Have you ever faltered in your faith during heartbreaking trials? You wondered if you could continue on your spiritual journey. Maybe you’ve walked away from your faith during trying times or wandered in a dry spiritual wasteland searching for God but not finding Him. Have you been spiritually disappointed with yourself—and God? You questioned if you’d ever find your way back to the Lord or if He would ever find you again.
A loss or series of losses can cause us to question our faith and feel overwhelming emotional and spiritual pain. We wonder if God even cares. We struggle with conflicts between what we expect from God and what we actually experience. During trials we don’t have the spiritual victory we hear about from books, messages, and the claims of other Christians.
We’re hounded by nagging guilt and even shame that our faith isn’t strong enough to hold up in suffering. We may struggle with anger, bitterness, depression, and fear.
We spiritually waver, wanting to hang onto our faith one moment, and the next we want to give up. We know we should trust the Lord and release our burdens into His care. But we can’t seem to do it, and we don’t understand why we just can’t get over our pain or why God doesn’t do something to relieve us.
If you relate to such spiritual struggles, join me and many other Christians. This search for meaning in suffering is a spiritual quest, a lifelong journey in a single direction to our heavenly destination. But if you’re like me, you feel lost at times. You feel as if you’re spiritually taking the long way around to get where you belong.
What makes our search so difficult and sometimes scary is that the road we travel on is perilous. Heartbreaking losses and trials block our pathway and test our faith. Some of us get stuck and can’t get past emotional and spiritual roadblocks.
This series of blogs was written to help us get over those obstacles and keep us moving forward spiritually. We’ll discover how to deal with many different kinds of major losses and trials we or loved ones experience. If you’re looking for easy spiritual answers or quick-fix solutions to suffering, you won’t find them here. But we’ll learn how to keep on our spiritual journey during trials and find the needed spiritual support to work through grief and pain.
In writing The Search for Spiritual Meaning in Suffering, I’ve used a wide variety of resources, including personal accounts of many women. They graciously shared their stories of loss and how their faith was challenged in suffering.
This study may not be what you need if you haven’t suffered a major loss. But it will help you understand what others are experiencing. It can help you learn how to be more compassionate and minister to those who are hurting.
Often we fail to realize the impact suffering has on our faith. The primary purpose of this study is take us through the entire grieving-healing process and the spiritual phases we go through in suffering. Those three phases include spiritual reaction, rebuilding, and renewal.
In the spiritual reaction phase, we can’t believe God has allowed us to experience this painful loss. In the spiritual rebuilding phase, we have moved beyond our initial spiritual shock and have started growing in our faith through grief and trials. The spiritual renewal phase brings us into a deeper relationship with our Comforter who is always with us to love and support us in our pain. The Gifts of Suffering help us to see that God uses our trials as a gift to others and to us.
The Search for Spiritual Meaning in Suffering will help us gain an understanding of the ways our faith is tested as we go through trials. We’ll discover how we can grow through grief and come out with a stronger faith. We’ll come to terms with the mysteries of suffering, find spiritual meaning, and see how God can turn our losses into a gift to other hurting people.
One of my concerns as you work through this healing process is the danger of being defeated by negative self-talk and shame-filled thoughts, such as: I shouldn’t be anxious. I shouldn’t hurt so much. I shouldn’t cry. I’m dumb or stupid for feeling this way.
Even the strongest Christians hurt, sin, and have spiritual conflicts. We’re all on this search for spiritual meaning, so keep reminding yourself that the Lord accepts you as you are and how you feel. He is always present with you to support you through this healing, spiritually renewing process. I pray you will become more accepting and gentle with yourself as you and the Lord work through this healing process.
One of my greatest desires in writing The Search for Spiritual Meaning in Suffering was to encourage you that keeping your faith in suffering has great significance in the eyes of God and an unseen host of witnesses as well. Our losses can have personal and spiritual meaning, and our steadfast trust in the Lord counts for all eternity. I hope you will come to rely on the Lord’s ever-loving kindness. He is always with you no matter how dark and deep your heartaches go.
Here are some suggestions to help you on your journey. The chapters don’t have to be completed in a week, so give yourself the freedom to work through the series at your own pace.
Each week’s opening page has a Scripture passage that can be memorized. This is followed by a chapter and seven days of brief devotional studies on the same subject.
Before you start reading each day’s devotional, print it, and then write the date on the top of the page. Later you may want to reread what you’ve written. The dates will help you relate your written responses to the events and concerns you were experiencing during that period. You will be able to compare where you were in your pilgrimage of faith and how you have progressed since then.
Each day’s devotion begins with Scripture passages that correlate with the chapter theme. The “Scripture Reading” and “Practicing the Spiritual Life” were based on the Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Using this Bible or another modern version will make it easier to answer the questions in that section. You may want to look up passages in several different versions to gain a greater depth of meaning.
Under “Practicing the Spiritual Life,” the questions are for personal application. You will also find some assignments to help you work through the grieving-healing process and grow spiritually. Take time to seriously consider those questions, pray, and seek the Lord’s guidance. The questions are meant to help you apply the truths of Scripture to your everyday life.
If the personal application questions do not speak to your particular experience, feel free not to answer them. We all respond to losses and grieve in different ways. The questions can help you understand what others may feel or experience during trials.
For those who enjoy keeping a journal, a loose-leaf notebook with plenty of writing paper will be especially helpful. Use the notebook to answer questions from “Practicing the Spiritual Life,” adding your own thoughts and feelings.
If you don’t enjoy writing, give brief answers. The lined spaces in this book will provide enough writing space. Don’t worry about spelling or how well you write. What you put on paper is personal and private, for your spiritual growth and benefit, and is between you and the Lord alone. Above all, He accepts and loves you the way you are and just the way you write.
You may find it helpful to photocopy the “Prayer” and brief sections of this book that speak to your heartfelt needs. Then paste the photocopied information into your notebook or on small file cards. You can carry them with you and refer to them in spare moments. Or color highlight parts of the study that especially minister to you so you can easily find them again.
It helps to read over what you’ve written. But as you’re reading, don’t criticize yourself or dwell on hurtful self-talk. Add more comments only if you need to clarify what you’ve written. If you constantly put yourself down, you’ll defeat yourself and become stuck in past hurts. You need to understand what you’re feeling and thinking, so you can get through the grieving process, find necessary healing, and strengthen your faith.
Keep affirming to yourself that the Lord is kind. He loves you so much He desires to heal you of your hurts. He has promised, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jer. 31:3).
Finally, the daily devotional studies close with a personalized Scripture prayer. Those prayers will help you present your needs to the Lord, confess sin, comfort your heart, and find healing. This study will conclude with a spiritual retreat and a Remembrance Ceremony to help you find closure and to affirm life-changing experiences. This is followed by “Remembrance Ceremony Readings” and “Plans for a Small Group Study and Spiritual Retreat.”
It is my prayer that as you go through this study, you may grow through grief and discover the joy of having your faith refined and renewed. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).