There is a rapid growth in research showing that greater involvement in religion can positively impact an individual’s physical and mental health (Oman & Thoresen, 2005 as cited in Krause, 2010). A large number of these studies are based on data that were obtained from large probability samples (Schieman, Pudrovska, & Milkie, 2005 as cited in Krause, 2010). Nevertheless, when researchers analyze this type of data, they often group study participants from different faith traditions into one single large undifferentiated group (Ellison, Boardman, Williams, & Jackson, 2001 as cited in Krause, 2010). This particular data analytic strategy is based on the implied assumption that religion is experienced the same for all people regardless of their faith background; also, that the same facets of religion affect all study participants in the same way (Krause, 2010).
Krause (2010) performs an interesting study to empirically evaluate the unique coping response of ‘suffering in silence’ among older Catholics. Two hypotheses are examined in this study, the first predicting that older Catholics will be more likely than older Protestants to suffer in silence when experiencing economic difficulty. The second hypothesis stipulating that the potentially harmful effects of financial problems on depressive symptoms will be offset for older adults who would cope by suffering in silence. Data obtained from an ongoing nationwide survey of older people in the United States was able to provide support to both hypotheses (Krause, 2010).
We live in a fallen world and we experience the results of this either in the lives of those around us or personally. Experiencing a fallen world is applicable to both the believer and the non-believer, although, how we deal with difficulties may differ. As Christians, there is a notion that if you serve God well enough and have enough faith that can move mountains, you will live a pleasant life with little or no hardships and trials. Or if we experience difficult times, we should act as though it never happened and everything is fine. The Bible prepares us for the trails and heart ache we will encounter as believers.
Jesus discloses that in order to be his disciple and follower, we will have to die to self, pick up our crosses and follow Him (Luke 9:23). In what way does any believer interpret this as having a blissful life with no troubles? We are warned about the trials that we will experience as followers of Christ throughout scripture, for example: 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 “2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.” Another passage that prepares believers for trials is James 1:2-4 “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.” Some believers might interpret James 1:2-4 as a suggestion to suffering in silence through hard times when this is not at all the case.
Stress and suffering is inevitable no matter what religion or lack thereof an individual holds. It will be beneficial for Christians to take hid to the warnings of suffering and stress rather than ignore it, deciding to establish ways in which they might effectively cope when these trials arrive. Suffering in silence rather than sharing and dealing with difficult situations and hurts, does not help one attain the kind of spiritual maturity mentioned James 1:2-4, it will instead produce the adverse effect. It is a matter of when, not if one will face trying times.
The already unsettling conditions in the world usually find a way to keep getting worse and our only hope as believers is in Jesus Christ and life eternal with Him. I love this quote from the book Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Life has thrown many curve balls my way and more times than not, I did not take it like a champ nor did I practice a healthy coping strategy, even though based on what I know from scripture, I should have almost expected it. No one really enjoys going through the discomfort of trials and tribulations but if we develop healthy coping strategies we might be able to allow these trials work for our good rather than cause us more distress. Please find time to watch the video below of Francis Chan teaching on suffering.
Krause, N. (2010). Assessing coping responses within specific faith traditions: Suffering in silence, stress, and depressive symptoms among older Catholics. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 13(5), 513-529. doi:10.1080/13674670903433686