One of the privileges and pains of pastoral ministry is walking with dear friends as they face seasons of suffering and challenge. Sometimes these seasons are accompanied by a nagging, unshakable sense of sadness. Despite their attempts to declare truths to themselves, to read the Word, to pray, the sense of sadness persists and the experience of joy and peace is elusive.
I have seen a few comforts benefit those in the midst of this season. One, is the awareness that God’s love is still true even when we aren’t feeling the reality of it. (Note to remember, trying to force this truth on a person in the midst of suffering is very difficult–the best care for suffering happens before suffering begins.) Another support is the blessing of friends who are willing to listen. Often times the greatest gift a friend can offer in theses seasons is the willingness to hear the sorrows and confusion and difficulty without judgment and with minimal counsel. In certain moments, nearness, listening, and and the genuine promise to pray are the best friendly support. A third support is unexpected encouragement. In the midst of the darkness, a short text message, phone call, email, or note can feel like a brief ray of sunlight breaking through the clouds. Sometimes separating encouraging words of faith from the listening opportunity is the right strategy, since the friend may only have enough faith to either express their struggles or hear encouragement, but only one at a time.
One last gift of support can be to point out Scriptures that highlight God’s invitation for us to pray out our struggles to him. Psalm 88 is the most extreme example of this that I know. After calling God the “Lord, the God of my salvation” the psalmist spends the next 17 verses pouring out his struggles to the Lord. The Psalm does not end in a statement of confidence. It seems that the Psalmist only has enough faith to pray his struggles. I’ve found that there are regular moments in the midst of a spiritual season of darkness when this is the most that a saint can do. They may not be full of confidence and even expressing confidence may be too much for their souls. But if they can at least pray the reality of their struggles and believe that God is hearing them, then they are still facing in the right direction. I am so grateful for Psalm 88 and other similar passages. God is gracious enough to receive prayer that is only an acknowledgement that we are struggling with His providence. Only grace hears a prayer like that.
May any who are caring for God’s people be given skill to lift up the downcast and bring light to those with clinging darkness.