Christian suffering: What happens when there is no happily ever after?

(Photo: Unsplash/Kseniya Petukhova)

And they all lived happily every after.

It's the end of a fairytale we all love – everything was alright in the end, even if you were abandoned in the forest by a wicked stepmother and then abducted by a cannibalistic witch.

It's something we still want - the happy ending after the trauma of the past.

When I wrote about my three fathers in a post earlier this year I deliberately left out the ending, but I did mention it when I posted the article on Facebook. It was a 'sort of' happy ending - depending on how you look at it. I was surprised at how many people asked why I didn't put the ending in the article. They thought, "It might encourage others going through the same thing."

I didn't put it in because I knew it might alienate some and wouldn't be an encouragement to most. Sorry if that's shocking, but from experience the bad stuff doesn't always have a 'happy ever after', and someone else rubbing your face into their particular happy ending can be both painful and frustrating.

The Bible doesn't promise everyone an easy life and instant solutions to problems...until Heaven. Bad stuff happens to Christians too.

So why do our stories so often tend towards the triumphalistic? I prayed and: it got better, 'x' went away, the relationship was stronger, the addiction was broken, I was saved from... the list could be endless.

It is wonderful that prayer is answered and people or relationships are mended. But what about those for whom there is no end to the problem, no healing and no end to the pain? What do we say or think about them?

We regularly put the 'happy ever after' on the pedestal of what the successful Christian life should be, and by doing so make the faith of those where this is not the case appear to be 'less than'.

The tweet that talks about the spectacularly happy ending is rife and has many retweets.

Can we have we have a retweet for the person who says "life sucks, but God is my all"? And can that retweet not give any advice to fix the problem in 280 characters (and possibly an extra reply because one tweet was not enough).

The advice often comes from a place of compassion. We hate to see people suffer and we want to help them get away from that suffering.

Shannon Dingle, who recently lost her husband in a freak accident, wrote this tweet almost as an aside and in brackets: "(No need to try to make this better with words. There is beauty in acknowledging the pain without trying to fix it.)"

Not having a 'happy ever after' sits uncomfortably with us; acknowledging it is even harder, even when the Psalms speak of suffering, often along side the phrase 'and yet I will praise'.

I agree with Shannon. Sometimes we just need that friend who sits and cries with us and doesn't try to give the Bible verses and quick fix answers.

I've gone through a lot in my life, including now having a debilitating degenerative disability that maddeningly frustrates me, but there is beauty in the middle. I've met people I wouldn't have met, I've helped people who are in a similar position, my faith has been stretched and my relationship with God has taken on new depths that I wouldn't have had without the stuff I've been through. I would not be the person I am today without the suffering.

My husband and I often have people say "I want what you have" when they see our relationship and our joy. But what they don't realise is; it's been hard won. We've both, separately and together, gone through pain. So we sometimes say: "If you want to go through what we've been through – you're welcome."

So what of the 'happily ever after' for those of us still in the middle of the storm, still grieving, still hurting, still struggling?

Maybe it depends on our understanding of 'happy'.

In Romans 5:3-5 Paul tells us:

"And that's not all. We are full of joy even when we suffer. We know that our suffering gives us the strength to go on. The strength to go on produces character. Character produces hope. And hope will never bring us shame. That's because God's love has been poured into our hearts. This happened through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."

That's not a 'happily every after'. It's better. It's joy, it's hope and it's peace. It's the beauty that can be found in suffering, and the reason there doesn't always need to be an instant fix.

That moment of being able to say "And yet I will praise Him" may take a long time to come. But in the meantime, having friends who sit with us without trying to fix us or give us answers is precious beyond words.

Kay Morgan-Gurr is Chair of Children Matter and Co-Founder of the Additional Needs Alliance, part of the Evangelical Alliance Council. For more, and on Twitter @kaymorgan_gurr