I open my email and there in my inbox is the dreaded email. Subject heading: ďPlease AdviseĒ or ďI need your helpĒ or ďI wonder what you would do?ĒThese emails fill me with dread for lots of reasons. Iím not an expert, and I really donít have all the answers despite my desire to help women working in pastoral situations. My heart goes out to them because I know how hard and isolating ministry can be for women in the UK (and beyond). I never fully know the details of the situation(s), no matter how descriptive an email is. Therefore, I have to show wisdom and discernment before and if I speak into any situation (particularly when I donít have the whole story, donít have a personal relationship with the person presenting the problem, and am uncertain of the cultural context in which it happening). Therefore, very often, my response is that I just donít know.
What happens when we just donít know what to say to those who are suffering? I was struck by this recently sitting in a systematic theology lecture discussing the subject. The whole ďwhat would you do/say/askĒ was being thrashed about in the classroom as we dissected a case study of a make-believe Kevin. Now, Iíve used case studies many times as Iíve taught our trainees, because Iíve always felt that a make-believe person gives a safe practice ground for working through some of lifeís big issues. Yet, what really struck me in the lecture as all these ideas and theories where being bandied around was that there are just times when, despite all the practice, study, and years of ministry experience, we are sat face to face with someone we dearly care for who is in dire need and we just donít know what to say. Words seem wholly appropriate. There are occasions when words just canít express our love and compassion in the face of Mt. Everest sized problems. Itís true that the older I get, the less I realise that I know. Sometimes all I have for people is, ďI love you dearly but I just donít know what to say.Ē Is that really good enough? Or would it be better for me to bring to mind a half decent memory verse such as 1 Peter 5:7 ďcasting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.Ē What about, Psalm 73:26 ďMy flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.Ē Both are wonderful and true verses, but is silence sometimes the best option?
Iíve been thinking about this a lot this last few weeks as so many people I love and care for are suffering. It would be so easy to be crushed by their sorrow because of the weight of my burden for them and my inability to speak well and wisely into each situation. I simply donít know. I donít know why they are suffering. I donít know why the Lord is allowing this to go on. I donít know how best to speak into their situation or what wise words would bring comfort. I donít know. I donít know. I donít know!
Thankfully, I donít have to!
The suffering family and friends in our lives need mature, godly women to model WHO we are relying on in times of great adversity. We may sit in silence sometimes, but that does not mean that we cannot model in our own lives our complete trust and reliance on GOD in our darkest hours. We donít know, but HE does!
We may not know but GOD knows and we can trust HIM. We can say we donít know but we do know that HE is 100% trustworthy. We can point back to difficult times in our lives which prove his faithfulness and sustaining grace. We know he is faithful over the long haul even if he appears silent in our immediate difficulties. We know he is trustworthy. We know he is merciful. We know his love never fails. We know the work of Christ is completed and, therefore, whatever happens in this life, our inheritance is secure. Even though there are times when we just donít know why, there is never a time when we do not know who.
Thankfully ďI donít knowĒ isnít all we have.
- We can we rely on our faithful God
- We can
- Rely on his Holy Spirit
- Learn to recognise his leading
- We can remind ourselves of Godís faithfulness, mercy, trustworthiness, and compassion to us in the past (it will be the same today and tomorrow).
- We can remember the gospel and the wonderful hope we have in Christ
- We can ask God for wisdom and perseverance
- We can ask God to help us serve and speak well
Jeremiah 33:3 ďCall to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.Ē