Tiffany Jones, Connexions Manager
Where is God in Our Darkest Times?
Where is God in our darkest times and how do we guide youth when they experience dark times in their own lives?
Amid our darkest times we may believe God has left us, doesn’t care, or is not faithful. One of my favorite scenes depicting this is from the movie Stranger Than Fiction. In the movie, Will Ferrell’s character Harold Crick has his life turned upside down when the “narrator” says that one inconsequential change will lead to his imminent death. Harold, a man who has lived his life completely in control (borderline OCD) suddenly is left adrift to figure everything out. His solution? Do everything the same as every other day to get the narrator to speak again. Harold proceeds to frantically do everything he can in hopes of having a conversation with the narrator about what is going on, and why this must happen.
I love this movie and this scene because as Harold screams at his mirror, “I heard you! It would lead to my imminent death! I heard you! Say something to me!!!”
We have all (including our youth) at one time or another in our lives felt the same way in our relationship with God. We want our life to change, want it to be easier, or an explanation from our narrator on why it must be this way. We begin to believe God does not care, is not available, or is just mean. So how do we move forward and how do we help our youth navigate this? Alongside this comes the question of where is God in our darkest times?
During one of my dark times, I went to see a counselor. I have always struggled with anxiety and OCD tendencies, so engaging with mental health was nothing new. As I sat in her plush white chair, she asked the formidable question, “So, what brings you in today?” It took all my strength to not roll my eyes and say, “Oh boy, here we go.” Instead, I explained I had just lost my mom to a battle with breast cancer and was struggling with the personal family relationships in my life. I was feeling immensely sad, and it felt as if no one understood what I was going through. I went on to explain I value counseling, but I don’t want to deep dive into all my crap, just give me some tools and tips and I would be good.
She kindly smiled and said, “Oh, I see.” Which I knew was not a good sign. She proceeded to ask me where I saw God in the situation. I despise this question as it can feel very “holier than thou”.
See, I grew up in the church. I've heard the “God is faithful, he won't give you more than you can bear” stuff. If you were to ask me if I truly believed that, I would have to pause. It's not that I don’t, it's that I believe it in my head but getting that belief from my head to my heart is the longest 12” of my life. Why? Because sometimes life is hard. Youth today are labeled as the most isolated, depressed, anxious, and lonely generation this world has seen and we need to help them navigate their dark times of despair. Even if they seem trivial to us, they are not trivial to them, and we need to be with them in this. When life deals us a bad or unfair hand, we are suddenly left feeling helpless and hopeless, grappling with doubt and pain that makes us question everything. And this happens regardless of if you are 15 or 51. We don’t like to be uncomfortable and try as I might, I could not seem to shake those feelings.
My counselor began to say she believed I was grieving and depressed and it would take some deep work to move through those feelings and find healing. However, if I stuck it out and did the work, I might come out as a more aware and mindful person. My eyes rolled, I sighed, and thus began a 2-year long process of working to overcome my grief, where I began to tussle with the deep-down questions about faith and relationships I have always had.
How do you cling to something when things look their bleakest, when you struggle to trust in the goodness of it all to begin with? One of the first things I learned in my 2-year tussle with God was that above all else when things are bleakest, we must decide to choose hope. Psalms 28:19 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Hopelessness is a dream killer, it is isolating, and kills any dream or vision we may have. Without hope, you can’t have faith, and without faith, choosing life becomes almost impossible. I’m not saying hope, faith, and trust are easy. Quite the contrary, my walk with God has been more akin to a Street Fighter match than a walk beside still waters, but it has also proven to be worth it. Choosing hope amid our struggle and leaning into relationships with vulnerability is what I believe the Bible is all about.
So then, what’s the point of all of this? If what I’m saying is not joy-filled exuberance about how easy life is, and how unwavering I feel with God all the time, then why does it matter? I think that is the point. When you look at David and his walk through the Psalms we see him go from the highest high to the lowest low a mere 4 chapters later “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart,” (Psalms 9) to, “How long Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalms 13).
David is known as the man after God's heart. He is good, right, and I think in some ways, a biblical figure to aspire to. Yet he was very human. He struggled, doubted, sinned horribly, and yet God knew it all, took it all in stride, and loved him anyway. Why? No matter what situation you are going through grief, depression, anxiety, self-hatred, shame…etc., God is big enough to handle it all, even if you doubt, question, or fear. There is no situation too big for him to redeem. Even when we want to quit on him (as I have wanted many times) he is that one steadfast factor that changes our lives. Even in situations that seem hopeless, horrific, or immensely heartbreaking, God is there choosing us, when we are not choosing him.
There is a reason the Bible says, “In this world, there will be troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) God’s love is long-suffering, meaning his love will outlast any suffering, trial, temptation, or struggle we may face. So, when we want to shout to the heavens… “say something to me! Explain yourself!” We need to help youth understand that while they may feel alone, those feelings are not reality and maybe to quiet our soul and listen for God’s shout.
CS Lewis said it best in The Problem of Pain when he said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
A lot of times we think God allows situations or causes them. While I don’t think God intends to hurt us, I do believe he uses these moments of struggle and pain to bring us closer to Him and to grow us more and more into who he wants us to be. Knowing this means that even in the pain he never leaves us and loves us immeasurably.
There is power in knowing his love is something that never leaves you, is stronger than your most stubborn will, and can heal the cruelest heartache. His love is courage for the fearful, hope for the hopeless, strength for the brokenhearted, and it goes the distance. Helping youth understand dark times through the lens of love may be the way we help them and ourselves get through it, but also come out the other side more aware and stronger than before.