Purpose Through the Pain
I have come to the realization lately that I really don’t like pain. Having recently spent three weeks on the couch recovering from “minor surgery” I have a new appreciation for normalcy. There is probably a fairly sizable list of things that the human family all share aversion towards. My guess is that pain and suffering probably tops the list. Though it comes in all shapes, sizes and models it eventually knocks on all our proverbial doors.
My dilemma is that no matter how hard I pray or aspire to a painfree existence, I can’t seem to attain it. Difficulties and pain in life are like the “stray shower” that was predicted for the weather today…though not really expected, it manages to find its way to us at the most inopportune times. (What is a “stray shower” anyway? Where did it stray from? I wish it would go home where it belongs. I digress…)
Years ago I was studying the Bible to prepare for my weekly message to the young adults at the church I was serving. I stumbled across a passage in the book of Hebrews that deeply troubled me. It is a relatively obscure passage that I had read several times prior to that moment but never truly “saw” it. Speaking of Jesus the scripture states, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” (Heb.5:8 NASB)
Wait a minute. The Bible alludes to Jesus perfection…As the Son of God and God the Son, how could he “learn obedience”? And even moreso, how did suffering increase his obedience?!? Once I surmised that learning obedience did not infer disobedience, I felt less conflicted, but I was left with one very troubling question… If Jesus grew in His willingness to obey the Father because of suffering, what implications did that have for us as His followers? Is it possible that God could allow or even ordain suffering as a part of His plan to shape and mold our character? I have come to believe the answer is yes. “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:19 NASB)
My struggle began when I realized that I was not fully in control of all the circumstances that came my way. That may sound like a naive and immature mindset and maybe it was. My fear wasn’t rooted in not being able to have everything I wanted, but to be able to dictate the terms upon which I would follow God (I know…not pretty, but honest nonetheless). I would endure hardship as long as it wasn’t too hard. I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with the idea of a trusting a God who might let me fall hard.
I have since had many “crossroad” moments in my life where personal pain created a choice to run or surrender. By His grace and love I have held on and have learned a greater measure of trust and obedience to His plan. It has not always been easy but it has been fruitful. It has not always been enjoyable but living for another has it’s cost. I suppose trust never really is easy. I think you just learn to be okay feeling uncomfortable.
I am far from someone who would ascribe to the tenets of the “Prosperity gospel” although I fear that the materialism of western society has infected my sense of entitlement at times. I cringe when I hear people using scripture to create a God in the image of their selfish desires but have to admit at times I have done the same, to a degree. But having held the hand of one of the most faith-filled young men I have ever known as he breathed his last breath on this earth after a horrible three year battle with cancer, I cringe when I hear someone say that a life of real faith means a life free of struggle. I listened to this brave young man articulate that his greatest struggle, beyond the disease that had ravaged his body, was the lie that someone had told him that he did not have enough “faith” to be healed. By God’s grace the despair that hellish lie wrought was broken three days before his promotion to Heaven. I guess he did have “enough faith” to be healed…for good.
And having read the testimony of a young woman who has endured years of suffering and pain from UC and Anorexia, who became stronger through the struggle than if she had been able to go around it, (beautybeyondbones) I know that the Lord uses our pain and struggles to bring about a greater purpose than our immediate deliverance or comfort.
I know that the Lord is trying to teach us many things through our sufferings and pain. Given the climate of things around the globe these days and the uncertainty of world we live in, maybe the Lord is mostly showing us we need Him – the God who loved us enough to become one of us, suffer and die on our behalf. We need His love to fill our hearts with compassion…to simply love and care for those around us who are hurting. We don’t have to look very far to find someone who has been hit by the “stray shower” of suffering. It might even be a straight-up downpour.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Cor 4:8-9, 17-18 NASB