A circumstance, a loss, a physical hurt, a rejection….pain comes in different forms. No one is immune to suffering. It is something we all have to grapple with. The past couple of weeks, I have been involved with several people wrestling though different kinds of heartache. Some dealing with a sick child, some with choices that have now landed them in a situation that is literally turning their entire world upside down, some have lost loved ones, some have received a tough diagnosis. I most certainly am familiar with the throbbing ache to the heart that threatens to steal ones confidence, joy and faith.
The topic of pain is more vast than one would think. Physiologically, we are designed for a certain amount of it. I remember when my son was a baby and he loved to play outside. One particular day, he came running inside and I quickly discovered little ants running all over him. Once cleaned up, I noticed all the little red bites from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. It most certainly could have been worse had God not given him nerve endings that detected the pain, thereby warning him to get away. Some people have a medical malady (such as leprosy or CIPA) where they cannot detect pain. This prohibits one from being aware of potential agents of affliction. Pain, in this sense, proves to be a blessing and a protector.
Pain is often a means to soften and change our hearts, making us more merciful and loving. Many times, we can remain prideful and look down on others when we have a relatively smooth life. When God allows us to go through something difficult and lean into His loving care for healing, we begin to evaluate others struggles in a much different light. Hardship has a way of humbling us and drawing us near to our God. I find He wants to reveal Himself to us, but so often we are not willing to draw in and listen. Pain makes us aware of the fragility of our human souls. Our hearts, once hardened with self-righteousness, have now been made soft and moldable. Pain has a way of breaking pride and giving birth to great mercy.
Without the ability to feel pain for others, one becomes both hard and desensitized. I was reading an incredible book titled “Why Suffering” and was captivated by two very different stories. One told of a man who was unrepentant of his violence towards others. He had no remorse. He felt nothing. How is that possible? No pain over such an atrocity. No hurt felt. Seems hard to believe. It is as if their “conscience has been seared with a hot iron,” 1 Timothy 4:2. Without pain of the heart towards humanity, we become cold and selfish. Indeed, pain allows us to recognize how much we love others. It moves us to help them, challenging us to sacrifice in order to bring hope to the heart.
The other story in this captivating book was quite different. The author spoke of a man he visited with in prison. This man had committed a crime that would leave him forever in the barred building. He was asked, “How do you handle the prospect that you will never get out of here, and that this is where your life will now be spent?”
He responded, “You know sir, if you knew the kind of person I was before I came here, and what I have now become because of the freedom Jesus Christ has brought to my soul, I can only say that if this is what it took to being me to my senses, I am happy to spend the rest of my life here…..Please pray for my parents. They think they are free, but they are in a prison of their own darkness without God.”
Suffering is sometimes God’s way of rescuing us. Though He has no delight in seeing His children suffer, He sees a greater pain…that of eternal separation from the Father. He will do whatever necessary to bring us to Himself in order that we are freed from the grips of the enemy.
“For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone,” Lamentations 3:33 (this is in the context of saving us from eternal separation from Him. Saving us from ourselves)
I, too, have experienced the suffering that led me to surrender. Though it doesn’t have to be through a torrent of trials to bring someone to their end, it was exactly what I needed. A.W. Tozer said, “The Lord cannot fully bless a man until He has first conquered him.”
But even after initial surrender, we still have to make daily choices to give Him our lives, to give Him our will. Suffering seems to come in ebbs and flows. Sometimes, I can see exactly why they hit and then other times I scratch my head in confusion, “What in the world?”
God’s Word reminds us that “in this world you WILL have trouble (John 16:33).” How can we not? We live in a fallen world and we are fallen people, not to mention there is an enemy who is out to steal, kill and destroy. I have been through my share of problems and pains. I have also watched and walked through afflictions with others. It’s interesting how I, personally, respond to an unexpected loss, tragedy or life changing event.
At first, my habitual autopilot plan will kick in. My plan A. Fix this thing!! Pull yourself up by your boot straps and figure out how to fix this! If that fails or possibly is unfixable, I resort to plan B. Figure out why it happened. If I can figure out the why then I can ultimately find peace and move forward quickly. So, I rush to God and demand He tell me. I need to know and want to know, FAST. I pour out my frustration in words similar to Job:
“I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” Job 10:1
But then, utter silence. He doesn’t speak. Okay, I resolve. That’s okay. It is times like this, many desert the faith. Hard trials can tempt us to shake our fist at the heavens and stomp off.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life.” John 6:68
The dilemma in this is to whom shall we go? Who will breathe life back into our weary and grief stricken soul? He is the only One who knows how to put things back together, maybe not in the same way it once was but in a new way. A way that only comes because we continue to seek Him and surrender to His will.
“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31
We continue to wait for Him to speak. We continue to wrestle and in that, learn to cling to the Word of life. Plan A and B are out and plan “C” has arrived!
“Call on Christ”- again and again.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12
And overtime, He begins to breathe life back into us. He begins to reveal. And we begin to learn to live life again, but maybe we live life with a limp, like Jacob. Jacob wrestled with God and he continued to wrestle. He left with a physical limp. A permanent reminder that the old normal was gone. A reminder that the new normal will require us to draw strength from Him each and every day. God knows the best and most powerful place for us to be is dependent on Him. A limp most certainly makes us slow down. A limp often will reveal what is most important in our lives and help us alleviate the things that keep us busy but are really of no eternal value. A limp will produce in us a humble need for others. In the West, we pride ourselves on independence and obscuring any pain in our hearts. A limp exposes our need for community. God intended community to wrap its arms around us and help us up. We are to be support for one another as we transition through whatever we are facing. Sometimes this will be through one person, sometimes several. Our limp makes us realize that there really are good souls out there who will let us be honest about our struggles. People who know how to weave together a balanced blend of validation and truth. Someone who can comfort the emotional burden but also burn out the infiltrating lies the enemy wants us to believe in our time of weakness. Someone who allows us to lament and ushers in words of hope as the Holy Spirit instructs.
When we are facing the unexpected, maybe a circumstance that is giving you a new normal, keep wrestling it out with God. And should you walk away with a limp, let it remind you, not of the immense difficulty in the struggle, but the victorious dependence you now know. Because what I have found, is that living with a limp can often represent living in victory.
Love you all,