I was an adult when I realized there is purpose in pain. I first noticed it in the physical realm when one of our little ones had an ear infection. I picked him up from the church nursery and he was his usual cheerful self. But, then I noticed this ugly mess oozing from his ear. The doctor said the membrane holding his ear drum had ruptured and the infection was oozing from behind it. I told her I didn't even realize he was in pain and she said she believed me because his other ear was ready to rupture and most kids with ears like his were screaming in pain. Yet, he acted like he wasn't experiencing pain. I realized then that physical pain could be good. It can signal an infection or a wound that needs treatment. The pain of a slight cut can keep us from slicing off a whole finger and an irritated eye can keep us from permanently damaging a cornea.
Over time I also came to realize emotional pain can also be good. I went through several years of recovery work for an eating disorder and during that time I visited many painful memories. As I journaled letters to God about pain uncovered, I realized the same God who had allowed the deep pain was the same God who was loving me with a love deep enough to heal it. I also learned a lot about my heart and my sin and my God in that place. Since that time I've reread many stories in the Bible and become more aware of the painful places in which the people lived and the began to look for His purpose in the pain they experienced.
For example, There was Sarai and Abram who suffered the heart-wrenching pain of infertility while living in the midst of a pagan culture that worshiped false gods of fertility. Even after God called them out and promised them a son, they lived with their pain of longing--longing so painful they devised plans to help God fulfill His promise. But God had them live in their place of longing until they fully believed God was who He said He was--the life-giving God, the Keeper of promises. At the right time God resurrected their aged bodies to conceive, carry, and nurse a tiny man child called, "Laughter." God wanted them to know Him and He wanted their hearts undivided. So, He had them sitting in the pain long enough for their unbelief buried deep to bubble up, allowing a firm belief to take root. He had them sit in the pain long enough that His power could be displayed, proving stone-cold idols don't give life--He does!
And there was the deceiver, Jacob, who had to flee after his deceiving enraged his brother. God said his brother would serve him and, like Abram, Jacob wanted to help God make it happen. He ended up in a painful place, working for seven years for a bride he loved only to have his father-in-law give him a taste of deceit by substituting his older daughter as a bride. So, Jacob worked another seven years for the daughter he loved and another six for a flock to call his own while he lived in the messiness of a two wife family. The deceit he experienced was a mirror of his own deceitfulness, revealing to him the pain he inflicted on his brother. God let Jacob sit in that painful place, dealing with a difficult person to show him something about his sin and his heart and to prepare him for the long journey home. His painful place was not proof of God's desertion, it was proof of His love. God wanted him to experience the beauty that comes with humility. He wanted him to draw near to Him in faith, see that God could fulfill His Words without his help. God is good and it is His goodness that led Jacob to repent and in this case the goodness that would draw Jacob to His heart and the center of His will came in the form of the discomfort of seeing his sin mirrored.
And there was a lady I've come to love--the precious Samaritan lady Jesus met at the well. She was living in a pain-filled place, having been married five times and having each marriage end as she was dragged to the middle of town and declared unfit. Five times she'd been crushed by rejection and five times publicly labeled "not good enough." She'd was unable to live down her reputation and her loneliness ran deep, being ostracized by a community who judged her and made her the focus of gossip to deflect from shortcomings of their own. But Jesus sought her out at the right time when she was at the end of herself and the pain of her unmet needs ran so deep that she knew He and only He could meet her there.
I am thankful the Bible is honest about the stories people lived, especially the painful places in which they landed. The enemy wants us to believe pain is proof that God doesn't care. But, His Word shows repeatedly He sees us and He walks with us us through those tough places. He witnesses every tear spilled and every tear choked back. He's listening to every word cried out and every silent prayer our hearts can't find words to express. It is His goodness that allows us to come and to sit in the painful places--
--places designed to expose unbelief and mature faith
--places designed to allow His character and power to shine
--places designed to expose and excise sin
--places designed to bring us to the end of ourselves
--places designed to surface longings etched deeply in hearts by God
--places designed to show us the purpose of our pain
--places designed to draw us to the center of His will and His heart.
Maybe one of the reasons God chose not to remove pain from this life is so that you and I can understand the love of God through the pain of the cross. It was at Calvary that Christ was beaten for us. It was at Calvary that He bore the shame for the sin we commit and the pain that that sin inflicts on Him and others. It was at Calvary that Christ died so that He could exchange our filthy rags for His righteousness. God is the author of redemption stories, not fairy tales. Every redemption story leads us back to Christ, where we have the joy of finding purpose in pain.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Finding Purpose in Pain
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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!
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