I was sat in a talk about sharing faith, and settled in with expectancy. Within minutes, I felt like I’d fallen at the first hurdle.
"I can’t possibly be an evangelist", I thought. "I’m just too tired."
The speaker talked about all the opportunities we have in our busy lives to share our faith with the people we meet each day; our colleagues, checkout staff, people on the bus, those we are serving at places we volunteer. I was shrinking inside, because this description didn’t chime with my own lived experience. “I can’t possibly be an evangelist”, I thought. “I’m just too tired.” People who tell other people about Jesus are full of strength, but I am not. Because I’ve been in pain all my life, with a chronic degenerative lung disease.
But I was forgetting that God cannot be confined. I’ve recently been exploring the apostle Paul’s teaching about how looking to Christ within our suffering can both soothe our dark places and fire us with passion for others to come to know His saving love. Learning to be contented in Jesus has turned bitterness about my condition to a more outward looking attitude of heart. I’ve discovered that God works beyond the boundaries of my life, and is never hemmed in by how I think He should work – or who I think I should be.
I’ve experienced God partnering with me within my sickness in many ways, but there are two that particularly stand out to me…
Out of my weakness, God draws the beauty of possibility.
- Laying myself open to others. After struggling for years with feeling like I couldn’t ask for help, I made a decision to allow myself to be vulnerable; to ask when I needed it. In response to this, people were incredibly generous and compassionate, but in addition, I found that people opened up to talking about faith with me.
- God works within my pain through the internet. People are searching for answers, and for connection, suffering from the acute loneliness brought on by a frantic, screen-driven world. I’ve found this to be a truth particularly within the community of those who are sick and disabled. Many people find that being online can elevate the stark sense of alienation resulting from their situation – but when community is made there, that loneliness can also be alleviated.
I’ve made some meaningful relationships online which have enabled me to share faith in a way I never thought possible: out of my weakness, God draws the beauty of possibility. As I write I so often have a sense of His compassion and mercy for people, the love He longs to pour out. It’s an honour and privilege to write about my faith, when speaking my faith is not always an option. It reminds me of the immensity of who God is – a God who cannot be contained in a box of my own making, or the barriers of my own lived pain.
Giving ‘pat answers’ is rarely a helpful approach, but sharing stories of how God has entered your own times of darkness can be.
If you know someone who is living with pain, and you want to approach sensitively sharing the hope of Jesus, here are some things I’ve learnt…
- Try to take time with the person you are sharing with, to listen closely to them, without judgment or rushing in with advice. Sometimes, there are no answers, and what that person needs most is someone to abide with them, to take time to understand their pain.
- It can be incredibly damaging to a sick person when visitors gloss over their pain with clichés such as ‘but you look so well!’ or ‘are you better yet?’. It can also be difficult when people assure them that they are going to be healed if they come to faith. Let’s be mindful of how God doesn’t always work in the way we think He should.
- Sharing the encounters Jesus had with people who were ill can be inspiring and transformative. He took time to see them as people, not just to address the physical problem. When the woman with chronic bleeding touched His cloak, He stopped for a moment (when others wanted Him to rush on) to tell her that He knew her and loved her heart of faith. Instead of letting her sneak away with a physical healing only, He brought about an encounter that would transform her at her very deepest places.
- People who live lives of pain are often struggling with emotional rather than theoretical questions. Many are wondering why God allows them to suffer so much and for so long. Giving ‘pat answers’ is rarely a helpful approach, but sharing stories of how God has entered your own times of darkness can be. Talking about how Jesus experienced the greatest suffering imaginable, and therefore is present within our brokenness, can profoundly resonate.