“And the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10
Phillip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand, in their book, “The Gift of Pain,” tell us that though we would choose to avoid pain (physical, emotional etc.) at all costs, that feeling pain actually is absolutely necessary to surviving and potentially thriving in life. Really? That one was a tough sell for me years ago as I began their book.
After all, comfort and the avoidance of all pain was one of my main goals in life at the time. But as a young Christian in my early twenties, eager to learn and grow spiritually, I read on. Dr. Brand spent much of his medical practice working with people suffering from leprosy, a disease that causes a person to lose any sensation of pain. At first thought, it sounds not so bad right? No pain even if you have a cut or break your arm? Who wouldn’t want that? He tells us the answer…NO ONE.
Think about it…if you can’t feel the pain that comes with breaking your arm, you might not go to a doctor to get it set in a cast (or whatever the proper treatment might be) because it doesn’t hurt. The consequence of that choice would be an arm that doesn’t heal properly and then an arm that doesn’t WORK properly. Infections as well as other serious problems and debilitations can result.
His point is that though uncomfortable, God actually gave us the ability to feel pain (just like we feel happiness, joy, excitement, anger) as a gift. Pain alerts us to some greater issue than the obvious that we need to address.
For example, the pain that results from a slipped disc in the back sends us to a doctor so that we can protect our ability to walk and generally function in life. Pain from the cut of a rusty nail in an accident sends us to antibacterial soap and perhaps a tetanus shot to protect us from further disease that could eventually kill us. The pain we feel from a broken relationship reminds us we are fallen and need help to love those around us well.
A few years after reading this book my father died suddenly one afternoon of a massive heart attack. We didn’t even know his heart was sick but that afternoon my life changed forever and I entered into a long season of grief. I was a young, newly Christian woman who was facing years filled with sadness, anger, doubt, unbelief, distorted thinking and unhealthy coping behaviors. It was an emotional, mental and spiritual pain unlike any I had ever known. It felt physical. All I wanted was to escape the constant, unrelenting pain. How could God love me and allow this to happen?
Thirteen years later I don’t have the answer to why God allowed my dad to die at such a young age, but I do know that it isn’t because God doesn’t love me. One look at the cross destroys that argument and actually brings the light of healing love and comfort into my aching heart.
A wise friend once told me that only a God who knows what it is like to lose a loved one, his Only Son, can comfort me. He has entered into my suffering and comforts and restores me HIMSELF. I may never fully understand why pain comes my way, but I can be certain that there is a plan because Jesus took the ULTIMATE pain that I deserve…. death and eternal separation from God forever, so that I will never be crushed by the current pain in my life.
I can actually see it as an opportunity to grow and be changed. I can find comfort and strength in the presence of God in the midst of my pain. God is FOR me, WITH me and will provide what I need not only to survive the pain and suffering I face this side of heaven, but also to be transformed by it.
Prayer: Father, help me today to see the suffering and pain my life as a window for you to enter in, comfort and provide for me. Give me the grace and faith to believe that you WILL transform me, and make me strong, firm and steadfast. In Jesus name.