3 Lies To Combat in Suffering and Anxiety

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Suffering is often a breeding ground for temptation. Weakened by pain and disoriented by anxiety, we are uniquely vulnerable to believing Satan’s lies.

C.S. Lewis observed, “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against [God].” The Devil loves to leverage our pains and fears to try to twist our view of Christ and his heart toward us.

One of the most reorienting stories for sufferers is Luke’s account of the bleeding woman and the dying daughter (Luke 8:40–56), which you can read here. At the intersection of two tragedies, we find Jesus—whose actions reveal his heart and our hope in suffering. This story also helps us identify and combat common lies we are tempted to believe in pain and anxiety. Consider three:

When Jesus asked who touched his garment, the bleeding woman—likely outcasted due to ritual uncleanness—“came [to Jesus] trembling” (v. 47). Undoubtedly, fighting through a crowd to touch Jesus was scary enough. Now, Jesus wanted her to identify herself in front of everyone—a fearful thought. Yet she still answered Jesus’ call, even while trembling.

How did Jesus respond to her trembling faith? He doesn’t say, “How dare you tremble? You should never feel fear while doing scary things or taking a step of faith!” Instead, Jesus says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (v. 48).

Jesus doesn’t condemn her trembling faith; he commends her trembling faith. His response reminds us that true faith isn’t the absence of fear. True faith is trusting God and following his calling amid our fears. It is not the absence of fear but the presence of faith which God commends.

After Jesus delays his journey to Jairus’ house to care for the bleeding woman, a messenger arrives and says to Jairus, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher anymore” (v. 49). The verb has negative undertones and could be translated as “bother” (NIV), “annoy,” or “harass.”

In seasons of suffering, we can be tempted to think our brokenness and neediness annoy Jesus. We picture Jesus with a bothered expression, saying,

  • “You’re anxious again? Over this? How many times do I have to tell you to stop worrying?”
  • “Do you actually have the nerve to ask me for help after all the sinning you’ve been doing?”
  • “Will you quit crying? You should be done grieving by now.”

We think of Jesus as exhausted by our ongoing weaknesses and pleas for help. We see him with hair-trigger anger and reluctant compassion. But notice how Jesus responds to Jairus’ desperation: “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well” (v. 50).

Even before Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter, he comforts Jairus’ heart. This moment gives every suffering believer a window into Christ’s heart. Jesus’ knee-jerk reaction toward anxious and hurting believers is not condemnation but compassion. Not anger but affection. I love Dane Ortlund’s observation:

“The Old Testament speaks of God being ‘provoked to anger’ by his people dozens of times … But not once are we told that God is ‘provoked to love’ or ‘provoked to mercy.’ His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, … ready to burst forth at the slightest prick.”

Ritual uncleanness is one of the most important connections between the sick characters in this story. If anyone contacted a bleeding woman or dead body, that person would’ve himself become unclean.

Most would’ve avoided these individuals. Yet Jesus draws near. He heals the bleeding woman and calls her “daughter”—an endearing title for someone used to scowls and disgusted looks. But even more poignant is how Jesus treats the deceased daughter: “Taking her by the hand he called, saying, ‘Child, arise’” (v. 54).

Jesus could’ve healed the girl from miles away (cf. John 4:46–54). He could’ve stood outside Jairus’ home and shouted, “You, in there—rise!” He could’ve entered the room with a hazmat suit and healed her without contacting her uncleanness. But he didn’t. 

Jesus drew close enough to touch, likely knelt beside her, and took her by the hand—willingly associating with her uncleanness. He embraced her while she was still unclean (cf. Rom. 5:6–8).

And so Christ does for us. When we turn to God in repentance, God runs to us in forgiveness (Luke 15:20; James 4:8). When we reach for Jesus’ hand again after sinning, he doesn’t jerk back his hand and say, “Don’t touch me!” If someone tries to remove their hand after we sin, it’s not Jesus—it’s us, shrinking back in shame. Yet, praise God, Jesus promises that no one will snatch his people from his hand (John 10:28)—not even us, by our sin and shame.

Jesus remains a hand-holding Savior, even when we are most unclean. Even when we feel like letting go of Jesus, he never lets go of us.

One of the most curious details in this story is that the woman had been bleeding for 12 years, and Jairus’ daughter was 12 years old. While it’s hard to know the full significance of this connection, one thing is clear: Jesus knows every detail of our pain. He knows how many days (or years) we’ve suffered, the number of times we’ve tossed in bed, and the exact number of tears we’ve shed (Ps. 56:8).

We gasp both times we read 12 years—but for opposite reasons. For the bleeding woman, 12 years was grievously long. For the dying daughter, 12 years was grievously short. Who can’t relate to these pains? Much of our suffering comes from painful things lasting too long and good things not lasting long enough. God acknowledges both forms of suffering in this story.

I wonder if the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include these numbers in part to say to every sufferer, “I see you. I know your pain. I know your timeline. I know your joys are often short-lived, and your sorrows feel unending. And I won’t leave your suffering unresolved.”

As Jesus said to Jairus, he says to you: Do not fear. Only believe. I am coming soon. When I do, everything will be made well. Until then, I will hold your hand—and I won’t let go (cf. Isa. 41:13; Ps. 139:10; Heb. 13:5).

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Blake Glosson is a pastoral resident at Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, and an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (herehere, and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Watch or listen to “Grace That Is Greater Than All Our Sin” here.

Read “Which Jesus Is ‘With You’ in Suffering?” here.

Read “In Suffering, God Isn’t (Simply) Teaching You a Lesson” here.

Read “7 Things to Say to a Hurting Loved One” here.

7 Things to Say to a Hurting Loved One

Note: This article is also published on The Gospel Coalition. It was also discussed on Moody Radio (you can also listen on Spotify and most other podcast platforms).

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Arguably no moment is more formative than immediately after a loved one shares her pain with you. Relationships are defined by what happens in these sacred seconds. Your words can bring healing or harm, communicate love or judgment, build or destroy trust.

Listening is almost always the surest way to care for a hurting friend, as it establishes trust, facilitates understanding, opens the door to self-discovery and growth, and powerfully communicates the heart and love of Christ. Jesus excelled in the ministry of listening, and he wants us to follow in his footsteps.

Yet Jesus did more than listen to sufferers; he also spoke life-giving words to them. While we should always take a listen-first approach with hurting loved ones, we should also look for opportunities to speak words of hope and encouragement. A timely word of encouragement can bring blessing and even healing: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24; cf. 12:18; 25:11).

Unfortunately, we often find ourselves ill-equipped to speak words of life to hurting loved ones. Consider seven helpful phrases to keep near.

1. “Thank you for sharing this with me.”

When someone reveals her heart to you, she entrusts you with a priceless possession, saying, “I trust you enough to handle this with care.” Recognize the preciousness and privilege of this moment. It is an honor that she trusts you enough to make herself vulnerable. Dignify her by vocalizing your appreciation of this reality.

Expressing gratitude communicates, “You are valuable to me, and I am grateful you would entrust me with something as precious as your heart.” Acknowledging the value of a sufferer’s heart and feelings is one of the easiest and most effective ways to honor her. 

2. “This is a difficult situation.”

Suffering can be a breeding ground for accusation. Sometimes this accusation is self-inflicted, but often it is perpetuated by a misguided (or abusive) authority figure, peer, or the Accuser himself, who says to sufferers:

  • “Toughen up. What kind of Christian are you?”
  • “You shouldn’t still be grieving about this.”
  • “Why are you hurting? You must not trust God.”
  • “Why are you sad? You brought this upon yourself.”
  • “Why are you confused? You must not have genuine faith.”
  • “Why are you anxious? You must be sinning.”

When you acknowledge the difficulty of a situation, you remind the sufferer that she’s not crazy, stupid, or sinning for feeling hurt or confused. As limited people walking alongside limited people in a broken and complex world, often the most fitting thing we can say is simply, “This is hard.”

Another useful phrase is, “This is wrong.” This sentiment is especially appropriate when the sufferer has been mistreated or abused. Acknowledging the wrongness of injustice is right; Christ hears your words and says, “Amen.” Jesus sees and hates the ravaging effects of sin (Prov. 8:13; Isa. 59:15), mourns with his people (Isa. 53:4; 63:8–9; John 11:33–35), and will one day return to bring judgment and make all things right (Rev. 21:1–8; 22:1–7).

3. “My heart hurts for you.”

I still remember the first time someone (a long-time family friend) spoke these exact words to me. I remember thinking, “I don’t think five words have ever made me feel so . . . loved.” Not only did this person see and acknowledge my suffering, but she cared enough to enter into it.

Expressing your sympathetic pain incarnates the heart of Christ, who enters into our pain and suffers with us in all our affliction (cf. Isa. 53:4; 63:8–9; John 11:33–35; Acts 9:1–5). It also alleviates the sufferer’s loneliness, if only for a moment. The words, “My heart hurts for you” remind your loved one that she does not walk alone. Not many assurances are more comforting to a hurting soul.

4. “Thank you for modeling Christlikness by [insert one specific way the sufferer is demonstrating Christlikeness].”

Encouragement is universal medicine for hurting souls. Do not leave an interaction with a hurting loved one without administering this tonic. Even if you can’t change her circumstances, you can buoy her by speaking a specific word of encouragement.

As your loved one explains her hardship, listen closely for things she’s doing well. Acknowledge these things and thank her for her example. Useful phrases include:

  • “I admire the way you [insert behavior].”
  • “Your [insert behavior] encourages me and glorifies God.”
  • “Your [insert behavior] is clear evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in you.”

When you acknowledge how a sufferer’s efforts encourage you, reflect Christ, or serve God’s people, it reminds her that God is at work and that her suffering is not pointless.

5. “This verse has been meaningful to me: [read/quote Scripture].”

No words help a hurting person more than God’s words. Scripture is food for famished ones (Matt. 4:4), comfort for the afflicted (Ps. 119:49–50), life for those walking through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 119:25, 50, 107; John 6:63). When walking with a hurting loved one, remind her of God’s presence and promises:

Praying with a hurting loved one is another effective way to use your words to bless her and point her to God’s presence and promises. One of my favorite passages to pray with hurting loved ones is Psalm 143 (especially vv. 6–12).

We do need to be careful with how we introduce Scripture to someone suffering. God’s Word should never be used to downplay suffering (band-aiding) or to show superiority over the other person (disparaging). You’ve heard the unhelpful advice:

  • You’re depressed? Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice always!” 
  • You’re anxious? Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing!”
  • You’re lonely? God’s Word tells us to pursue relationships. Have you tried spending time with people?

Unhelpful statements like these communicate arrogance (Look at how much wisdom I have that you don’t) and ignorance (Your suffering is an easy problem to fix; you just need to read this verse). A sufferer’s pain is never as simplistic as a problem to fix or a lesson to learn. Let’s be careful not to communicate these harmful messages.

6. “What can I do to help?”

During the conversation, you might ask, “What would be most helpful for me to do right now? Would it be most helpful for me to listen? To pray with you? To share my thoughts?” Asking this question (and honoring her request) will communicate love and direct you on how to serve her most effectively.

After the conversation, you can ask, “How can I best care for you in the days ahead?” Often it is useful to offer specific suggestions:

  • “Could I bring you a meal on Thursday?” 
  • “Would it be helpful if I picked up your son from school on Friday during your doctor’s appointment?”
  • “Would you like to meet before your interview on Monday to talk through some of your potential responses?”

Don’t assume you know what a sufferer needs (whether in the conversation or after the conversation). Feel free to offer suggestions, but—generally speaking—it’s best to let her tell you what would serve her most effectively.

7. Nothing.

Silence is, at times, the most appropriate response to someone’s suffering. For example, immediately after a friend loses a loved one or undergoes a traumatic experience, words can be stifling or even hurtful. The same is often true whenever a loved one begins weeping while sharing her pain. In moments like these, often the best way to show love and support is non-verbal. Hug her. Weep with her. Hold her hand. Usually, when someone’s suffering is intense, what she needs most from you is simply for you to be there (see Job 2:12–13).

A good habit when a sufferer shares her pain is to say nothing for at least five seconds when it’s your “turn” to talk. This intentional pause gives the other person a chance to breathe and share anything else that is on her heart or mind. It also communicates, “I am here to listen and understand, not merely to fix you or share my thoughts.”

When someone shares her pain, you have a golden opportunity to put the heart of Christ on display. Make the most of this opportunity by listening well, praying for the Spirit’s help, and speaking words of grace and love.

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Blake Glosson is a pastoral resident at Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, and an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (herehere, and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Listen to Moody Radio’s discussion of this article here (or on Spotify here).

Read “In Suffering, God Isn’t (Simply) Teaching You a Lesson” here.

Read “When to Give Advice and When to Listen” here.

Read “Four(teen) Ways to Improve Your Listening” here

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.