Sarah* has been through sudden and unexpected trials recently. She has been laid low by acute illness. Her close family members have significant troubles in their work and relationships. Sarah has been faithfully praying for them (and has done so for many years), but to no avail, it seems.
As we catch up on the phone she pleads: “I just want life to be normal again!”
What does Sarah mean by normal?
Life for Sarah right now is hard, very hard.
She retired recently, once imagining the freedom for service this time of life would offer her. Instead, she is spent both physically and emotionally. Well-intentioned friends encourage her to trust the Lord but frankly she’s finding that hard, too. She is struggling to recognise the merciful and compassionate Lord who is that Psalm 103:8 speaks about. She wants the heat dialled down from red alert. Surely that is the merciful thing for the Lord to do right now?
What does Sarah really want?
She wants to embrace the good things in life that she has time for now. She wants to feel well enough to go to the ladies’ daytime Bible study. She wants to be able to get out every now and again on the new bike she bought for her retirement. She wants to keep her once-a-week commitment to help out at Mums and Tots. She wants her children to get that job or settle into that relationship. She wants to enjoy the fruit of a life given over in loving service to her family, her work and her church.
When suffering prevents us from doing good things, when things are really difficult and we miss the joy of these good things, we are tempted to ask where is the Lord today? Where is His compassion in the pain and hardship of it all? Sarah wants a way out of it and back to what she used to have.
What does Scripture have to say?
Paul tells us that we can expect life now to be a lot like Sarah’s experience. In Romans 8:22, he tells us that the whole of creation is ‘groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’ We groan under the weight of life in a fallen world. Sarah is wearied of feeling unwell, wearied of cancelling commitments, wearied of difficult phone calls with anxious relatives. She groans at the brokenness on every front of her life today. And, says Romans 8, she’s in good company. All creation groans with her. For now, for today, suffering is normal!
But that this is the time to groan is not all that Scripture has to say. It’s not all that’s going on. Creation may be groaning, but it’s also waiting. Eagerly. You only wait for something that is sure to come. Liberation “from bondage and decay” is surely coming. It’s on its way. The day is coming when the “normal” Sarah longs for now will be a reality.
What kind of help and hope can I help Sarah to take hold of?
I might not say all of this, and not in one go, but here are three things from Romans 8 I’d want to have in mind for Sarah and try to weave into conversations with her:
Sarah, it’s normal to groan today. (Romans 8:22). But it’s possible to groan and hope at the same time. It’s why Paul talks about childbirth – groaning and hope live side-by-side in a labour ward. And the life that’s coming is already here. Because ‘The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you’ today (Romans 8:11).
Did you realise that as you groan in the midst of all these hard things, the Spirit is pleading for you – he’s groaning too! He knows that we find suffering bewildering – we don’t know what we ought to pray for. So He intercedes for us, asking for God’s perfect will for us in our present experience. There is purpose in our groaning and our waiting. (Romans 8:26-27)
As we groan, we can still trust Him. The Lord has promised he will deliver us in and through today’s struggle. Trust is saying, “Lord, I’m finding this really hard. But I know that today is not the end of the story. I know I have something to look forward to. A glorious new normal. And you’ve guaranteed it – because Jesus was raised from the dead. (Romans 8:21) So please help me through today.”
* This is a fictional case study.