A Need for Grace
By Constance B. Fink
In a physical crisis, such as cancer or a broken leg, a church’s support is second-to-none. They rally not only in the initial days, but also throughout the long recovery. Encouragement and help are dependable, meals and transportation are provided, visits are frequent, cards and phone calls are timely. However, in an emotional or spiritual struggle, such as depression, marital conflict, or grief, God’s people may not be as compassionate. Rather than encouragement, there may be betrayal and abandonment.
In my forty-seven years as a Christian, I have trekked several difficult paths. There was the path of infertility, resulting in an emptiness that went deep. During that time, my mother died from breast cancer. Losing her when I was trying to become a mother affected my ability to cope with her death and my barrenness. Then my husband and I were faced with unexpected unemployment, resulting in months of financial stress.
Each path took me through dense woods—strenuous and dark. Sometimes I felt lost and afraid. Sometimes I felt alone and sad. But at the same time, I knew I would not trade those times for anything. For that is when I grew closest to my Shepherd and learned to trust His faithful care.
Unfortunately, not all of my Christian friends and leaders valued the wooded path.
Some said I should be stronger to avoid it.
Others, during the roughest stretches, said, “You’ve been here long enough. Just leave it.”
Others, attempting to keep me motivated, said if I could not find my way out of the woods, I would be unfit for future service.
And at the end, some said even though I made it through, the fact I walked the woods made me unfit for service.
One person even questioned my salvation.
When asked, “Are things better?” I wondered if the person wanted to hear the truth. If I answered “no,” would my discouragement and sadness shake their faith? If I answered “yes,” would they believe my peace though I was still in the midst of tumultuous circumstances? Others, in what seemed like concern, asked, “How are you doing? We’re praying for you; let us know if you need anything.” Not stopping to listen, these words often pushed me further away. It was easier to return the smile and say “Fine.”
In an emotional or spiritual struggle, progress may not be easily measured. Unfortunately, some believe the measure of spiritual maturity is the lack of struggle and the mature Christians are found in “meadows” not “woods.” However, the writings of famous Christians who lived with depression, anxiety, and other extended periods of suffering, show that God often leads a spiritually healthy person, onto a difficult path in order to develop qualities necessary for greater service.
In the Bible, God called Gideon into service while dealing with inadequacy and negativity (Judg. 6). He called Paul at the peak of his brutality and arrogance to a ministry that was far-reaching (Acts 9). David fell to temptation more than once and struggled with strong emotions, but God appointed him king of Israel because he was a man after His own heart (1 Sam. 13:14).
So why does God’s family not rally around the depressed person or spiritually exhausted person? Why do they miss the value of woods, the significant growth that occurs when one has no choice but to trust God to work out His plan?
First, some are afraid of woods. They avoid them, like they would any dark and scary place. They have not personally experienced a dark time and do not know how to relate to it. It comforts them to hear things are “better” even though reality may be quite different. They pray quite comfortably for Aunt Matilda’s big toe, but not quite as freely for the couple struggling with infertility.
Second, some feel inadequate to help. Even though they initially show support, they become frustrated in their efforts. As time drags on, they get weary. They don’t know what to say or do. Their words intend to pull or push the hurting person along. Though they mean well, they can be spotted by their advice, often laden with guilt, “You should probably take any job, even if it’s not related to your career. Anything would be better than nothing.”
The responses of my Christian friends gave me a glimpse of their fear, weariness, and sense of inadequacy. Though on occasion I felt anger and self-pity, these emotions did not take root. Rather, I let God grow grace in my heart.
Was I willing to respond with grace to the need of someone who has misjudged me? What is grace and how do I know if I have it? Paul’s writing gives a clue:
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” (Col. 3:12-15)
As Christ’s compassion and forgiveness cultivated and broke through the obstacles in my own heart, grace had room to grow. He plowed under the hard stones, gnarled weeds, and sharp thistles in my life so the seeds of His character could take root. Then, nourished in God’s Word and watered in prayer, the fruit of Christ ripened in my life. I noticed a difference in my feelings. Rather than responding from my hurt, I looked for ways to honor the other person.
Though I still let others down and sometimes am hurt by others, Christ is always dependable.
He keeps His promises.
He accepts me no matter where I am or what my circumstances are.
He is attentive when there are no words.
He is always there, even in the darkest nights.
When I want to give up, He encourages me to keep going.
His favor toward me never runs dry.
He consistently treats me with honor and dignity.
His compassion and forgiveness are available in unlimited quantities.
His grace is abundant!
God’s grace is given regardless of the person or the situation. It is stronger than the most consuming fear and the most devastating failure. It is greater than all sin and extends to the deepest part of the soul.
Unmet expectations, unrealized hope, unresolved concerns, and unhealed emotions are long paths, often filled with rocky steps and painful thorns. But may Jesus’ grace and peace abound - first to me, then through me.
Editor’s Note: Some details have been changed to protect the identity of individuals.