Dodging the Pain
Its amazing to me how much I tend to avoid pain. Motivational sayings, biographies, historical studies and THE BIBLE all point to the idea that pain is not always just a simple result of the fall—pain is often a gift and a tool in God’s hands (Hebrews 12, James 1 etc ad nauseum). It can be something used to purify our faith (I Peter 1) or something that produces perseverance (Romans 5). While I don’t ever want to be masochistic (we know that’s pathological) and get to the point where I enjoy all pain like I enjoy the feeling of really hot salsa, I DO want to get to the point where I stop whining to God about it and learn to endure.
One of the ways I’m growing in this is walking with my parents, from a distance, in the twilight of their days here on earth. I absolutely love every conversation and every minute I get with them, but it’s just part of God’s plan that our lives on this earth will sometime come to an end. I have grown to respect my Dad even more as he is making preparations for his transition from temporary to eternal. One of the things he’s done is try to make all the arrangements for his and Mom’s passings ahead of time. So, during his long stay in the hospital last fall, he took the time to write out his life’s history and his and Mom’s obituaries. Here’s the problem: He wants me (as the family academic) to type them out and put them in proper English. So, I took the two steno books full of Mom and Dad’s achievements and started working on them—that was very hard to do. It seems so final yet they are both still here… it’s been weird.
Inside one of the steno notebooks I found a note dad had written during his hospital stay. “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”— Albert Einstein.
I was really taken back by that. Dad was lying in a hospital or nursing home bed for 5 months and that’s the kind of thing he’s thinking about! At that point I decided that I would stop praying for God to stop Mom and Dad’s pain (and mine too) and ask God to continue to reveal himself to Mom and Dad in spite of it—to use it to draw all of us closer to him.
Think of what God asked Abraham to do with Isaac. Or what Joseph went through. Think of that poor lady who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment or the man born blind just so God’s glory could be revealed. God’s use of pain in our lives helps us. I hate that because I want to be comfortable and (when I’m dead honest) kinda rich. But as I’m watching my folks invest in eternity what I am seeing is that although I’m tempted to avoid pain, there is something I absolutely want more.
I want to love God with all that I am, and I recognize that to do so means I have to pick up my cross. It means I have to follow regardless of what that costs me; to go wherever he leads me. At this point it is tempting to say that, in the end, it will all be given back (like Job), or turn out for my good (like Joseph), but it’s possible that pain will endure all the way to the very end (like my Mom). There’s no guaranteed pain-free ending on this earth but that’s ok. What I am seeing in my Dad is that an absence of pain is not the indicator of things being right—it is the presence of God, despite the pain, that shows us what life really is and where it comes from. It is a life that transcends the loss of pregnancies, the loss of loved ones, horrible meetings with doctors, irrevocable diagnoses, long nights (and months) in the hospital, lonely seasons at work, frustrating colleagues, difficult financial situations, hurtful family situations and, thanks be to God, aging parents.
God’s good use of pain allows us to die to ourselves to the point that our sinful, mewling selves learn to approach the light of God’s presence that begins to burn away the selfishness. And in doing so it leaves a well of love. I resonate with the words of Madeline L’Engle when she says
We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
Before, when I have preached or spoken about pain, someone inevitably comes to me and suggests that I’m perhaps missing the point of the gospel. Jesus did indeed come to set us free! And, truth be told, when people speak of the cross, sometimes they forget to discuss the joy that is given. What I really believe is that it is our fear, sin and brokenness that keeps us from the most abundant, life-giving and soul-satisfying life that can be had on this earth. And sometimes, God uses pain to get us there. And sometimes it lasts all the way until the end. But He is still worth it…in every way, for all time. I keep going to God and one day I’ll finally learn to stop dodging the pain. When that day comes, my life will be full of a light that is lovely enough to draw others.
God, have mercy on Mom, but in your way, in your time and with your design—however that turns out for all of us. May God’s mercy be on you too. Thanks for reading.