The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
“In the midst of pain, God promised that it can be really well with your soul”, psychologist Jelena Sivulka says in an interview about the value of suffering in Christian life.
Suffering comes from many different places, and it comes every day. In order to have a growing faith, the entire Church must be armed with the essential truths that God communicates to suffering people.
Jelena Sivulka was born and raised in Serbia, where she got her master’s degree in psychology and in theology. She became a Christian 25 years ago and a few years later got involved in ministry with her husband Greg. They have been part of church plants, distributing humanitarian aid, and partnering with Joni and Friends, serving people with disabilities.
Jelena has also worked as a counsellor in Serbia’s schools and a social worker, and she is currently working as therapist in a medical clinic. She is the Founder and Director of the non-profit organisation Hana's Hope. She has been blessed with three children: Benjamin, Sara, and Hana, who has autism.
In an interview with the European Leadership Forum in Wisla (Poland), Sivulka shares her own story of suffering. To know God better, she says, Christians must know their suffering better, and only in their own total surrender can they discover God’s purposes in life’s most painful circumstances.
“IF YOU KNOW GOD, YOU ARE GOING TO SUFFER”
“The Bible talks a lot about suffering”, says Sivulka. Actually, “it is promised: if you are a believer, if you know God, if you walk with Him, you are going to suffer.”
“It is going to hurt, you are going to feel it, you are going to share his suffering, you will suffer so that you can relate to others”, she adds.
According to the Serbian psycologist, “when the Bible says that He is not going to give us more than we can handle, it talks about temptation, not suffering. He gives us much more suffering that we can handle, and in all that, He wants us to come to Him, because that’s the only way we will see who He is in our heart, in our life, I will see who is a sovereign, loving God, who is merciful and gives you strength.”
In the midst of pain, “it is promised that it can be really well with your soul, because that well and that being do not come from us, from circumstances. It comes from who He is, so there is for sure hope and joy, but it is not pleasant and easy”, Sivulka says.
“PAIN IS A TICKET TO SEE WHO CHRIST IS IN US”
Jelena quotes C.S. Lewis: “In our pleasure He whispers, through our conscience He talks, but in our pain He shouts like a megaphone”. Therefore, “He will talk to you for sure when it hurts, when everything else fails, when you fail.”
“Human beings should be healthy, we should know who we are” but it is “in brokenness that you see who you are, there is nothing better than letting Jesus in you, and pain is a ticket to see who Christ is in us”, she points out.
SUFFERING IN A CHRIST-LIKE WAY
Sivulka shares her experience about a very stressful moment of her life, when she felt she had to stop and be closer to Jesus.
“Suffering in a Christ-like way is a lifelong lesson. The first thing we need is running to God, if even Jesus needed to retreat and be with God, why do we think we don’t?”
“GOD FINDS VALUE IN OUR TEARS”
The therapist believes that “to mourn, to lament is in the process of healing. It is part of the process to let tears flow over the things that have happened to you.”
“It is very important to put all that in words, to cry to tears, and He, the God of universe will collect our tears, He finds value on them; there aren’t many things that He collects from us, but He collects and cherishes our tears.”
Pain is one thing that all human beings have in common. “If you haven’t experienced pain yet, you probably haven’t lived long enough, but if you live, you are hurt - and when you are hurt, you have Jesus perspective on life, because He was the man of sorrows”, she states.
JOB TEACHES US ABOUT SUFFERING
“It is totally different to read Job when you go through pain. It really talks about human wisdom, about how very often we are wiser when we don’t talk”, Jelena says.
Sivulka reminds us that “Job´s friends came to see him, which is amazing, and they were silence, that shows us what we are made of and also who our God is. It is just how sovereign God is, it tells you who is wise here.”
“God is graceful and loving. Probably the best map quest to take if you go to pain and suffering is to read Job”, she concludes.