The story of struggle in life is not new, nor is it unique to just a few people. Everyone’s understanding of suffering is different. For some, they will say they have never really suffered, they may have gone through hard times in life, but suffering would be stretching it too far.
Others have lived with unanswered prayers and unchanging situations for months, years and sometimes decades. These can be things such as singleness, childlessness, grief, illness – both mental and physical.
Many would say that this level of suffering is nothing, and compare it to those currently fleeing war zones and enduring hardship we are unlikely to ever even need to consider.
The reality is though, when going through a period of struggle, comparisons don’t often make it easier. Objectively I can see that what I experience on a day to day basis is nothing compared to millions of people around the world. However, it is hard when faced with a day to day struggle not to feel overwhelmed and like you are drowning.
The reality is, in the UK church, many of the people we encounter, who are facing enormous life struggles, will not be fleeing war zones, or similar catastrophes. Many of them will be people like me, people whose struggle is likely to be more hidden, who can hide behind smiles and ‘I’m fines’. People who are afraid of acknowledging the doubts and fears they have, because they will have heard, one too many times, that ‘God is with you, just have faith’. Or ‘your husband is just around the corner’, or having unhelpful prayers piling on guilt and shame for the fact that for reasons known only to himself, God has not yet given the answer we hope for.
For me, my faith has been a refuge, but church has often been a challenge. God has given me hope and peace in the deepest darkness. He offers the opportunity to rant and rage, and patiently waits for me to return. He hasn’t answered my prayers, or not all of them anyway and certainly not the most desperate. He has however, answered me.
Church on the other hand has often been the place where my fears and doubts were enhanced. Where I found myself labelled and guilty. Equally though, it has been a place where my faith and doubt has been heard, where my voice has been valid despite not having a happily concluded story.
I am enormously grateful for Church. For the family of broken, hurting people around me. They challenge me, cause me to question what I often wouldn’t have thought of.
I hope that through Walking Alongside, it will be possible to have a healthy conversation about how the church has loved well, where there is room for improvement, and what God might be doing within it all.