Stop Feeling That Way
Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Philippians 2:27
Someone recently asked my wife about the things other Christians said back when our lives fell apart due to my addiction. There were constructive things that people said, but all the less-than-helpful comments seemed to revolve around a recurrent theme of telling her that God was in control and so, she couldn’t feel angry, sad, hurt, or resentful. Let it go. God has a plan. It will all be OK. Don’t be embarrassed, hurt, or angry.
Most of us have been there. Someone we know is going through something horrible. They feel bad which makes us feel bad and we want to help. So, we try to say something constructive. It seems that if we both believe in God, we should appeal to our mutual faith to make them feel better. This isn’t wrong. We should turn to our faith in our distress. We usually go wrong though, when we try to confirm that God is in control (i.e., he did this to them), that everything will be fine, and then proceed to tell them how they should be feeling.
As Christians, we do believe that God is in control and that there’s a better life after this, but we don’t know that everything is going to work out perfectly in this life. Furthermore, we have little right to tell others how to feel. Invalidating another’s hurt, anger, and betrayal isn’t helpful. Lacerations bleed. Pain hurts. Death and loss are sorrowful. It’s not our job to try and convince someone otherwise.
I’m thankful for Paul’s honesty in today’s passage. In it, he spoke of his friend and coworker, Epaphroditus, whom he was sending to the Philippians. He reported that Epaphroditus had been gravely ill but then recovered. Paul admitted that if his friend had died, that he would have experienced sorrow upon sorrow. Paul knew that a better life awaited Epaphroditus if he died, but in admitting that he would have mourned the loss of his friend, Paul gave us permission to mourn.
When our friends hurt, we hurt. We want to help, but telling them not to feel how they’re feeling isn’t helpful. Perhaps the best thing we can tell them is that we love them, that we hurt for them, and that we desire to comfort them. Yes, there is a better life after this one. Yes, God is ultimately in control. Those realities should be comforting, and some may need help with their grief, but pain still hurts and it’s not wrong to have feelings.