A few weeks later, my first serious relationship disintegrated. Over the next two years, I buried two family members, two dear friends, and lost two soldiers to suicide.
There’s a lot of pain in this world. I’m friends with a man who has bipolar disorder, a woman whose husband left her for another man, and a teenager who had to go to three funerals in the two months after her high school graduation. I’ve had a student who loved math because homework was the only time her dad spent with her. Another had a dying grandfather and said, “it doesn’t bother me none,” while his eyes burned.
A friend of mine suggested the reason “Christian” fiction is so bland is that we have this conception that there’s no conflict this side of the Cross and it’s all about getting to and then through the cross. We eventually stumbled upon the converse: the best Christian fiction has real, soul-plumbing conflict because it realizes we are not “this side” of the Cross. We Christians, having followed Christ’s call to take up our crosses and follow Him, are somewhere between the Via Dolorosa’s first cobbles and the harrowing of hell. There’s a reason every epic has a descent into the underworld.
We each have our own crosses—whether abuse, divorce, rejection, mental illness, physical ailments, or depression. St. Paul writes to the Romans that the whole creation, we ourselves, and the Spirit all groan as we await the redemption of the body; he points out that to be glorified with Christ, we must suffer with Him.
Some of these sufferings never get prayed away, and never will before death. The Spirit helps us, not in our strength, but in our weakness. And we, too, help others as we find them, know them, and love them in our weakness and in theirs. For all the pain in the world, there is beauty, and there is love—the middle schoolers who have made their own mistakes, but call the cops on a friend before she finishes what she’s threatened, the hard-headed insistence of a drunk on mopping up someone else’s vomit after being helped by some church members—“You helped me, now let me help you.”
It’s a rough world out there (and good as we are at masking it, it can be in the church, too). Don’t wear masks, don’t be afraid to show pain, and don’t be afraid of others’. It may save someone’s life to know that someone else hurts and that we are all bearing burdens—help bear each other’s. Christ carried His, and ours with Him, and with Him, we must shoulder ours and follow—with the hope that He has won through and cleared the path before us.
By Colin Cutler
Image: Farinata degli Uberti addresses Dante from Dante's The Inferno by Gustav Dore (1857).