by Melissa Affolter
In counseling with young women seeking encouragement amidst difficult circumstances, I am often reminded of my struggles with similar issues. It’s a sweet reminder, because I can see how God’s grace has molded and kept me during some rough seasons. At the same time, I hurt for these ladies, wishing they could experience that grace quickly and be relieved, or wishing they didn’t have to go through such dark days at all.
Experiencing the Fall
It seems that emotional upheaval has become more commonplace for women. Or maybe it seems more commonplace because we interact so freely with it in this age.
Sometimes God takes us to really difficult places, and leaves us without explanation for weeks, months, maybe even years. Whether emotional or physical, or a combination of the two, we can suffer for extended periods of time.
More recently, a trend toward books and blog posts about depression, anxiety and other emotion-related topics aimed toward female audiences has picked up steam. The temptation is to compare our sufferings, holding up one as more challenging than another. But when you are the one suffering, it doesn’t help to be told that your trial is less significant than another.
Is there some heightened state of emotional drama for women these days? Yes, and no. Yes, in the sense that life is more complicated and public than years ago. We are inundated by tragic news reports daily and with the popularity of social media, lives are on display for all to see and compare. But no, in the sense that there is, “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), and we all experience the effects of a fallen nature.
Theology in the Dark Places
Every problem I encounter can be traced back to sin – my sin, someone else’s sin, or the fact that I live in a sin-cursed world. Problems have been that way since the garden, when Adam and Eve first ate of the forbidden fruit. They chose to believe a lie, forsaking their theology about God’s goodness and promise of provision.
That means my problems are theological in nature. How I respond to every problem reveals something about my theology.
How do we embrace right theology in seasons of darkness, when the presence of God is reduced to a mere shadow? Because let’s be honest – the pat answers about God’s sovereignty are not always going to help me drag my feet to the floor when my alarm buzzes, reminding me that I have to face another day of thoughts raging against one another in my mind.
Paul David Tripp calls this a, “theology of uncomfortable grace.” Describing this theology, he says, “God will take you where you haven’t intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.”
My maturity in Christ depends directly upon the suffering I endure in and through him. I am neither surprised nor devastated by it. I can trust his good hand in leading me through it. How? By rehearsing the truths of God’s Word. Of course there will be days when I flounder to take hold of these consolations. But, when I turn to the Scriptures, I am always met with promises like those in Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him”.
We Aren’t the First, And We Aren’t the Last
Sisters who have gone before me were very familiar with this theology of uncomfortable grace. I know little of being truly uncomfortable. Note this description of Elizabeth Prentiss, wife to a local pastor in Massachusetts during the nineteenth century:
Elizabeth Prentiss was no stranger to suffering. In her thirties, she lost both her second child and her fourth child – all in the span of just three months. She struggled with poor health for most of her life. Rather than feeling sorry for herself, Elizabeth used life’s trials as a spiritually strengthening tool and to give her empathy for the sufferings of others. She was an angel of strength and consolation to many others who were undergoing trials. (steppingheavenward.net)
Elizabeth served her husband and children faithfully for many years, and used her uncomfortable struggles as a means to minister to others. Authoring over twenty books, she was a triumphant voice of comfort to hurting souls.
Elizabeth Prentiss knew that God was molding her and keeping her, even while teaching her this theology of uncomfortable grace. She was mindful of verses like 2 Corinthians 3:18, which promises, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
We can cling to the theology of knowing that this uncomfortable grace will only last as long as our earthly lives, and that it is preparing us for the glory to come. We can be confident that the eternal grace of Jesus, bought with his blood on the cross, will usher us into his presence.
Melissa Affolter is a curriculum writer for The Rafiki Foundation in Florida and serves in the youth and children’s ministries at Riverbend Community Church in Ormond Beach. After completing a degree in history and teaching in a Classical Christian school for several years, Melissa earned a Master of Arts in biblical counseling from The Master’s College in 2011. She enjoys meeting with young women regularly for counsel and encouragement, as well as loving on the many children who refer to her as “Auntie Mel”.
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