Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pain Wars

Each of us is called to lean on God.  But none of us goes through the exact same set of circumstances to get us to that place.  As I rub shoulders within the Christian community I notice a trend.  We tend to think that our lives are harder than anyone else's, or that our trials far exceed what others go through.  It becomes a battle where we try to trump the next guy with what we perceive as the degree of our difficulty.

But if the truth be known, we each have our own set of hard things we go through.  And what may be hard for one person, might not be that way for someone else.  We have our unique strengths and weaknesses, our own place of where we are in our spiritual growth, which affects this subject of suffering.

We groan over our pain, thinking no one else understands or has gone through it before us.  It's so easy to believe the lie that we are all alone in what we are experiencing.  To feel this way does not mean we are baby Christians.  Even Elijah dipped into depression and thought he was the only one left who followed God.  Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet and Job knew great suffering as a mature follower of God.

On the same note, sometimes we think that because we have experienced pain in one area of life that we are experts at all pain.  Or that our experience, though tragic, is the worst it could ever be.  Again not true.  Sometimes what we go through is not really pain so much as discomfort to the suburban America we are used to living.

To get a glimpse of someone else's story can give us perspective.  For example, though I believe abortion is gravely inhumane and fight against it, my heart aches far deeper for the girls who live hell on this earth in molestation, fear, and utter abandonment.  My heart goes out to those children who are starving. There are worse things than death. (for the believer) We complain about our hard life when in fact it does not compare to the suffering that could be our lot.

A grateful heart goes a long way in learning from our pain.  I've heard it said, "don't waste your pain".  What a shame to go through a traumatic experience and not allow that experience to draw us close to Jesus, or to promote growth in our spiritual life.  Some have told me, "you have no idea what I am going through," or "your life is so easy, so sheltered," and perhaps they are right.  I don't have any idea.  But what they might not realize is that God has given me my own set of difficulties that He's using to shape me into His image, which is foreign to them.  And so I observe, in Christian circles, that we get into these pain wars where we think, my life is harder than yours, and that puts distance between us.

Many of the trials we go through are vehicles God uses to help others going through similar events.  We are given the gift of pain to empathize with others, to come alongside and to encourage.  This is one purpose for the pain we are experiencing.  Another purpose is that the body of Christ might have opportunity to reach out to us.  This places us in need of them . . . hard to accept in our self-sufficient world.  Don't let the pain go to waste.  Use it to build up someone else with similar pain, rather than as a vehicle for superiority towards others who may not be experiencing the same types of difficulties. 

In our complaints about how horrible our lives are, we often miss the opportunity to bless the life of another because our focus is so inward.  God brings people across our paths that we might reach out to them, build them up, or be His agents to draw them into His kingdom of life.  But we miss it because we are so focused on our troubles and the discomfort it is bringing to us. 

Physical pain is an example of this.  It draws our complete attention.  We stop life because of the severity.  Pain demands that we give our utmost devotion to it.  But pain is only a symptom of a problem that is deeper.   In His Image, (a favorite read of mine), Philip Yancey explains that the reason leprosy is so destructive is because the leper cannot feel pain.  This lack of sensitivity to pain results in severe wounds.  There are no nerves telling them to stop, move, or shift their weight, in order to avoid damaging their bodies.  In that light, pain is a gift.  Pain gets our attention.  This is why I sometimes have a love/hate relationship with being sick because it draws me to call out to God and I have an excuse to cancel life for a time.

I just spent three days of last week doing nothing but sleep, or I should say, try to sleep, because I wanted relief from pain.  My world stopped.  There were no meetings, no obligations, no rushing here and there, because pain required me to cancel.  Instead I cried urgent prayers to God to come to my aid.  The pain drew me into His presence in a unique way.  Often in our busy lives, we tune God out because we just don't have time for Him.  We are accomplishing our agendas that are oh so important.  Pain screeches our plans to a halt and forces our focus to turn to God.  This is not only true of physical pain, but of other pain we experience which is far deeper and generally holds on for much longer. 

As believers, I don't think God is pleased with our pain wars.  I think He would ask us to draw near to Him in a special way during the pain and then in hindsight, grow spiritually.  Because in the midst of the pain it is hard to see. In fact, I tend to kick and scream at God.  I understand that.  Some of the most painful times of my life have taken years to see their purpose.  These things take time.  And so be encouraged.  If you are experiencing a hard stage of life, know that God wants to meet you there and that He wants to grow you and use that as a vehicle to encourage another called to similar circumstances.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  James 1:2-4

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