Where to find God when it hurts

Sometimes life is just hard. And it can be really difficult—if not impossible—to feel like God is still there when life is unbearably hard.

Hardship comes in many forms. A friendship dissipates. A relationship falls apart. Prayers go unanswered. Family splits apart. Life is lost. A job ends. Illness strikes. A season of joy and spiritual growth comes to a close. The noise of your circumstances becomes louder than the Voice of peace inside. Our hearts break before God and spill over with emotion—anxiety, doubt, fear, sorrow, anger. Or our hearts go numb and silent. We don’t understand. We question where God is and why we’re here in the sea of our questions and confusion.

How could you let this be, God? Who are You? Where are You?

God was always the safe, still place I could turn to within whenever my external world became too much. He was the space of comfort and truth nestled deep in my heart. But when I began experiencing depression last winter, I couldn’t find that warm, comforting place of peace within me anymore. Everything felt cold and hollow. The empty darkness that filled my heart reverberated with the echoes of my cries to a God who no longer seemed there.

When I was in my place of deep pain, the tapestry of my faith felt like it was unraveling. I wanted to be able to do something—anything—to restore that feeling of closeness to God again. I tried clinging to my daily spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer with the hope that doing so would somehow fix the growing tension I felt in my relationship with God.

But I didn’t find God in reading my Bible, or praying the “right” prayers, or going to church, or pretending I still had it all together spiritually. When you are hurting beyond expression and it feels like your soul might break in two, that is where you find God.

In your honest, raw, pain-ridden brokenness.

You don’t have to feel the Father for Him to truly be there. He shows up whether we ask Him to or not, and whether or not we perceive Him. God doesn’t ask you to check your doubts and questions at the door before He bends His ear your way. He created the night sky, electromagnetism, and time; He can handle the unfiltered contents of your single human heart.

When I brought Jesus my honest confusion, anger, and pain, He didn’t laugh or turn me away. Nor did He show up in a miraculous way or take my depression away.

But, He listened. He heard me. And He whispered, “I know.”

Not an “I know” because He’s God and He knows everything. It was an “I know” of experience—of having felt what I felt before on a personal level. It was an “I know” of empathy.

I love how The Message paraphrase of the Bible so beautifully captures the truth of John 3:16—

This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”

God sent Jesus; He became human. He willingly chose to experience hunger pangs and stubbed toes and family drama and all the overwhelming heartbreak that defines what it means to be human. Why? So that He could save us and empathize with us.

When I sat alone reduced to tears over and over again because all I wanted was to feel alive and happy, the cross is what kept me from walking away from my faith. Where was God when I was hurting? He was as close to my heart as He could possibly be, pointing to His Son on the cross. “I know,” He said. “I know what it’s like to be human.”

When life brings unbearable things your way, as it unfortunately and inevitably will, even those with the closest relationships with the Father can wrestle with spiritual doubt. It may be impossible to feel God in these dark seasons of the soul, but He is not one bit disappointed in you or upset with you because it’s hard for you to trust Him.

Don’t mask your brokenness before God. Show Him. Tell Him in all honesty how you feel. He can take it, and He wants to take it.

Let’s not forget that Jesus, who Himself said He was one with God the Father, cried out while hanging on the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” (Matthew 27:46, MSG) Jesus poured out His raw emotions to the Father in His darkest moment, too.

But just as God was not done with Jesus’s story, and He wasn’t done with my story, so God is not done with your story yet. He’s never left you, not even in your worst pain. There is freedom in giving God your honest, messy, human heart. Don’t hide it—not the smallest part. He welcomes you to bring your hurt into His presence. He holds out His nail-pierced hands and looks into your eyes and whispers, “I know.”

We serve a God in the business of redemption and resurrection. While you wait and pray for this season of hurt to pass—whatever that hurt may be—remember that He knows. Let Him meet you there, right where you are. He is found in the center of your hurt.

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to Him and get what He is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, MSG)

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