“But at least…”

I have found myself saying these three little words a lot over the past few weeks, more than any other time I can remember. They always show up in the same part of a conversation. They are preceded by something the pandemic has made worse in my life and are often accompanied by their sister statement “I can’t complain”. Then these three little words are always immediately followed by a dutiful recitation of something that is still good in my life that I probably should be grateful for.

Now, there is nothing wrong with gratitude, but what I have noticed is that when I use these three little words, I am not engaging in real gratitude. Instead, I have been using these three little words to quickly move past a moment that reveal our collective current reality:

I am suffering. And so are you.

This season is taking something from us. It’s different for each of us, but the reality is the same. We are suffering.

Human beings have an aversion to suffering. We hate it, we resist it, we run from it. But what happens when there’s nowhere to run? When everywhere we would normally turn for distraction and comfort is closed, cancelled or deemed “non-essential”?

The beauty of Easter arriving for us in this moment is that Easter reminds us of what anchors our hope. Christian hope is not blind optimism, it is found a person named Jesus who makes the God of the universe tangible. And in this pandemic moment, the Easter story reveals something about God that has anchored my hope in the middle of our suffering. It reveals that God understands my suffering.

The cross was not just any form of death. The cross was horrific, barbaric, and designed to inflict both maximum physical pain and psychological torture. Jesus died slowly, painfully and in total humiliation. Jesus knew all of this was coming, and yet he accepted the suffering to bridge the gap created by my sin. The prophet Isaiah, looking forward hundreds of years to the life of Jesus, described him this way, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”

Your suffering is not abstract to God because he knows what it is to suffer pain, shame, rejection and isolation.

So if you are in pain, embarrassed about your situation or struggling with any part of this pandemic, know today that God feels what you are feeling. You are completely seen by your Heavenly Father. Don’t run from him. Don’t slip into easy denial. Be honest with God about how you really feel, what has really been taken and what you are really going through. Gratitude is indeed powerful, but it is most powerful in the light of reality. Because Easter reminds us that when you bring your real pain to God you are not just bringing to a God who understands, but a God who is victorious even over death itself.

Tony Lutyk is the Campus Pastor at The Life Church Manassas. He’s an excellent leader and communicator who has a talent for throwing in some wit and humor when he preaches. He’s passionate about God’s Word, seeing people reach their full potential in Christ, and he misses hockey more than he can adequately express.