Do people of faith struggle with pain?

Does faith in God’s sovereignty produce perpetual happiness?

That seems to be the sometimes spoken and often implied belief of Christianity.

“Rejoice in the Lord always!” “In all things, God works for good!” “God has a plan!”

We push away struggles with platitudes, portraying and either/or kind of faith. You either struggle with pain OR are content in the midst of all circumstances. You either question the direction of your life OR have faith God is at work.

These are implied to be mutually exclusive categories in a life of faith.

The Psalms tell a different story. The Psalms are the prayers of people with a both/and kind of faith. They both tell the struggles of their life AND maintain faith in a God who acts on their behalf. They display both honesty about the depth of their pain AND praise for a God who is present with them.

It is a complicated faith that can sometimes make the Psalms difficult to read. But isn’t it more true to life?

For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.

In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. – Psalm 102:3-5

AND

Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” –Psalm 102:18-20

I am prone to pushing away my struggles because I know I shouldn’t feel this way or that. There are others who have much bigger difficulties; I “shouldn’t” be struggling with something like this. I know that God is bigger than all this; I “shouldn’t” be so consumed with something like this.

It is never God who asks me to downplay my pain.

Psalm 102
Psalm 102

God wants us. He desires us to come to Him with our true selves. Which means our Father welcomes the prayers of our honest, complicated, and sometimes contradictory hearts. 

God invites the both/and sentiments of a people who both praise Him and don’t understand Him, who both love Him and are angry with Him, who both ache with pain and find contentment in His love.

I believe God is always good. And I believe life can be really hard.

It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

That was my reflection on Psalm 102. Link up with your own thoughts below. Stop back next week when Psalms Journey moves on to Psalm 103.

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Giving Up... Control

Lent Series ButtonWhen I was in 5th grade, I brought the Chronicles of Narnia series with me on a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Susan, and Eustace were my companions as the South Dakota landscape traveled through my car window, and the sounds of New Kids on the Block traveled into my ears from my Walkman.

I read and reread the series many times in my childhood, adolescence, and even my adulthood. Their bindings are worn and falling apart from the years of keeping me company.

I have been on a journey this year of learning how to BE, my One Word 365. The way this word is embedding itself into my life and soul has been more difficult and more beautiful than I ever imagined. I have searched for metaphors and comparisons to describe it, and have come up short.

Until a friend compared me to Eustace.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace makes a choice that leads to him becoming a dragon. He had a bracelet on at the time, which is too small for his thick dragon arms. The arm ring cuts deep into his skin, and gets more and more painful over time.

Eustace is miserable. He was never meant to be a dragon.

One night, Aslan, the Lion, the Creator and Savior and Lover of Narnia, finds Eustace sitting in his pain. And leads him to a well, a clear and beautiful bath, which he knew could heal him.

But Eustace couldn’t get in the pool until he got his dragon skin off.

He scratched and some scales came off, then he scratched again and a whole later came off, then he scratched again and another fell to the ground. But it was never enough.

Eustace tried and tried and tried, but he couldn’t take off his dragon skin on his own.

If he wanted to become himself again, he needed help.

He needed Aslan.

“I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…

He peeled the beastly stuff right off- just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt- and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me- I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on- and threw me into the water.”

This is the picture of the painful grace of my life right now. My heart is sore from the merciful peeling God has been doing to my heart. But the sting is absolutely and completely worth it.

I have always been an achiever. So for years I have been trying hard to be different. Striving to be authentic. Working to be vulnerable.

I know these characteristics are important. And I really, really want them to be true of me.

So I have been scratching and pulling and working to peel back the layers and find my true self underneath.

But the solution isn’t to try harder. The solution is to give up.

I needed to learn to give up control.

Only Aslan has the power to clear the dragon skin from my heart. But it is so so scary, to lay down, back to the ground, in full trust of whatever He needs to do to make that happen.

But I am learning to give up my fear, give up my control, and lean into the trust that my God loves me, my God is with me, and my God is leading me to the wellspring of healing.


Giving Up… is a Lenten Series asking a question: What if we gave up more than external things for Lent? It’s not a belief that we can get rid of our baggage as easily as we can write a blog post. But, it is a belief that admitting those things that keep us from deeper intimacy with Christ is a good start. {Please note, this isn’t in any way meant to be a critique of those giving up something external. Often that is connected to the internal in a powerful way. In my case, though, I realized that the external sacrifice was hindering me from dealing with what was going on below the surface.}

A Surprise Ending with An Important Lesson

Psalm 89

Sometimes in our cynicism, we make assumptions about people’s faith.

If we hear people say something like this

I will sing of the LORD’s unfailing love forever! Young and old will hear of your faithfulness. Your unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens. – Psalm 89:1-2

We think they are probably the kind of people who are filled with platitudes and pat answers.

Or if we hear people say something like this

All heaven will praise your great wonders, LORD; myriads of angels will praise you for your faithfulness. For who in all of heaven can compare with the LORD? What mightiest angel is anything like the LORD? The highest angelic powers stand in awe of God. He is far more awesome than all who surround his throne. O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies! Where is there anyone as mighty as you, O LORD? You are entirely faithful. – Psalm 89:5-8

Or this

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants. Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness. –Psalm 89:14-16

We think they are probably people who walk around with rose-colored glasses with blinders on the sides, always seeing God’s faithfulness and never noticing pain.

The second half of Psalm 89 blows those types of assumptions out of the water.

The Psalmist transitions from words like this

No, I will not break my covenant; I will not take back a single word I said. I have sworn an oath to David, and in my holiness I cannot lie – Psalm 89:34-35

To words like this

But now you have rejected him and cast him off. You are angry with your anointed king. You have renounced your covenant with him; you have thrown his crown in the dust. –Psalm 89:38-39

And we see that his faith is not easy after all.

The Psalmist moves from praising God to questioning Him, all in the same Psalm.

O LORD, how long will this go on? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your anger burn like fire? – Psalm 89:46

So, what are we to do with a Psalm that seems to contradict itself, from one half to the next?

Stick with it. Read the whole thing. Don’t make assumptions about the person writing the words of either half without connecting them to one each other.

If we stay with this Psalm from beginning to end, if we read through both the overflowing praise that might makes us assume his life is easy, and the frustrated cries that might make us assume he has lost his faith, these seemingly contrasting postures come into focus.

The Psalmist knows God is faithful. He demonstrates with verse after verse how much this is his wholehearted belief. And so, when he experiences pain, he does not walk away from it. He moves right towards it. He picks up his frustration, confidently takes it to God. He knows there must be some way to reconcile it.

The Psalmist’s unwavering belief in God’s faithfulness is precisely what causes him to wrestle with the Lord.

Wrestling is not a sign of weak faith. It is a sign of a strong one.


That was my reflection on Psalm 89. Link up with your own below. Or come back next week with your thoughts on Psalm 90.