My husband often says that I sleep funny. It’s true, I don’t deny it. I take an almost soldier-like stance in my sleep. Flat on my back with hands to my side or sometimes, if that’s not comfortable, the same position except turned to my side. I have one pillow but it’s not your typical pillow. It’s a long, half-oval shaped one constructed of foam as opposed to anything soft or remotely pliable. It’s firm but purposefully so. Years ago I began struggling with intense migraines. Debilitating shots of pain so intense your entire body ached. If functioning were even possible then the accompanying nausea usually did me in. There were moments when the only relief I could find was found by curling myself into a fetal position on the floor, head down and face to the floor. All the while I would usually be crying in tears and praying that God would just remove the pain. At first we thought somehow my migraines had something to do with my neck so I became extra cautious in how I slept. A million tests later however taught us that they were not so much of a structural issue as they were a hormonal one. You would think that knowing my neck is not the culprit would allow my rigid sleeping habits to lighten slightly, that I would somehow begin to enjoy less guarded sleep once more like I used to. But I don’t. You see, I fear pain. The physical pain of migraines was enough to have permanently shaped how I sleep.
The truth is that none of us like pain, be it physical or emotional. If pain has the ability to shape how one sleeps, it certainly has the capacity to threaten how we live as well. We don’t suddenly wake up one day excited to be out of a job or flooded with joy that our loved one is still gone. We don’t delight in sickness or dance to the tune of weakness. We don’t find depression uplifting or rejection very embraceable. Adversity is something to run from, not to. After all, according to Webster the very definition of adversity is “a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune“. Who in their right mind would want to run to something like that? Certainly not I. We don’t run towards pain but the reality is that in this broken world we do live in it. Why? Why do some parents have to know the loss of a child? Why do children have to suffer any kind of disease? Why do God-fearing, hard-working people find themselves unemployed and undesired? Why do people who love with all their hearts find themselves disillusioned and brokenhearted? Why infertility and miscarriage? Why death? Why earthquakes, fires, hurricanes or destruction in general? Why pain? To this question I ask a slightly different one. Why not pain? Why must pain be equated as something that is bad in and of it’s self? Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician, counselor and author of Creative Suffering was also one who experienced pain first-hand as an orphan himself. Philip Yancy observed in his book Where is God When it Hurts? that, “previously, he (Tournier) had judged each major event of life, success or tragedy, as either good or evil. But now he began to perceive that circumstances, whether fortunate or unfortunate, are morally neutral. They simply are what they are; what matters is how we respond to them. Good and evil, in the moral sense, do not reside in things, but always in persons. Only rarely are we the masters of events, but, along with those who help us, we are responsible for our reactions. Suffering is never beneficial in itself, and must always be fought against. What counts is the way a person reacts in the face of suffering. That is the real test of the person: What is our personal attitude to life and its changes and chances? Here is a man, sick or in the grip of some tragedy, who confides in me: What is he going to make of the grievous blow that has struck him? What is his personal reaction going to be? A positive, active, creative reaction which will develop his person, or a negative one that will stunt it? The right help given at the right moment may determine the course of his life.”
The painful truth is that in this world there will be pain. It’s part of the “mess” that is life but also the potential catalyst for God’s greatest work in and through us. It’s the very ashes that beauty is born from. It’s an opportunity for us to display the glory and power of God. It’s an opportunity for trust. As much as I dislike, no HATE, pain, I also realize that more often than naught, pain has served as a strengthening agent as opposed to one that has destroyed. Is it not physical pain after all that signals a warning sign to our body that something is wrong and needs attended to? And is it not emotional pain that often propels us to reach up and out? Yancey wrote that, “Self-sufficiency, which first reared its head in the Garden of Eden, is the most fatal sin because it pulls us as if by a magnet away from God. The suffering and the poor have the advantage that their lack of self-sufficiency is obvious to them every day. They must turn somewhere for strength, and sometimes they turn to God. People who are rich, successful, and beautiful may go through life relying on their natural gifts. But there’s a chance, just a chance, that people who lack such natural advantages may cry out to God in their time of need…Poverty and suffering can serve as instruments to teach us the value of dependence, and unless we learn dependance we will never experience grace.”
Sometimes we need reminding of what being a “christian” really is all about. It’s certainly not about us, and it’s definitely not about comfort. It’s not about our pain. Scripture assures us there will be suffering. Not even Christ, in his earthly life, managed to escape pain and suffering. Hebrews 5:8 reminds us that “He learned obedience from what he suffered.” If Christ suffered, we can certainly expect to suffer. In the over-arching tapestry God is weaving we must realize that God is not done yet. Pain can throw us into a boat of doubt on a sea of “whys”. If left unregulated, the fear of pain urges us to conclude God is not really good, that He is not enough, that somehow God didn’t or won’t deliver. But He’s not done. When we are weak, then HE is strong. He keeps the boat on our tossed-seas together and our souls anchored to heaven it’s self. Our pain is a part of a fallen world in which Romans 8:22 says “the whole creation has been groaning together”. But Christ does hear the groans, and He does deliver. In Christ pain is not without hope. Scripture offers so much HOPE, so much GRACE. 2 Corinthians 12:9 states that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Pain helps us remain uncomfortable enough to know that that this place we live in is a far cry from “home”. Take heart. Pain is not where it ends.
“Blessed be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a LIVING HOPE through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 1:3-7