Last year I went on a tour called 'When Faith Gets Shaken' with my friend Andy Flannagan. I didn't really know what to expect. I had that very uncomfortable feeling, will anyone come? Will it be helpful to people? I want people to read the book I've written, but I don't want to self-promote...
However when I got over myself, Andy and I tried to be as honest as possible about some of the challenges we have faced and how we found God in the midst of some very dark moments. I was taken back by the amount of people who came and spoke to me afterwards - there was so many stories of people who were battling far greater things than I had gone through. People on cancer journeys, mental health challenges, marriages that were breaking up, self-harm, young people who had recently had failed suicide attempts and many people who thought the challenges they were facing were somehow their fault.
Every night without fail I would look out and see eyes filling up with tears as I told my story. I reminded people it's ok not to be ok. It's in the place of vulnerability our healing begins. We need to be honest with God, and as we are honest it allows others to be honest too.
I knew I felt betrayed by God and that it was something I had to deal with if I was going to be able to continue in relationship with Him. But it really didn't help that people would say, "God won't give you more than you can bear."
This is a frequently quoted Christian phrase and one that can cause great heartache to those who are suffering. When you've reached the point where you don't feel like you can take any more and someone tells you God wouldn't give you the burden if you couldn't handle it, it doesn't make you feel loved. Quite the opposite; it leads to further anger. You can feel like God clearly doesn't know you all that well as you already feel beyond your breaking point. And it implies He's doling out the pain but will stop when things get too much.
Actually the phrase is also a misquotation of scripture. What the Bible says is God won't allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). Paul was trying to show the Corinthians that God was with them when they're tempted and would help them find a way to resist. We need to let go of this strange image of God measuring out how much pain we can deal with. It only confuses our understanding of who He is and how He relates to us in our suffering. We need to find the God who enters in to pain with us.
Andy performed a song called Fragile written after he visited a wonderful fishing community in Chennai, November 2004. By 27 December, three quarters of that community wiped out by the tsunami that ravaged so much of that part of the world. This was his song of complaint. The words are beautiful and talk more of God's response to our suffering:
Why does life have to be this fragile?
Why is there a death so close to birth?
Why does life have to be this fragile?
Here on earth.
The same waves that brought you crashing in with joy,
The same waves left your universe destroyed.
The same sand that once warmed this white man's toes,
It makes graves for your silent flesh and bone.
Smiles that I will not forget,
Joy that left me in your debt.
The same nets that once put food upon your plate,
They lie cast like the die that sealed your fate.
Reason here has lost its rhyme
And words feel empty at this time
The same man that the winds and waves obeyed,
Is the same man who was the first one to know pain.
This same man, He could keep control of everything,
But this same man knows more than me about suffering.
So calm this overwhelming force
'Cos earth and heaven seem divorced
I am currently waiting for more surgery and realising all the things I wrote about in 'When Faith Gets Shaken' could happen again. I would like to say I am full of faith and ready to meet the challenges head on, but that wouldn't be honest. It is all a little scary. But I have learnt how important it is to have honest conversations when our faith gets shaken.
Patrick Regan is the chief executive of youth charity XLP. His new DVD, When Faith Gets Shaken, explores how to focus on God and keep going through difficult times, and how to be honest in times of struggle. Suitable for individuals and small groups.