross that brought us Christ’s grace and we will be able to say,
I see crosses at every turn. My flesh shudders over it, but my heart adores them.Yes, I hail you, crosses little and great, I hail you, and kiss your feet, unworthy of the honor of your shadow— ST. Francis De Sales
After a moment of silence I responded to my client’s question. I told her to go to Jesus and ask Him. I told her if she wants to cry, then cry. If she wants to be angry, be angry. But do it in His presence. Go to Him, kneel before Him and ask Him every question. Tell Him how you feel He’s failed you. Ask Him where He was. Then be silent and wait for His response. My prayer was that she would hear the most compassionate voice her heart will ever hear. That she would hear Jesus say to her, “I was there my child, I saw it all. I heard every cry. I felt every ache of loneliness and abandonment with you. I held you as you wept in pain. I comforted your innocent heart. You didn’t deserve it. You were created out of love to be loved and to give it in return. I wanted you. I’ve always wanted you. I was there and I’m here with you now.”
She came back the following week and said she had asked Him. She smiled. Jesus had responded.