The griefs that don’t wear black.
That’s what my friend Florence calls the hidden sorrows in our lives. These are the problems that no one brings you a meal for. They aren’t prayed for at weekly prayer meetings. Barely anyone knows about them. They feel too insignificant to mention, too embarrassing to admit, or too personal to voice.
Struggles like children who routinely disobey, disrespect and disagree with us. Health problems that are invisible to others but leave us feeling achy, exhausted and misunderstood. Children who are struggling to make sense of their own identities and idiosyncrasies. Jobs that are demanding and unfulfilling but necessary to survive.
Spouses who ignore, demean or frustrate us in cold or tumultuous marriages. Financial problems that pull us from our dreams, looking longingly at those who can afford to do what they please. Empty arms that long for a spouse or a baby – the natural relationships that others take for granted that seem to elude us.
We all have unfulfilled longings. We all have things that we wish were different. Ongoing issues that we continue to bring before the Lord. But often we keep them locked away from others. They feel trivial.
And then there are problems we are ashamed of, precipitated by something disturbing and unexpected. Cleaning our son’s room, we find pot in his backpack. Or waking up one night, we discover pornography on our husband’s computer. Or randomly opening a bill, we are faced with a default notice on an unfamiliar credit card. Or while eating dinner, our unwed daughter announces she is pregnant.
No one talks about these struggles either. Partly because they involve other people. And partly because we feel ashamed. And shame flourishes in darkness.
What is the best way to handle these sorrows? Of course we need to bring them to the Lord in prayer. To cry out to Him to restore our brokenness. For only He can heal us.
But are these struggles necessarily just between God and us? Must we bear these burdens alone?
I don’t think so. Unfulfilled longings and secret sins, our own or of our loved ones, can feel like lead when we try to hold them without help.
Of course it feels risky to share them with other people. We are afraid of what they’ll think.
This fear of being discovered is exactly what Satan wants. He wants us to hide in shame. To protect our reputation at all costs. To believe we are the only ones struggling. The enemy works best in darkness and isolation.
We were meant to live in community. We were meant to share our struggles with one another. Not in huge public forums but in safe small groups where we can pray and hold each other accountable.
That type of accountability, of sharing, of community has been life-giving for me. It has enabled me to be real about my pain, with no masks and no pretense.
For me, it has involved praying regularly with two precious women. For almost 20 years. Our little group has expanded and contracted during that time. People have moved away and moved on. But the value of the group in my life has remained unchanged.
Each of us has walked through dark places and each of us has had to rely on God to pull us through. And yet at the same time, we have carried each other. We have cried out to God for one another. We have wept together.
We have prayed through catastrophic events and everyday struggles. Prayed for miracles. Prayed for comfort. Prayed for peace. And prayed for God’s sustaining grace. We have petitioned God for impossible things and seen His amazing answers.
These women know me. Intimately. They know the griefs in my life that few others know. They hold up my longings for God with me. They pray that my worldly longings will diminish. And they hold onto God for me when my faith falters.
Our bond was not formed out of common interests. Or because we were super spiritual. Or because we wanted to socialize together. Our bond was formed because we were all Christ-followers who wanted authenticity. Friends who would pray with us and for us. Friends whom we could trust.
We also wanted friends who were willing to challenge us. Who would point us to the Lord and give us godly counsel. Who were unafraid to speak the truth into our lives. Who wanted to know us and be known by us as well.
This need to know and be known is not limited to women only. My husband has consistently found a small group of men with whom he can share his heart and his struggles. Each time he has moved, he has sought godly men to hold him accountable and to pray.
If you don’t have a small group of friends to pray with, I encourage you to find one. Maybe just one person. Someone who is committed to praying, to honesty, to absolute confidentiality, and to finding answers in Jesus. Someone who has a heart for God.
Then ask that person or people if they can meet regularly to pray. Keep the group small. Make meeting a priority. Put it on your calendar and work other things around it. And then show up. Consistently. Even when life feels impossibly busy.
When you have little time, just pray your requests. There is incredible fellowship in prayer. Don’t just meet to catch up and neglect this privilege of praying together.
Praying in small groups is profoundly biblical. Jesus says in Matthew 18, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
When our prayer group gathers in Jesus’ name, He is in our midst. And when we agree with one another in prayer, He hears and answers our requests. That’s a promise for us all.
We all have griefs that don’t wear black. Struggles that will not end up on the prayer chain.
But we can share these griefs with a trusted few, who can point us to God and encourage our faith when we are weak.
Meeting together for prayer may not seem earth-shattering at the time, but we encounter Jesus there, together.
And in the end, it makes all the difference.