Most of us are all-too aware of the misleading nature of much of what we see on social media.
Touted as an effort to acknowledge the deceitful nature of online communities, “Instagram versus reality” posts began trending a few years ago.
These posts feature side-by-side images of the same individual or scene; one edited, posed or otherwise idealized, and the other a natural, realistic version.
As a general rule, these posts focus on “body positivity”, and while that is a valid and important movement, it isn’t the focus of this post.
Rather than discuss falsely and unrealistically-depicted bodies, I would like to address discrepancies between the lifestyles portrayed on social media and the truth of the messiness of life.
I often receive messages from readers who thank me for being open and honest about my emotional struggles, instead of creating a false image and narrative. They ask how I am managing to stay afloat considering my circumstances and the particular trials I face.
These inquiries have caused me to examine my personal handling of pain, how it may differ from the norm, and how it might help others do the same.
Through my writing I seek to help modern-day women who have experienced loss and pain to lead more peace-filled lives with humility, wisdom and grace, as opposed to becoming obsessed with self-preservation.
When your world has been turned on its head and you can no longer tell up from down, the experience is much like that of drowning. Frantically you grasp at anything that promises a moment of relief, a second of air.
When our difficulties are not easing, when the pain is too deep and we don’t see a path out, when we cannot see any evidence that God is answering our desperate prayers, desperation and hopelessness can creep in.
Social media would have us believe we can simply apply a formula from a self-care book and almost magically make our situations better. With only the best of intentions, friends tell us our suffering will make us strong or that happiness is a choice, or that time heals all wounds! Others may provide worldly advice that can provide short-term satisfaction or distraction from our pain, but which ultimately causes more harm.
Even as you adhere to the mantra du jour, even as you strive to optimize all of your daily habits, even as you diligently take the anecdotal steps recommended by a friend, sometimes, your sorrow remains.
I have discovered that while self-care and female empowerment can be beneficial, women often end up disappointed and hollow-feeling when the result of their adherence to any “you go, girl” programs ultimately falls flat in terms of healing and cultivating a sense of peace and acceptance.
Self-care has become a monetized industry, no longer simply aimed at encouraging reasonable efforts towards adequate sleep, and finding ways to realize a respite from the busyness of life, chronic people-pleasing and a fixation towards perfection in all areas of life.
In my journey I have come to recognize that I have managed to cope relatively well with my difficult circumstances because of my fundamental view of suffering, my willingness and desire to unite this suffering with that of Christ on the cross, and my commitment to strive to maintain behaviors which will keep my conscience clear, even when I am tempted to become bitter or controlling.
We know that God loves us and promises to come to our aid. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Yet, in our human weakness, we continue to try to fix things ourselves.
Our efforts are directed towards trying to control our suffering, rather than understanding it can have purpose, and can be used as a tool for recovery. Of course, we must alleviate suffering whenever possible. However, we must also learn to accept that some suffering is simply unavoidable.
What then? How can we, as Christians, respond to the difficulties and pain we face for which there is no worldly remedy?
Take heart - there is a pathway towards feeling a sense of peace even amidst suffering; and it is, in fact, contrary to much of what you may have heard, or what contemporary society would have you believe. There is a way to embrace your suffering, but it requires a reframe.
Despite how radical it may sound, you can learn to accept your suffering. This act of acceptance can, paradoxically, help alleviate some of your pain. Consider that God desires to guide you through your experience and suffering. Once you see that you can use your suffering as a tool, rather than be used by it, you can begin to move forward toward healing.
While this won’t happen overnight, each small step forward will bring positive improvement to your life. I would like to send you off with a few tangible steps to take, as you begin to allow God to use your suffering as a tool to accomplish His purpose:
Look at your past for times when you have experienced suffering and consider whether you can see God’s hand at work.
This doesn’t mean you are glad for your painful experience, but when we can see evidence of God and His greater plans in our lives, it can help us to entrust Him with our future.
Soul-searching and serious examination of ourselves can be difficult, but it is through deep consideration of our lives and character that we are able to honestly see deficiencies, longings, and in what ways we may need to change to live in a more Christlike manner.
Perhaps, if you allow Him, God is using this season of suffering to increase your faith, to encourage you to better serve others, or to address areas of your life in which you are lacking in charity, kindness, patience, fortitude, or other virtues.
The more you can orientate yourself towards the map of your faith, the more you can act according to your faith, the easier acceptance of difficult circumstances will become.
If you can take hold of these opportunities (and I am here to tell you that you are stronger than you feel), you will empower yourself, expand your faith, and take a step towards trusting the Lord in all circumstances.
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