Two Kinds of Pain

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” 2Co 7:10

Pain happens. It varies in degree, source, and impact, but it happens. So the question is not how to avoid it but what to do with it.

The Message Bible reads: “Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.” Wow. So the same pain that causes one to turn to God and see His salvation can cause another to die in a bed of regret. Pain doesn’t magically turn a person one way or another. God allows suffering, even gives it (sometimes generously) for the purpose of drawing me in. So what am I doing with my pain today? Am I seeing it as a precious tool to help me experience the presence of God and the deep and spiritual comfort and growth that only He can give, or am I trying to avoid it, shake it, even dull it? Am I believing that the suffering I’m living through has the potential of deepening my self-awareness, and therefore my walk with God, or am I resigned to hopelessness and misery?

Today I can choose to hope.

In this hope I can take action. This may be a simple prayer of surrender. It could be calling a friend and believing God can comfort me through others. This might be a time to schedule a meeting with a counselor. Let me try opening my Bible, memorizing the above Scripture, or journaling my thoughts and emotions. Today is a good day to forgive those who have offended me or repenting from my sins. Perhaps some yoga or meditation can help me become more aware of myself and sit in the presence of God.

Today I will not regret my pain, but believe it will lead me to salvation.

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For my friends who have recently lost loved ones…

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I pray for those (especially my friends) who have lost loved ones this year. For those sitting at the table without their father or spouse, for the first time. For those unable to bear the pain of not having their son with them any longer, I lift up my eyes to the Lord. He is good, and his strength is powerful enough to sustain the hurting, even when it feels impossible. Death is part of this broken world of ours, but just because it is normal, it doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially when we seem to think it happens prematurely. But the truth is that there is no premature timing in God’s eyes. He holds all our days in his hands. He is bigger than our bad choices. He is bigger than fate or destiny. In his miraculous foreknowledge and his compassionate sovereignty, He uses the bad for good and redeems all circumstances.

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I pray that the hurting children of God will be able to thank him even in their pain. Jesus knows pain. Jesus understands death. He went through both in order to give us life. May He overwhelm my friends with life and hope, even as they sit together and dine with a missing loved one. His mercies are new every morning.

Maybe I Can Be Pain Free…

I’m in pain. I’m always in pain. I have been in pain since I was a little girl. I don’t complain about it, unless I’m in severe crisis, in which case it’s hard to hide it. My last crisis happened back in the summer, the week before Tom Sawyer began (when I spent endless hours playing piano). I had so much back pain that I was hardly able to move. I ended up in the ER just to get some strong enough pain medication that would allow me to function.

I’ve always assumed that the curvature in my spine has been the cause of this pain. In fact, I’ve had several doctors and chiropractors tell me that throughout my childhood and adult life. Therefore, other than seeking chiropractic help once in a while, I have not thought that I could ever be pain free.

But yesterday I went to a sports medicine doctor (something I should have done a while ago), and for the first time he gave me hope of getting rid of the pain. Among other things going on with my back, my main problem is something called Impingement Syndrome with chronically inflamed tendons. So he prescribed a series of exercises and stretches that I need to do daily. He told me that if I’m faithful and consistent, I will find relief!!

 

Now, that is cause for celebration!!

I have begun these exercises and they are very painful. I feel I have to endure through the initial suffering, focusing on their future benefits. I don’t care how much I’m hurting now, because the thought of possible relief makes me want to jump for joy!

Suffering with Hope

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”  – Proverbs 13:12

I suffer. You suffer. We suffer. Pain is a common ailment, affecting 100% of the world’s population. Sure, there are people who go through more anguish than others. Not all pain is equal in degree or in longevity. But at the end of the day, we can all say that we have either suffered or are continually suffering one way or another. So let’s change the saying to a new an improved version: Three things are certain, suffering, death, and taxes.

The question is not if we suffer, but how we suffer.

As I see it, there are two ways of enduring the hardships this world has to offer: With hope or without it.

Suffering with no hope feels like darkness. There is nothing to look forward to, nothing to make us get up in the morning, and nothing to motivate us to keep trying, breathing, moving forward. Suffering without a living, present hope, as the proverb says, makes the heart sick. A sick heart will see no light nor will it desire to live. A sick heart wants to succumb to the pain instead of fighting against it. It will desire to give up and will seek a way out. Suffering without hope is desperate.

Suffering with hope feels altogether different. The object of our hope strengthens our minds to do battle against our pain. We endure when we hope. We find strength when we hope. We can embrace our suffering and see the good in it, when we hope. In fact, we can even have joy in spite of the pain, when we hope. A cancer patient can endure radiation because she has hope it can heal her. The unemployed father gets up every morning and endures the hardship by applying to jobs because he hopes he will find one soon. A child suffers through relocation and changes of school when he hopes he will make new friends. Hope helps us to keep trying.

But the problem with hope is that it is not always real nor attainable. What happens when chemo doesn’t work and the cancer does not go away? Or the job search lasts not for a few weeks, but for a year? What if a student hopes to recover from his failing grades but can’t and loses his scholarship? We can hope for a new boyfriend, a better car, a marriage, a child, and that hope can help us through a season. But what if the object of our hope never materializes? What if fertility treatments don’t work? What if we are evicted from our home? What is our hope then? How can we endure then? Do we succumb and give up?

Yes, any kind of hope can help us in our suffering, even if for a little while. But there is only one kind of hope that will sustain us all the time and in all circumstances. There is only one hope that does not disappoint.  Even when there is no earthly hope that can possibly pick us up, there is an eternal, supernatural hope that will. A man named Job, written about in the Old Testament, lost everything: His children died, his processions were burned away, his wife left him, and then the icing on the cake, he got so sick that he was in constant pain and unable to care for himself. He fought hard against suffering. He said: “Though he (God) slay me, I will hope in him”.  He understood two things: 1. God allowed suffering in his life, and 2. He could trust God with his pain because God obviously understood why he would do such a thing to Job, even when Job could not understand it. Yes, the whole book of Job shows us a tremendous struggle of belief and unbelief. But in the end, we see that these words really reflected where Job put his trust. He obviously would never see his children again. Humanly speaking, there was no hope! Yet, he hoped. He hoped, not in a physical restoration or restitution, but in God himself.

Suffering may find us. But we can find hope, but deciding to trust God. He, himself, is our hope. It is not what he can give us or what he can do for us, that should give us hope, but who he is: his character, his presence, his comfort, his wisdom, his knowledge, and everything that makes him God and huge and good. We can put our trust in him so that He becomes our hope.

When we desire him more than what he can give us, we will then breathe life into our pain. “…. A desire fulfilled is a tree of life”. Yes! Let us make him the object of our desire:

  • By reading Scripture that reminds us of who he is and how much we need him
  • By talking to him, acknowledging his presence and power in our lives
  • By listening to him (spending time in silence, hearing God’s Word preached, talking with others who trust in him also)
  • By refusing to allow our emotions to win over our will to trust. Persevere and fight!

I have endured suffering with no hope, the dark kind. I have also suffered with great hope in Christ. I wish for myself, for my children, my family, and my friends, and even for you, dear reader, to never suffer in darkness.

“Why are you cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” -Psalm 43:5

 

Book Review: A Place of Healing

I just finished reading A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada, and I give it my highest recommendation.

Joni was paralyzed in a diving accident more than 40 years ago. Now, in her 60s, she’s writes this book while going through a new trial: constant, unshakable pain. What I like most about this book is Joni’s high view of God. Every page oozes with his character, calling, and work, putting all things, especially suffering, into perspective.

If you are struggling with the idea of being a Christian yet not delivered from suffering and pain, buy this book today. If you are dealing with physical illness or disability, this book is for you! Even if you are not presently suffering, this book will minister to you and equip you to be a good friend to those who do suffer. It will encourage you greatly. For me, it has renewed my sense of gratitude and contentment, knowing that my hope in the Lord is unwavering and true.

Roots

The thing about roots is that they are designed, not only to nourish the plant, but also to hold it firmly in place. Without roots, plants would be carried away by the wind. The older the plant, the deeper and wider the roots grow. Try pulling the root of a big old tree!

So this morning as I worked on a part of my yard I had neglected for a while, I set out to prepare the ground to plant new shrubs and flowers.

As I was digging and pulling roots and weeds, I came across some pretty big roots that had been silently tucked away in the soil for a good long while. Mind you there was no living plant connected to these roots. The plants died long ago. But the roots stayed firmly in the dark, without being noticed. These roots nourish no more. They don’t hold any living thing in place. They’re just there. Quietly. Secretly.

Until I came along.

How can a dead thing be so difficult to pull! I pulled so hard, one of those yanks sent me flying backwards only to land on my rear end a couple of feet away (thankfully I have built in cushions).

I had to pull those stubborn roots! If I didn’t, I would not be able to clear the ground for these new beautiful plants I just purchased. So I yanked and yanked, using muscles I haven’t used in a while (I’ll be in pain tomorrow, I know).

As I reflected on what I was doing, I realized that in my own heart, there are roots that have been firmly established. Roots of wrong thinking, lack of trust, deeply seeded fears, and iinsecurities from long ago. Most of the time, I don’t even know they’re there. Until the garden keeper decides to yank them out.
“Ouch!!! Don’t take those out! I was perfectly OK with them there!”
“But I’m getting ready to replace the dead things with new living things”, says the keeper.
“NO! No, no, no! You are removing too many things! Stop!” I cry as I struggle to hold on to the roots I’ve been accustomed to for such a long time.
“But don’t you see this is good for you”?

Good for me. It is good for me to be shaken and moved in order for the hand of the keeper of the garden to pull the dead and make room for the new. I guess my heart can’t hold all of it at once.

So roots are being yanked now. And I didn’t even know they were there! But as much as it hurts, I’m deciding not to fight it. I know I’ll resist tomorrow, but today, I am trusting my keeper. Can’t wait to make room for more fertile soil, and to be adorned with fruit producing plants.

My yard is looking so much better! But I’m not done yanking. As I bring more plants from the store, I’ll have to dig again. But I’ll make sure I water the garden and keep it free of weeds, because it’s hard work doing this gardening! It’s my garden, so I’ll tend to it as faithfully as I’m able.

My garden keeper will do the same with me.

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