Working for a charity helping people struggling with debt, unemployment and addictions, and generally being a young Christian in 2016, I hear a certain type of question repeatedly. Why does God let bad things happen? Why did God let this happen to me? Where was God when everything was going wrong and I needed him the most? Certainly not the easiest questions to answer.
Almost five years ago, I had a moment that changed my life. Having technically been a Christian all my life, I had been regularly going to church for about 18 months when my partner at the time walked out of my life. Looking back, the break-up had been a long time coming, but in the thick of it, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Heartbreak is never easy for anyone. It’s like grief, only the person has chosen to leave you, which you might argue makes it even more painful. As the guy had been my first love, let’s say, I had no experience of dealing with those kinds of feelings – I genuinely didn’t know if I would ever feel OK ever again. I was scared of being on my own again, scared of what he thought of me, scared of the stab in the gut when I inevitably saw him with someone else. I was staring into a very black unknown.
At this point, you may be thinking: “Well, sure, I get what you’re saying – but breaking up with your boyfriend is a drop in the ocean compared to what some people go through.” And perhaps you’re right. Nonetheless, at the time it was hands down the darkest, most uncertain thing I had ever experienced. And I couldn’t see how it would ever end.
Easter Sunday morning, 2013. I was sitting in church waiting for the service to start. Amongst the hushed voices and dusty light floating in front of the stained glass windows, there was a peace. In the quiet of that space, it hit me all at once: I was OK. I felt normal. The realisation took me aback – I’d been an emotional wreck a few months earlier! When I looked down at my body, strong and steady and rid of the incessant nervous jittering, plump again from the weight I’d gradually regained, I knew – there was no way I had managed to get through that by myself. In that moment I had absolute faith that God had been working away in the background, gluing me back together like a shattered china doll.
I learned many things through that experience. I learned that, for better or for worse, few things last forever – neither relationships nor heartbreak. I learned that one relationship that will last forever is the one you share with God – He will never desert you. And I learned that, although it’s easy to feel like He has let you down when you’re going through a tough time, in reality He’s on your side more than ever, driving you forwards through the storm.
To this day, I’m amazed at how discreetly He worked in my life during that time. I came to a conclusion: perhaps everything, however awful it seems at the time, happens for a reason. Call it clichéd, but I really believe that, eventually, whether it’s in the next few days or a decade on, you’ll understand why God put you through it. Did He send Jesus out into the wilderness for 40 days just for the heck of it? To see what jiggery-pokery went down? No, he did it to teach him, to nurture him.
James 1:2-4 reads: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Isn’t it a wonderful concept to see hardship not as a punishment, but as a stepping stone to a better version of yourself?
The trial God set me through the break-up has indeed produced perseverance. Inner strength. Self-confidence. Empathy. Wisdom. I’m a different person because it happened and, in spite of everything, I wouldn’t change a second of it.
And it’s not just me who found God in the darkness either – through my work I know that just short of 900 clients come to faith every year after having worked with CAP and experiencing some of the most difficult situations that exist in the modern world. That, my friends, is surely no coincidence. Surely God is on the move.
There are many things I still don’t know about God, His world and His love, and far be it for me to comment on anyone else’s problems, but what I do know is that He is constantly building us and constantly pushing us. And I know for certain that he is always by our sides, catching us every time we trip.
Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is a UK-based charity that provides services all over the UK for people struggling with debt and money troubles, unemployment and dependencies. You don’t have to be a Christian to use these services – they’re open to anyone, regardless of age, gender, faith and background. For more information visit capuk.org or call 0800 328 0006.