Of “Testimonies”, Bewildering Hallelujahs and the Christian Reluctance to Sit with Hard Stories

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Christian going through hard times, have you shared your hard story with a fellow Christian, only to receive an enthusiastic “But look at your testimony! God made it all work out, didn’t He?” fireworks bonanza?

Have you experienced one of those dizzying moments of someone being swept up by your complex story, and you watch them climb higher and higher, and you are left on the ground, perplexed and disoriented, as they soar to the heavens with your “testimony”?

It happens a lot in Christian circles, the tendency to redirect harrowing stories, to put a bow, a medallion, and a big “Tada!”

And it needs to stop.

Christian going through hard times image

Because the truth is, nobody NEEDS trauma, pain, confusion, or hell, to “learn a lesson” or to “glorify God.” Bad things happen. Period.

We don’t need to weave anecdotes and narratives around these dreadful experiences. We don’t need to fix, make sense of, pedestal lessons, or minimize or justify anything. We can just be.

Check this out. Some people will live submerged in terrible experiences their entire lives: no rescue, no getting out, no Christian version of a happy ending. Others will experience hell, walk out and NEVER speak of it. OR process it.  

Living part or even all of their lives in hell doesn’t mean they don’t matter. The fact that they didn’t get to process their harrowing experiences or escape them doesn’t make their journey less held or cared for by their Maker.

A victim or survivor of bad experiences doesn’t have to pour out to others down the road for their experiences to have meaning. Meaning isn’t measured by how “fixed” they are now, how put together, how victorious, or how healed. 

The experience of it is “meaning” enough.

Life without pain

Not many seem to accept this, but life can be lived, and enjoyed, without dark pain, trauma, or drama. We don’t NEED horrible things to happen to us to be “proven” or feel like “real Christians.”

If we go back to the beginning, chaos, disorder, and pain were not part of the plan. God didn’t “need” to “teach” human beings through pain or traumatic experiences.

And while we’re now living in this in-between, between the two perfects, one in the past and one to come, He also invites us to rediscover this space that allows us to be.

Many call it Beloved. And in community, we can be with others the way, I imagine, it was at the beginning when hard wasn’t trying mark our souls and bodies. 

And we can find love and belonging amidst our current hard: the hard things are admitted and compassionately processed, but they are not used to define us, silence us, shame us, or tell us how much we belong.

Playing with people’s experiences?

Depending on where you are in your healing journey and sense of community, quips like “But look at how things turned out, all the things you learned and how you now are able to minister to people with similar concerns! Praise God!” can feel like death. 

A knife scraping your insides, twisting right back into your recovering soul, adding to the layers of agony and neglect.

Digging for Christian gold, those shiny medals Christians love to wave as “healing,” “purpose,” and “testimony,” is like meeting someone who trekked through the desert, dying of thirst, and upon first sight exclaiming, “Oh your parched lips and bleeding feet and broken body make soo much sense! Praise God!”

Platitudes are dumb.

The wounded person sees you desperately trying to tie up their still-bursting-to-the-seams experiences with a neat bow. They see you fidgety and anxious and removed from their pain, and “oh, what a testimony” is another exit. 

Your “God made it all work out, didn’t He?” says harmful people are messengers of God. And if those harm-causing people are messengers of God, they can’t be held accountable, can they? And since God chose you to experience this special trial, you should be rejoicing that evil took a bite out of you, not lamenting, you special child of God.

Our platitudes don’t make hurting Christians feel better. They don’t make people feel heard, seen or powerful. Instead, cliches add to the isolation. Medal-hunting adds to the depths of Unseen and Unknown. Like the worth of a person is in how much they get to suffer.

Christian going through hard times: but God is not in the crazy

God is not involved in the crazy mess that happens to His people. How I know is because of Jesus. 

He wouldn’t be “proclaim(ing) freedom for the prisoners” if He was the jailor, “proclaim(ing) good news to the poor” if He was the agent of poverty, or “recovery of sight for the blind,” if He was darkness. (Luke 4:18, 19)

God did not send people to wound and harm others, and we need to stop when we find ourselves soothing our own fears, anxiety, shame and ignorance aka saying He did.   

Now, I get it. I, too, have had moments when words left my mouth before they were fully thought. Words that should not have left my lips have exited. 

I too have been that Christian who felt it was her Christian calling to “pivot” people to “truth” when they shared their hard. But I have been learning. I have been on the other side of platitudes and, it hurts.

It’s really really hard, if you grew up in evangelical or conservative Christianity, not to have answers. In that world, the fewer answers we have, the more answers we like to give. The more curiosity, awareness, or genuine compassion is required of us, the more we kick and fight it.

But we can change. We can grow. We can understand that being on the receiving end of spiritual dribble is not hallowed or fun or a “calling.”

What I am not saying:

Now, I am not saying that God does not use hard things. Or that we don’t pour out and fill the cups of the suffering with the same water that was offered to us.

Or that there’s absolutely no place for supportive, empathetic growth. Or there’s no place for wild celebration (Fyi I’m Kenyan and I came out marked “like to celebrate.”)

However.

The blessed ability to support others, I see it as God redeeming the mess and pain. I see it as a hurting or once-hurting individual making a decision to be present with someone else because that person’s pain and sensations are familiar. There’s no huge fireworks bonanza about it. It just is.

I do not see it as God intentionally wounding us so we can have “testimonies” and get folks knowing “how great He is.”

(I’ve heard people say, “how will you know God can heal (insert an awful traumatic experience) if you never went through (said awful traumatic experience)?” A simple word, “if said awful traumatic experience was so necessary to Christian living, how come nobody is breaking down the doors to experience it?”)

Again, God can use hard things too. We can celebrate our stories and our growth. We can be community.

I just hope we can nuance and understand why hurting people don’t need anyone to cut the line and attempt to tie up their stories with a neat bow. I hope we can explore why we rush to tie up our stories in the first place.


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4 Comments

  1. Brenda Peterson says:

    It isn’t just Christians who do this. In fact when my son’s father died, leaving me widowed when our son was just two, Christians were very compassionate.
    It was when I went to secular grief counselling that I recieved the shallowest comments. And yes, she had an M.A. Psych.
    “Well, you’re so young; it will be easy. Now you can just move on and meet someone else!” She glibly exclaimed.
    This was after I’d bared my heart and soul to her, regarding my deep and profound grief.
    I was unable to eat, vomiting up any food 5 x a day. Or dry retching the contents of an empty stomach. I had shrunk from size 4 to size zero. I was literally skin and bones.
    And it made her uncomfortable. So, she decided to ‘celebrate’ my youth and widowhood with shallow cheery remarks.
    She was nauseating.

  2. Part of me wants to believe this and then I read Job and just can’t help but question everything. Why would God allow Satan to do what he did to Job to “prove” something to Satan? Like God needed to prove a bet with the evil one? Makes God seem petty.

  3. PatriciaM says:

    You are such a breath of fresh air! Thank you!

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