Following God, Even When It Hurts Like Hell


Beth Watkins -Following God3By Beth Watkins | Twitter: @iambethwatkins

I grew up reading a great many books about missionaries, pastors, and people in ministry. I listened to people of great faith—people sold out to God, people living radically—and in my tender and impressionable early teenage years, it sometimes made me cry. I felt as though they were speaking right to me. Chalk this up to the American obsession with the individual, but I got the missionary itch as a teen, and that set my trajectory.

From the age of 16, all I talked about was moving overseas. At 24, I made it to North Africa. Single, wide-eyed, and self-aware (thankfully) about at least some of my ignorance.

I’d made all these declarations, some out loud, but mostly in my journal, about all I was willing to sacrifice for God moving overseas.

“I’ll be single forever, if that’s what You want!”
(It wasn’t—I got married four years after being overseas).

“I’m willing to be imprisoned, and even give my life for You!”
(I was interrogated, and held against my will for several hours, but never imprisoned, though friends of mine were, and also tortured.)

“I’ll give whatever You call me to give!”
(Which somehow felt a bit hollow and empty as I befriended refugees who had no choice but to leave all they had just to try and stay alive, sometimes more than once in their lifetimes.)

I followed where I believed God told me to go. As I went, I experienced interrogation, expulsion, harassment, loss, and war. I dug in, I sacrificed, I kept going back, I kept letting people into my heart, only to feel it break over and over again as I watched them get trampled on. I did what I felt called to do and chose to do. I did all the right things, and I ended up experiencing more pain and heartbreak than I ever thought possible.

I experienced trauma, and I experienced secondary trauma over the terrible, horrible things I saw and heard working with street kids, refugees, and persecuted Christians. Eventually the toll of it all caught up in my body and it made me sick. Following where God led me, loving the people God put before me, made me sick.

And I’m not better yet. I think my health will recover, but I don’t know for sure. I might not. My capacity might never recover. And that is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow. Following God may have permanently altered my ability to do the good things I want to do, the things I love, and to ever return overseas.

Years of stress, trauma, and burnout, topped off with church dysfunction and spiritual abuse, took a physical toll on my body that I might never recover from. I was intentional about self-care in all of it, but it wasn’t enough. I was sick and stuck, while we waited for my husband’s green card, and when we finally arrived back in the US we were utterly broken.

Of course, I am better for it. I have been broken, devastated, and utterly changed by the people I’ve met. I have been broken, devastated, and utterly changed by what I’ve experienced. There were moments—small moments—where I truly felt I was able to be a bit of salt and light. I hold fast to the good, even in the bad, because what choice do we have? What else is there to cling to? When God gives me lemons, I don’t need to shove them down my gullet, peel and all. I’ll take the bits of juice I can get, and I’ll scrounge around for some sugar, and call it good.

God, He is so good.

But that doesn’t cancel out everything else. The mess and hurt and trauma are not delegitimized. The truth is always that God is good and worthy and enough. But the truth also remains that I followed where God led me, and it hurt me like hell.

We, the church, talk about sacrifice. We talk about upholding Christ as an example of the One who gave himself as a sacrifice for many.

And yet, we’re often met with platitudes when we really, truly, are broken. There are those who seem to not actually believe that God lets those he really loves get hurt. At least not in any altering, irreparable way.

We read the stories in the Bible, the accounts of the Gospels, the writings of Paul, the moody Old Testament prophets (gosh, I love those guys) and still somehow believe that God’s blessing looks like nice houses, financial stability, and safety behind high walls. God seems to wreck (or at least allow the wrecking) of everyone He seemed to care for the most.

Everyone who listened to God the most, followed where He led and loved Him the best, seemed to be targets for devastation, heartbreak, and loss. Obvious examples are Job, Jeremiah (he got thrown down a well!), Paul, and Jesus. They followed God, and, from what I can tell, though God still used it for good purposes, it hurt like hell.

We so often say that following God isn’t meant to be easy. I believe that is true. What I also believe, the more I’m exposed to this awful, wonderful world, is that loving God has to result in loving other people, especially the ones the world seems to love the least. Which tends to leave us broken and hurting like hell, right along with those who have been trampled on. It might even make us sick. We might not ever get better.

I hold fast to his truth, that God is God and even in the hurt, He is good. What choice do I have? Having encountered God, the only way I can live conscionably is to follow, love and be wrecked. Even if it hurts like hell.


 About Beth: 

IMG_20170110_143201_905Beth Watkins spent the last six years working in North and Sub-Saharan Africa with street children, refugees, and other vulnerable populations. She is currently settling back in the US with her immigrant husband and writes about living toward the kingdom of God and flailing awkwardly into neighbor-love at where you can also find her free e-book For the Moments I Feel Faint: Reflections on Fear & Showing Up. Find her on Facebook here and on Instagram here.