We’ve all been there.
No one’s life is free of disappointments or losses. We meet it in the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, or the loss of a dream.
Or we feel it when we have a strong desire for something, so we pray with all our hearts and all we seem to get in reply is a closed door — a “not yet,” or a “no.”
No matter what the situation is, all of us suffer from these things. But few of us know how to suffer well.
So what do we do when we’re faced with grief, or when we seem to be going nowhere?
If you’re anything like me, you fight it. Really hard.
Once when I was struggling with suffering, a priest told me, “You’re on the Cross, and you’re trying to walk off of it.”
Yep, ow. Step number one for dealing with suffering: accept the fact that you are suffering. Then God’s work can begin.
But there will be days when you feel like you can’t do it anymore.
So, here are seven things to do or remember in the darkest moments:
1. Be honest.
You can’t pretend you’re fine if you’re not. Be honest about how you feel. Cry out to God in it. Follow the footsteps of the Psalms, of Job, of Lamentations, and be honest with God about what you’re feeling. Whether that’s sadness, confusion, doubt, anger at God — or all of the above — take it to Him. He can handle it. There’s no shame in what we feel. This doesn’t mean we wallow in it, but we need to acknowledge it and let ourselves feel these things.
2. Get outside yourself and love others.
Don’t turn inward and fall into self-pity. Go outward and spend time with loved ones. They distract you from wallowing, and they help you see that beauty is everywhere and that life isn’t just the difficulties you’re facing. There is laughter, love and enjoyment to be found, even in little things.
3. Be intentionally thankful.
The best advice I received in a difficult time was to practice intentional gratitude. I set aside 10 minutes every day to write out what I was thankful for, even if it was really small.
I can’t stress gratitude enough — it really does shift your perspective. Sometimes it felt fake, but that’s okay. The saying “fake it till you make it” holds true in so many life situations. And truthfully, naming our blessings and being grateful for them isn’t ignoring reality; it’s accepting the greater reality that, while things may be hard, there is just as much blessing as there is struggle — more of it, in fact. So if intentional gratitude seems hard, just start with something small.
4. Get your creativity on.
Do something productive and creative. Make something with your hands. Do things you’ve been wanting to do for a long time for yourself, and actually do them. Take your pain and make something beautiful out of it.
Vincent Van Gogh is loved by so many because he took his suffering and created something beautiful out of it. There’s so much truth to that; Jesus Himself took our sin and turned death into Resurrection. Jesus wants you to be a part of that in your suffering, even if it’s in a small way.
5. Just keep going.
When we’re suffering, sometimes people tell us “things will get better.” That doesn’t necessarily follow, though. It can become a band-aid to make ourselves feel better; we’re never promised a pain-free, problem-free life. However, trust that Jesus always brings good out of anything and everything — especially the disappointments and sufferings that life throws your way. You will be a better, stronger person from the experience.
God has not forgotten you, and your suffering is precious to Him. He holds it like diamonds in His hands, and He is crafting you, a little seed, into the garden He desires you to be. He sees you, He weeps with you, He holds every desire and prayer you’ve ever given Him in the depth of His Heart. He has a plan that is bigger and better than you want for yourself.
Remember this, and just keep going. You can’t run away from the suffering, but this is encouraging to know in its midst.
6. Be still.
It’s super tempting, but don’t try to understand your pain or figure out what or why it is happening. If you feel like you’re in a dark room with no windows or doors, don’t bounce off the walls fighting it. Just feel it. Let the storm be.
Go to prayer, and meditate on sitting in that dark room and be still. Sit there and let Jesus come find you and comfort you.
7. Ask: So where the heck is God in all this?
We all relate to asking God, “Why?” when we suffer. There’s even an example of it in Scripture. When Lazarus died, his sister Mary basically said to Jesus, “If you were here, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Jesus’ response is shocking to us.
He didn’t give her an answer. It was better than that. It was a gift.
His gift to her in her question was seemingly useless; it was extravagantly beautiful. His weeping with her was the extravagant gift of Himself and His humility in feeling down to the darkest depths, the same emotions as hers.
God’s gift to us in our suffering — especially when we cry out, “Why?” — is not always an answer; it’s the gift of Himself, His presence.
Even when you don’t feel Him there, He is. He weeps with you. His presence goes beyond just a quick fix, beyond feel-good emotions: He descends down into the darkness with you.
God never promised us a pain-free life. But He promised us that He would be there with us in the midst of it. Jesus Himself cried out from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
But we also know He rose from the dead. And just as we share in that Cross, we also share in the glory that comes after death.
That is gift. That is friendship. That is beautiful.