I am spectacularly clumsy. I have been known to fall over just standing because I am delicate and graceful like that, so while I was in Kenya, I had to pay close attention to my feet in relation to the world around me.
I traveled from an insulated world where possible injury comes with prerequisite signage and safety rules.
American to-go cups warn me the contents are hot and may burn me. The yellow sign warns me that the floor is wet and slippery. The guard rails keep me from tumbling down stairs, falling off things, or otherwise hurting myself. My kid’s feet skip across the rubber matting put down under the playground equipment at the local park. I cannot turn on my car without the annoying ding ding ding chiding me to fasten my seat belt.
But Africa hasn’t the time to be concerned with my hot beverage, my kid’s scraped knees, or the possibility of a seat belt when you’re sharing a matatu with 15 other people, a few chickens, and a goat. There was a three-foot drop off in the dimly lit dining room of our lodge with no yellow sign or railing, and I very nearly fell over it making my way back to my room. That would be a lawsuit waiting to happen in America. But Africa is a land acquainted with hardship.
I came back to my insular world and wondered if maybe the North American church has missed out on a deeper relationship with God and each other because we are so often surprised by trials.
We want a safe Christian experience. I think of the passage in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Susan asks about Aslan:
“Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Yet so often, we’re surprised by injury and inconvenience, by suffering and circumstances. We’ve reduced our gospel down to a formulaic set of rules whereby the faithful sidestep the pitfalls of this broken world and instead float unscathed and isolated through their good life. We want it all and forget there is always a cost. We want safe instead of good.
We have taught a tidy life. And the reality of following Christ is there is nothing tidy about it.
We lie when we sell a packaged and sanitary way of following God. We offer a discounted gospel when we say it will fix your problems, ease out the wrinkles of your day, give you shiny full-bodied hair and perfectly behaved children. We wield our Christianity like an omen to ward off hard times. We want a warning sign or someone to blame when things get broken.
And my life is littered with broken things being made whole. I’ve raised angry fists at God and wondered how Christians could speak of His loving kindness when all around me I saw devastation.
But beauty from ashes and death to life all start in a place of brokenness and it’s only then we truly know the cost of God coming down. He knows the crush of a body poured out and loss and betrayal and the scourging of a soul.
We live in a world of broken dignity. We rise each morning to the lament of a sin-scarred existence. We see it in the headlines, in the cracks and fissures and gaping wounds of the church, and if we’re honest, in the mirror as we gaze in wide-eyed horror at how easily our hearts wander and break.
And sometimes it seems that every solution is a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound. These past few months, I have become acquainted with tragedy but I’ve known grief all of my days. Friends have suffered unbearable things.
Let us pour out the oil of gladness and praise from our lips but let us not forget the wails and cries and pounding fists, because God sees those too and He’s close to the brokenhearted. Maybe we can learn to do both?
Maybe considering it joy, we’ll lean into God and expect great things from the trials we face.
If we fail to dig into a theology of suffering and the way we as Christ followers will hurt right alongside a broken world, we write off people’s trials as an anomaly or a reaping they had coming instead of a place we connect with God’s solace and peace and even our purpose in walking with and weeping with those who weep.
We write off pain as a lack of faith and offer remedies and platitudes and never push in deeper to help carry a burden stretched wide and intended for the whole church to bear.
We make plans and strategize ways to alleviate the need for God-sized faith, because that kind of faith means we always come up short in ourselves and we are a culture that despises lack.
We hide our shame when we are not enough, when we are weak, when we are anxious and burdened and in need of relief. What does the gospel offer us in this pain if we cannot be people who grieve even while we believe?Leave a Comment
Michele Morin says
Thank you, Alia, for pointing to the mystery, for not trying to explain it away, for admitting that you struggle with it yourself, and for offering words that encourage me to value “God’s solace and piece” as my greatest treasure.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I recently read a quote by a writer (of course I can’t remember the name), but she said that “Hardship is the forerunner of joy.” I believe that people who live in third world countries know this truth far better than we do because they live with hardship each and every day. Not only hardship but terror, and horror, and poverty, and persecution…..yet their joy can be uncontainable. How can that be. I work with a foundation that supports Christian schools in the Middle East. Talk about fear and persecution, yet the joy on the children’s faces when they come to know Jesus and His unfathomable love for them is something that lifts my heart on high. Oh that we would all not view hardship as lack of faith. Our faith is purified in the crucible of hardship. Our joy is only as great as is the depth of our pain. Beautiful post and poignant reminder!!
Beth Williams says
The author is Rachel Boulos. Her post was “finding joy in the midst of pain. Great post!
I support a little orphan girl from “Ninos de Mexico”. A Christian school/orphanage for children. They get to live in the houses, go to school-get a Christian education. I sense a joy in her letters she writes us. One time I sent some money for her to buy a present-Christmas. She got a pair of purple boots & was super excited to have them. They lack so much that little things excite them!
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Isn’t amazing the joy these little ones exude over something as simple as purple boots. It is so gratifying to bring a ray of hope into these destitute lives and they are so grateful….we all could learn a lesson in joy from them!
Becky C says
Immaculee? I just read her email today as well. Great food for the soul. Thanks!
Mary Huff says
I know first hand of what you said about Kenya. We have been missionaries there. All though we see devastation God has allowed us to plant a church. Praise His Name there is a Kenyan pastor leading the flock now. the congregation goes out to witness to their neighbors! God is so Good!
Those matatuas are sure a hoot you are right about that!
Becky C says
I also have contacts in Kenya. It sure sounds devastating, with a wealthy top tier and babies as young as 2 yrs rummaging through trash heaps for food, I hear from a friend who ran an orphanage.
Certainly, there are many people of faith there too, holding them up. Isn’t that what we do?
Mary Huff says
We work with a pastor who has a feeding program in the tea fields . twice a week they feed 105-200 children. in Limuru there is a place for babies and children that have been left or that are vulnerable or underprivileged. What a blessing to spent time each week with these children. when we come back I can bring a baby for a family that can not conceive. Those are just two that we work with there are ever so many more. Working in crisis pregnancy center in a small town in, what Americans call upper middle class, is such a need. Women us abortion as a means of birth control.
I could goo on and on, please pray for the ministries I have mentioned.
Cherlyn Kelly says
Thank you so much for this acknowledgement that church has got it all wrong.
As one who has been suffering from degenerative disc disease since I was 13, Hashimoto disease since I was 30, the murder of my son in 2005, severe depression and PTSD, I’ve almost given up on church. I’ve served on prayer and healing ministries for over 20 years. I’ve been told I’m wimpy when I can’t get up out of bed on Sunday to serve the Lord. I’ve been told I don’t know Jesus if I have to take antidepressants, I was told my negative thoughts caused my son’s murder, that I have no faith and its my choice to either live in bondage to pain or freedom in Jesus. I’ve yelled at God only to feel like He hates me now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a saint. The Lord delivered me from substance abuse 21years ago, but I’ve been told my illnesses were because I didn’t continue in the Bible classes, they are punishment for the wrong I did in my younger years, and everything else you can think of. I’ve had people come up to me in church for prayer who were hurting and just wanted a hug and understanding ear and heart, only to be called out by ministers because I wasn’t raising their hands in the air and making them shout hallelujah to the Lord. Some of these people were ready to call it quits on life. And I’ve been one of those too. That’s why I see a counsellor rather than tell anyone in church. I have a 44 year old daughter who refuses to forgive me even though I’ve asked for her forgiveness and she’s telling me how much better she is than I am because of her 3 degrees. Yet she doesn’t that I kept a roof over the family’s head as I was the only one who worked and I didn’t know how broken I was from the child abuse I had suffered. My mother was mentally I’ll, she cut me so bad that my ankle had to be reconstructed, she tried to drown me and then killed herself at the ahe of 49, when I was 19,with a new baby. I’ve yet to find this peace and joy everyone talks about in Jesus. Maybe it’s because no one had ever said the Lord is pleased with anything I do. God bless you
Linda Shukri says
I’m so sorry to hear of your extremely difficult situation with your health and spiritual life. It is a fact that if someone takes drugs or abuses themselves with alcohol that there can be lifelong effects from that. The LORD is merciful in that He forgives us for our mistakes, yet He may not give a person full healing, but He bestows grace to endure the after effects. Whatever our health situations come from – either from our own mistakes or from other circumstances beyond our control, the LORD knows all about our situation. We can only trust and keep our eyes on Him even when we don’t see things change.
May I suggest that you find another church to attend. It appears that your “fellow believers” do not really care about your situation or want to truly help you. There is more “fluff” there than a true living faith. My husband and I have been in a church like that. May I also suggest that you go online and listen to Bible messages that have been blessing us tremendously. My husband and I have been without a church family for over 18 months. We listen to messages from Greenville, SC (Mount Calvary Baptist Church). We came to Canada to help with a church ministry and because of a certain situation, we had to leave that church. Because of financial issues, we can’t move back to the States yet and so we continue having our own worship services in our home and wait for the LORD to provide the wherewithal to move. I, too, have physical problems I’m dealing with. I would love to connect with you, if you so desire, and share with you some natural health remedies and also spiritual help. It appears we may be in the same age group. 🙂 Sometimes the LORD puts us in situations where we wonder – why, Lord? Perhaps so we can, in turn, help others in their time of need. I will be praying for you. I’ll provide my email address and phone number if you reply back and request it. 🙂
How sad it is when we as believers put Jesus in a box.
It is also very sad that it took me about 20 years as a believer to really know HIS grace.
He has grace and forgiveness for any of us who humbles herself/himself when we come to HIS throne.
This is why I love the old testament with people like King David who made so many mistakes yet he was forgiven when he repented.
Don’t give up on a church family. I think Jesus is going to use you mightily to be there for some of us who attend a church but feel like we don’t belong.
Your life experiences are so valuable to our broken world. …i.e. like my foster/adoptive children.
Many blessings to you my sister.
Becky C says
Dianne B says
Oh, Cherlyn! My heart breaks for you that the love of God is not flowing through your church to you! How I wish I could hug you and study the scripture with you, and marvel in God’s love for us!
God’s love for us is so great!
“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” (Romans 5:8-10)
God loved us while we were still sinners – we do not need to earn His love. His pleasure comes not from the things we do, but from us knowing our need for Him.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
If David could question God (Psalm 13) and still be loved by him, why can’t we? If Jesus could weep (John 11:35) when confronted by the pain of this world, and still be God, then we too can weep.
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Beth Williams says
Sweet sister I’m praying for you. Know that God loves you dearly. He went to the cross & died for you! DO NOT listen to the lies of those so called “Christians”. A true Christian would love & care for you-no matter what! I dearly wish you could attend my little church in the mountains. We love on each other so much. Sending a virtual hug to you!!! Like Maggie said please don’t give up on church or a church family. I will pray that God will send you to the right church with loving/caring Christians!
Becky C says
I am also so sorry for your pain, while mine was not your life, it is similar. The only peace I have ever found is in Christ, according to Scripture.
I have learned that many people have their own ideas about my life, but I have to live it. I get to get up each morning and thank the Lord, sometimes reluctantly, that I have another day. What I do with it is my choice.
I have learned to disregard those people who think they know. I go to church to worship the Lord. I startedgoing more to ible studies and even got relief, for a while, after a healing Mass.
Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that His plan is never to harm us. He always makes a way, even when we srew up. He does provide lessons, as any good father does.
For me, when I learned to stop caring about what those people, who don’t have my best interest at heart, have to say and offer it to the Lord. Pray for them.
Delve into scripture. Get to know more like-minded folks.
Facebook has a group called Dealing with Grief-Option B. I know it helped me to connect with others who are hurting.
God’s blessings over you. You are such a gift, don’t let the enemy win now. You’ve got this!
You just shared what our church experienced yesterday—broken people willing to be transparent about their pain and leaning into Him, our strength. Thank you.
This article is so timely for me. I find it shocking at times when I feel betrayed by God. I feel that way despite the fact that I know better! Mostly he answers all my prayers and then comes a trial I never expected where He lets in circumstances that scare me paralyzed. I read this post with held breath for all the amazing insight it contained for me today! I’m not a new Christian and know my God is faithful, but He knows what we need even if we don’t think we do! I needed my recent trials, and this article with words that turned on the lights was His beautiful grace to my soul! I am awed and really overjoyed to be reminded that His love goes even deeper than The confusion felt in times of suffering. In the very trials where I felt betrayed, I now know myself loved more than I had even hoped for! He is holy! He wants us to reflect His holiness to the broken world! Thank you my sister for words that dust off and set aright! These lines are His pure grace to my heart here today! We so need each other’s voice! (In)courage one another daily.” You’ve done that in a big way!
Thank you for you honesty and insight.
Roselyn Young says
Alia, I have been blessed, inspired, and touched by this. I have faced many trials and struggles throughout my walk with God. You are “right on” with the way you explain the faith in our society. Thank you for your honest and open writings! May God continue to use your words to open our eyes!
This is a wonderful article. I often wondered why so many of us Christians fail to connect the sufferings of the apostles and disciples with what is required in our own lives. We do live in a pampered society here in The USA.. probably to our detriment. Thankfully God has not forsaken us and He will continue to remind us of His goodness and Grace. Hopefully we will realize that to whom much is given, much is required…. and… His grace is sufficient for us!
Becky C says
Awesome words of encouragement and truth!
Joyce Ford says
Such a valuable and helpful rendition of the things you’ve experienced which have eventually helped you and given you insight, not only for yourself, but for us too. Thank you, Alia Jot
Joyce Ford says
Sorry for not editing…Alia Joy.
Thank-you for so beautifully relaying this…
Blessings to all,
NANCY ROE says
Thank you for the depth of these well spoken words. As God is drawn to the suffering and afflicted so should we be.
Kim B Smith says
Alia Joy, I traveled to Rwanda 6 years ago, I didn’t want to leave. Everywhere we went, traveled turned all there was joy through loss and devastation. What a huge lesson I learned from these beautiful people. They are joyful, proud and forgiving as they still continue to rebuild from the devastation.
I keep close to my heart how the most miraculous thing on earth is Humans. We are the third strongest being, after Jesus and of course God (not being a “being” so to speak)
I quote you: “Let us pour out the oil of gladness and praise from our lips but let us not forget the wails and cries and pounding fists because God sees those too and He’s close to the brokenhearted. Maybe we can learn to do both?” Maybe we can do, be and surrender to both!
Carol Hiestand says
Alia, the words you wrote in the last several short paragraphs is one of the most beautiful and true things I have read about this. I am copying them for my journal. You have said what I so often have tried to explain…thank you.
Jen Chapman says
Beautifully said! ❤️❤️❤️
Welcome back to Kenya.All said and it is a beautiful country .Yes some matatu are hair-raising experience ; and in them there is a chance of experiencing God.
Pearl Allard says
Your comment about the culture despising lack… Today I met a second cousin I didn’t know I had; he’s a pastor in Germany. He relayed a story from very early in his ministry when, despite giving his best efforts, he had no sermon to share. None. Extremely humbling for him to receive from the people he signed up to serve. I wonder if God doesn’t do this for the exact reasons you shared – to teach us not to despise our lack (and shift our focus to Him) and empathize with those we want to bless. Definitely forces a decision between either trusting God on His terms or not. Thank you, Alia Joy for your thought-provoking post.
This is so true! The church needs to equip us for those hard times, and we need to be more vulnerable with each other. The church is not just for all the well, but the brokenhearted, the shameful, and those who truly need Jesus. Following Jesus is a hard descision, and a difficult journey, but one that’s worth it.
Thank you for your honesty. Unfortunately, people disappoint. We say incorrect things. We are cruel. But God is kind and just and forgiving. None of us are righteous except through faith in the Righteous One.
Bible Study Fellowship, an international organization in which I’m participating this year, is studying Romans. I would encourage you to join. Great teaching and encouraging go on there. The speaker said recently that we are righteous by faith alone by grace alone through Christ alone. How unworthy I am of His grace. But how thankful I am for His grace. And you have that same gift, so we are kindred spirits with Abraham and Sarah and David and Bathsheba and on and on.
Thank you!! Thank you for sharing. And press on!
In Christ’s love,
Yesterday was a day of very hard adoption/trauma parenting. I had a pity party for myself yesterday, but I was convicted while reading your post this morning. It’s ok that my life is messy because the brokenness reminds me that this world is broken and that God is the great redeemer. It was also a great reminder for me to stop and just be with my son in the midst of his grief. Thank you again for sharing.
Beth Williams says
You hit the nail on the head with this post! A lot of the Christian world today seeks to give us a “prosperity/feel good” theology/gospel. They say if you believe/pray more then you won’t have trials. Just believe, have faith & give to the church & God will prosper you. For me that is a load of crap!! God clearly states “in this world YOU WILL have TRIALS–but have faith I have overcome this world”. I’m not surprised by trials. I don’t always like them, but they bring me closer to the ONE true God. For a lot of people church has become “some place to go on Sunday morning”. They do everything by rote-without much emotion. Even in the small town where I live churches have taken pews out & removed the pulpit. The parishioners want to be made happy with nice music, food, drinks, etc. That is not the way Jesus did church. Some churches don’t even have a cross or baptismal-the two most central parts of church.
We need to shift our focus off ourselves, pity parties & start focusing on Jesus & others less fortunate than us!!
Rebecca L Jones says
We are so blessed here in America, and I think sometimes we are at our weakest, He is strengthening us, moving in ways we don’t see.
Linda Stoll says
As always, amen, friend …