Sufficient in Our Sorrows

What do you do when you pray for healing, and the answer is silence?

I don’t doubt that God can heal me. I believe his power, ability, and sovereignty. But I do struggle to believe his goodness. He can heal; he is able; but is he willing?

It seems to me that if God were willing and truly desired to heal me, he would. He would end suffering once and for all if he truly wanted it, I think. These questions get caught in the scrupulous cycle: If God is choosing not to take my suffering away, then do I truly belong to him? Wouldn’t a good, loving God want his child to be at peace with their own mind? To find trusting him easy? To feel assurance in his presence and his salvation? If God is good and loving, he would give me this good thing I desire. So either he must not be good and loving, or I must not be a Christian.

This isn’t the theology I ascribe to, but it’s the theology I often default to. I trust God is sovereign, but I have a deep distrust of his kindness.

Because here’s the thing: I’m not asking for something bad. My desire isn’t evil. And this is true for many of us in our sufferings. The couple struggling with infertility isn’t being discontent by wanting a child. The unemployed father isn’t being unthankful by desiring a stable job. The disabled woman isn’t being sinful by asking God to heal her, or for mourning what could have been.

Our desires for our suffering to be alleviated show that we indeed recognize the brokenness of this world and the need for every wrong to be made right. This is not how things are meant to be, and it’s okay—in fact, appropriate—to grieve that. The answer is not reveling in our suffering, taking joy in our grief, or being happy in the very fact that we are suffering.

So if our desires are good, why does God withhold them?

My Grace is Sufficient

The apostle Paul also wrestled with unanswered prayer. Suffering from a “thorn in his flesh,” he asks God to remove it:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:8–10)

Paul pleads with the Lord. Not just asks, but pleads. And the Lord’s answer is “My grace is sufficient for you.”

To be honest, this isn’t the kind of answer I want. I want explanations, but even more, I want resolutions. Though I’ve prayed that God would take this OCD away, he has chosen not to.

This thorn in my flesh is a daily reminder that I can’t take one faltering step without him. It’s not the kind of answer I want, but it’s so much richer. When I despair of all self-hope, I find one who alone can help me.

Healing is a gift, and it is something I will continue to pray for, but it is not an end in and of itself. True confidence is found not in my strength, my assurance, or my abilities, but only in the foundation of my confidence itself. Christ is my confidence.

Paul says that in his weakness, Christ’s power rests on him. It doesn’t often feel powerful, does it? It doesn’t feel buoyant or joyful. It doesn’t make me feel physically strong, nor does it extinguish my suffering. But it’s sustaining power.

This language connotes day by day. It’s not mountaintop experiences, 180 transformations, or immediate victories, but it’s bread for another day. It’s a sip of water for the next step. God is giving me mercies, new every morning, sufficient for my needs. He’s giving me grace not to overcome my fears, extinguish my thoughts, or calm my compulsions, but to take one more step forward. And then, grace for the next step. And the next. This is power.

Man of Sorrows

God does work all things together for good. He does have a purpose in our pain. He will abolish all suffering one day.

But these truths rarely hit home when we’re suffering. There has to be something more personal.

What about the questions I raised in the beginning of this post, the doubts about God’s character? We aren’t given answers to our sufferings, but we are given, over and over, affirmations and demonstrations of his great love for us and his deep goodness.

The deepest evidence we have for his goodness is in the fact that he walked through suffering himself, for our sakes. He knows what it’s like because he felt it, the very man of sorrows himself. There’s no path we walk that he hasn’t walked first. Because of this, and because he cares for us so deeply, he invites us to bring our sorrows to him. He invites us to pour out our hearts before him.

And somehow, knowing Christ in this suffering is better than being taken out of this suffering.

I recently discovered a songwriter named Paul Zach. His album “Sorrow’s Got A Hold On Me” is a compilation of lament songs that has been ministering to me this past month. One song on the album, “We Bring You All Our Sorrows,” has especially been a comfort to me.

One thing I noticed about this song is that it never asks God to take the pain away (though that’s certainly not an inappropriate request). Instead, it emphasizes Christ’s presence in the midst of pain. The lyrics invite Christ to join us in our pain, to transfigure our pain, to work in our hearts through the heartache, to let our grief transform us. And there’s a mystery that within that very pain, Christ nourishes us and cares for us. While we continue to dwell in shadows, he walks beside us.

Lord, we bring you all our sorrows
All the words it hurts to say
In your hands, our grief is hallowed
Take it as our gift, we pray
Lay our tears upon your altar
Like the bread you bless and break
Work your mercy in our heartache
Come, transfigure all our pain

Christ, you came to share our burdens
All our human pain, you feel
Walk beside us on our journey
Through the wounds that never heal
Place the yoke upon our shoulders
That you bore to Calvary
Let the weight of grief transform us
Bear with us our suffering

Here on Calvary’s hill you meet us
In the pain you know so well
Bread of heaven, here you feed us
With a gift no tongue can tell
You said you would never leave us
You who caught us when we fell
Stay with us, O loving Jesus
While in shadows here we dwell

3 thoughts on “Sufficient in Our Sorrows

Add yours

  1. Having an adult daughter who struggles with scrupulosity, I so loved this article and others you have posted. Her anxiety about her salvation, praying incessantly for deliverance yet still battling obsessive thoughts is real and a vicious cycle. This is so helpful for me in understanding her battle. He is sufficient even in our suffering and I am so thankful for that! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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