“Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26)
“How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)
“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
Suffering breaks the heart of God. He weeps as we weep. In the crucible of pain His tears wash over us.
Suffering makes me cry, too. I am not the Queen of Pain, yet chronic pain wraps me in a cloak of daggers. Dragging it over the past several decades has warranted me seclusion and time to think and ask questions. What is it about suffering that hurts God if everything comes through His heart of love first?
“There is a divine mystery in suffering, a strange and supernatural power in it, which has never been fathomed by human reason” writes L.B. Cowman. During a recent episode of chronic back spasms, I asked God to take me deep into His mystery. Pain has become a friend to me as I played a game with it. To find its essence, I prayed to glean the gift of each acronym.
Just what is the essence of pain, the golden thread keeping us holding on to our faith in the midst of despair, grief, and loss of heart and soul?
Pain is a sorry thing, an event uninvited, unexpected, and usually unplanned. It ruins a day, alters perspectives, turns nice people into ogres, mean people into sissies, and steals reality. It forces a new script and threatens to rewrite a story. Yet God’s story never changes. He is our refuge, fortress, and shelter and He is faithful, trustworthy, and strong.
“Because you made the LORD your dwelling place…no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.” (Psalm 91)
In the crucible of suffering, we all cry out to God for relief and many times we question His purpose. Why does He allow what the Word says He won’t allow?
Chronic pain, or unrelenting dark suffering is intense on so many levels of destruction and misery. It’s like a book with a theme that never wraps up and all the characters are misfits. The hero never develops and the story is quite frankly boring and awful. We can’t toss it because we are the main character. The good news is, God is the Author, and He has already written the ending with, “You will live happily ever after.”
I believe pain is a gift because it ultimately brings us closer to God. In His presence, though the pain persists, His glory pours into our spirits so that we experience the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. I have discovered another story about pain. It’s too good to keep short, but I’ll try by focusing on the acronyms of P.A.I.N. as our reference and listening intently to the voice of God.
Chapter One - Praise
When the back spasms abated like a retreating monster licking his chops, I laid on the bed whispering praise. Something like “Jesus. Jesus. Thank You for this relief.” As I looked around my room at every familiar object – my dresser with necklaces hanging like tinsel from the lamp, bedside table stacked with books of inspiration and comfort, and window beckoning me to the day with sun painted leaves out playing in the breeze, I realized I was in a holy moment, permeated by praise. My spasm episode over, I could not have been more thankful.
My gratitude was not for the relief, but for the raw feeling of praise. As I thanked God for every free breath, I drew into a realm of glory and radiance. The room was bright with dancing light as I imagined God smiling at me. This is the praise Jesus gives through the Holy Spirit to offer joyfully to His Father. Before He called Lazarus from the grave, Jesus thanked His heavenly Father for listening to Him. We can be confident that God listens to our praises as well, for they come from the heart of Jesus within us.
Pain releases me into the presence of God because it has no hold on me. Praise from the Holy Spirit pours from my lips to the glory of my Deliverer. Suffering in extreme results in excellent praise! Yes, in God’s hand, pain is a gift.
Chapter Two – ADORATION
Loving God when unexpected pain strikes is really hard, like trying to have kind feelings toward the hammer after it hits your thumb, the bee that stings your arm, or the hot grease that splatters in your face. But after a short rage which you hope Jesus didn’t notice, you get over it and go back to your more benevolent self.
Under the long-term vise of chronic pain, loving God is the only way to survive. He is our only hope, and we depend on that because we can.
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised and I am saved from my enemies.” (Psalm 18:1-3)
Thanking God with extraordinary praise after a long bout of spasms awakened electric-like vibrations within my soul that went beyond loving Him after another rescue. There seemed to be something bursting inside of me. With my whole exhausted being, I wanted to sing and dance with joy and see God’s face, to gaze at Him in adoration. David knew what my words couldn’t form -
“ I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” “You have made known to me the path of life, in Your Presence there is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:8,11)
What I was experiencing was the adoration of Almighty God. How could the peace, praise, and joy pulsating through my veins not make me adore my Father in Heaven who had been at my right hand all along?
God uses hardship and pain to show us where true joy can be found. He rescues us so that we will adore Him and know the beauty of His glory. This, too, is another gift from pain, like “ honey pouring from a rock” (Psalm 81:16).
Chapter Three – INVITATION
The broken sufferer lives in solitude much of the time. The pain, emotional or physical, intensifies the loneliness. Yet, when I am in the throes of spasms or in despair for the loss of myself, I want no company.
So much isolation lends itself to depression. The sense of void is a virtual playground for the devil. Myopia, morbidity, and malaise crowd the bed and the head.
Into this tunnel, the Rescuer whispers Hope. Even when the pain pounds and the darkness drone, an invitation to enter a new glory hovers. It is delivered by a host of angelic messengers, which only the sufferer hears. This spiritual rescue is not a delusion; it is a Calling.
Lying limp on my bed, my head ensconced in pillows, and electrodes burrowing into my war torn back, I wonder if I’ll ever recover. How can I go back to “normal life? When the pain wanes and calms, my body returns, my mind readies, but my spirit lingers. I feel a difference in my being, I know what I haven’t known, and I sense the presence of God around me. I do not want to join others, resume my activities (fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, walk my dog), or take a shower and start over. I do not want to forget that I have been broken.
In his timeless book, “The Wounded Healer“, Henri Nouwen writes, “…perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence.”
As Christians committed to serving Christ as He ministered to others, and ultimately the world, we must suffer afflictions that take us away from this world and into the depths of our souls. Here in this crucible we face our fears, sorrows, and failings. Jesus walks through every cracked door with us, and welcomes us as His - saved, comforted, and adored. These are the gifts, dear sufferers, we bring into the world where people in darkness, pain, and loneliness cry out for compassion.
Pain offers an invitation into the courts of the King. Since he uses all things, including afflictions, for good, we can find purpose in our wretched wounding. To be invited into His courts is to be welcomed into the presence of His Son, Jesus Christ, who sits at His right hand. Here mysterious glories are revealed as our senses heighten in awareness to His presence in all things. Our brokenness is beautiful to our suffering Savior.
In pain is an invitation.
“Oh how I love Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts. My soul longs, yes faints for Your courts.”Psalm 84:1)
Chapter Four – NOW
Throughout decades of chronic pain I have tried to learn how to be a good patient. Believe me, this has been quite a battle because in the beginning the stabs of spasms were tempests of pain I had never before experienced. Many days I was rendered a desperate wailing wild woman. I quickly discovered I was not a Suffering Saint.
I had visions of clutching the bottom of Jesus’ robe, like the ailing woman in Luke’s Gospel, not with dignity or sweet faith, but with clenched teeth, hot tears, begging, “Jesus! Make it go away!”
As the years went on and I sought medical help, finding no solution just temporary relief, I asked others to pray for me and waited as patiently as I could. Through that time, I learned to pray myself and found comfort in my conversations with God. I tried to be articulate and intentional in my praying, adding Scripture verses I memorized. I hoped Jesus would hear my voice and touch me. Heal me.
I remember the day I told the Lord it was okay if He didn’t heal me and surrendered my pain to Him. There was nothing I could do on my own to change this unwanted course of my life. I asked Him then to just give me the grace to bear it. In that prayer, I felt withdrawing from me not the pain, but all the anger, disappointment, and bitterness from my soul. The Holy Spirit then breathed deep and whole, expanding my heart. I knew there was another way to live with this pain. I would be obedient to my Jesus through it and allow His grace to pour through me.
Surely this was His purpose for the pain. Someday I would please Him in it.
“He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side…”(Mark 6:45)
Sometimes we have the idea that God is leading us to a particular goal or purpose, which we just have to hold on to until we get there. We want something new. I have been waiting for healing, pure and simple. In the meantime, I have been working on the grace thing.
Getting better or becoming the Queen of Pain was not at all God’s purpose for me. When those disciples got into their boat and went off to sea, Jesus turned to a mountain where He could go to pray. Meanwhile, the boat headed into stormy waters.
When a storm hits our life and it seems we are doomed to the winds and raging waters, Jesus is with His Father praying for us. His eyes are on the tempest and swirling waves. He knows our terror and hears our cries.
“When it was almost morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the surface of the water…”
In the midst of our pain, Jesus is praying for us and He is coming to us. It all happens in the midst of what appears to be wreckage and disaster. While we are begging for the storm to be over, our Savior is walking in the storm with us. This is what we must see in our times of suffering. Not when the storm will subside, but that Jesus Christ is walking with us on those turbulent waters. He is present!
“Don’t yield to fear. Have courage. It’s really me – I AM!”
Then Jesus climbed into the boat with His friends, and the stormy waters calmed.
Just like that, He, too, is in our boat. God wants us to know His Presence in the moment – to see Him walking on the water, now.
This is the last acronym of pain – the “N” for NOW. The gift of pain is not what is next or when there is something new, finally. The gift is the knowing that God is with us NOW and in that only and wholly, can we glorify Him. This is His purpose in all of our suffering, pain, and loss – that we see Him walking on the waters with us – Now.
What relief, freedom, and joy! The past no longer pulls at my longings, nor does the future pull at my disappointments. My Lord has me in His Now and all is well.
“God’s purpose is to enable me to see that He can walk on the storms of my life right now.”–Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest”