Afternoon Coffee Date– Pain, Suffering, and whether God is really Good

Helen at coffee date

Today’s coffee date is brought to you by my second round of coffee late in the afternoon. Why? Because this morning I was blessed with a real-life coffee date, you know, the kind with real people sitting in front of me? Not to diss this blog or the friends I’ve made here, but I kinda prefer the real-life version! Any-who. Who says I can’t have both?

A group of my friends from church (all of whom have remained my friends from the first time we lived in Dallas, through our time in CA, and now for Round 2 of Dallas) have started a twice a month get-together, where we all convene at a different house and let the kids go crazy in another room while we chat.

We have also been inviting a wise lady (the one in the picture above, who did not want her face shown!) from our parish, a mom to 5 kids, Grandma to many, who’s been married happily for 50+ years. This lady has experienced trials within the family, including job loss, cancer and divorce, so she knows what it means to suffer, praising God through it all. My friends and I have decided that while she still worships on this earth with us, we would love to sit at her feet and glean knowledge from her like breadcrumbs. She’s also one of the most humble people– truly, she is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.

We talked last time about motherhood, but today’s topic of conversation was about being a wife. We read from an Orthodox book (I need to track down the title!), from a chapter titled, “Give Up Control to Have More Power”. This was so convicting and deeply powerful for all of us.

What we have to remember in this day and age is that information– thoughts and words– and our interpretation of information– feelings and emotions– are not the fuel of life, nor the substance of change. LOVE is the fuel of life, the very substance of our being. God created us out of love and sustains us literally by Divine Grace., by His Energies, which is precisely Love. When we receive the Holy Mysteries, we receive the very Body and Blood of Christ, who, St. John testifies, “is Love”. Love does not turn us away in the communion line despite the faults of our own that are even obvious to us(and more so the ones that aren’t). Neither should we consider it our job to withhold love pending some change in behavior on the part of our spouse. When our husbands come to learn that our love is there for them whether or not we personally get what we want, even if it means that something they are doing is causing us to suffer, they find a springboard to what Fr. Paul calls the metanoia (or literally, change of heart) that turns us back to God and further towards the person we were created to be.

There are so many times I hear about marriages that come to a stand still because change is needed, and the couple has no tools with which to conquer the things that are separating them. It’s so easy within a marriage to withhold our love and approval until change has been met, no? Today’s conversation revolved around supporting our husband’s decisions, because until he feels loved and supported for who he is, regardless of outcome, he will continue to make the same mistakes. Tough love doesn’t work within a marriage– unconditional love and support do.

The world would probably tell us otherwise, but I decided long ago to listen to people who have been married for decades than the world’s 50% divorce rate! Yes?

We also talked a lot about fighting the world’s definition of feminine, and pursuing what we were created to be– the difference between “submission”, and the better, more Orthodox way of “surrender”. Surrender looks like giving up control for intimacy, because fighting for control can rob us of our humanity. We talked about how to be truly feminine, we have to be what we were created for. No matter how hard our culture tries to blur the line between men and women, women can do the one thing that men cannot– they can nurture and bring forth life, whether that’s in the form of babies, friendships, art, or important causes. Instead of fighting to replace everything masculine with something gender neutral, we can own what is already ours, something that is more powerful than any of the other posturing and bravado we see shouted by the media. Orthodox churches, for the majority, do not struggle with the gender battle (ie., why can’t we have female priests? female readers? female deacons?), because we look at the altar and see Mary, the Mother of God, holding the highest place of honor that any human other than Jesus can have. She held the Life of the World within herself, and brought it into the world. She fulfilled the most important act in all of humanity, breaking the curse of Eve. She did not just give birth to a baby, she gave birth to what would save all of Humanity. All the other roles women have been fighting for pale in comparison.

Anyways, it was a wonderful coffee date, and I am so thankful to have this group of women who constantly amaze and inspire me. I have felt for the past few weeks that I am in the middle of a huge growth spurt, one that comes after many months of chaos and hardship. It’s easy to think that times of rest should go on for as long as we want, but I have felt that part of what it means to rest is also to grow. To take stock of so many things that have happened and how they have affected me.

One of the things I am currently processing (and, this comes last, but it is definitely a doozy!) is how God can be a loving God. I have heard of many who go through this crisis of belief, where they struggle with believing that God is truly Good, given all the evil that goes on in the world. Although I have experienced a lot of loss and death in my life, I have never had this crisis firsthand.

But I’m neck-deep in right now. Just a few weeks ago, I found out that our beloved foster boys, the ones who we left in CA with a permanent adoptive home, are now back in the system once more. We are in Dallas, across the country, unable to help them, unable to barely get a word in with their social worker, and it feels helpless and heartbreaking. Like truly gut-wrenching heart-breaking. Not a night has gone by since we heard the news where I haven’t cried myself to sleep.

And I think: God, these are your babies. You took away their earthly mother and father. You have not provided them with another mother or father. The system is their parent, and it is failing them. God, if you are not even choosing to protect your babies, who are innocents caught in the cross fire of adults who keep making mistakes, why would you ever choose to protect me?

I love that I was able to bring these raw thoughts forward today and have our mentor (who was also a foster parent, in addition to mothering her 5 children!) tell me that I can scream and shout these things to the Lord and He won’t love me any less. She told me to read the Psalms, where David spends chapter after chapter crying out in anger and anguish at the Lord. If these things pain me, they pain God much more, because He loves them more. Pain and suffering are not indications that we are far from God, or that He is not looking out for us. We do not believe in a “Prosperity Gospel”, where God only shows His love through earthly blessings and rewards.

Someone else also brought up their favorite part of Revelations, where the martyrs cry out saying, “Don’t forget about us and the blood we spilled!” and the Lord listens and gives them their say. Someday, even if it’s not soon, I know that our boys will be given a chance to be heard, and that the evils done against them by their parents will be healed.

I will continue to struggle and grow through these thoughts and frustrations, but I am so happy for a group of friends who can walk alongside me in these ways.

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  • brookecone

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve had seasons of wrestling with this myself. I have to pray for faith, especially when I have a job that revolves around the deep brokenness in our world. It makes me think of what the disciples said, “Jesus where else would we go?” It’s hard to understand God’s role in all the pain, but without an assurance of redemption, where else would we go?