If you woke up each day and that one nagging prayer request you begged God to answer was never answered what would you do? How would you cope? Would you accept the silence, and embrace the situation? Would you slowly dull spiritually as you focused on yourself? Would you continue to believe, pray, wait and watch? Or would you run in another direction?
If you woke up each day to a house that is noticeably silent because you do not have a spouse, or your spouse is no longer there (whether dead, or divorced), how would you go on?
If you woke up each day to that incredible pain, that reminder that our bodies are not in an eternal state, but slowly degrading, breaking down, how would you go on? Would you lean into the pain, and push on to live? Or would you draw back and make every effort to avoid pain?
If your obedience to follow Jesus at all cost appeared to separate you from life long friends, would you go on?
If you gave your very best to your job, worked incredibly hard, are punctual and productive, and offer your skills above and beyond, but your employer only points out some obscure shortcoming in your life but blessed the inept coworker with a big raise would you still work hard? Would you still care?
If you were challenged with going on in a place in life that is the most challenging, or caving in to something that has the appearance of ease, relief from painful situations, but would take you from the narrow road to heaven what would you do?
I had a conversation with a friend recently who has been wrestling with a season of struggle, suffering, and profound pain. She offered these questions with the hope of some answer that would be salve to the wounded soul. She has loved and followed the Lord for many years. She has always been noted for a deep sense of joy, and of peace that only comes from God. Her heart is so big and her love of people is so great. And life has brought some deep and wounding scars to her heart. These last few years have brought challenges larger than life, pain deeper than she has ever known, and a prayer request that has gone un-answered.
As I listened to her talk, and watched her face it was apparent she wanted a balm, a salve, an answer. Like all of us, she wanted some of the nagging unwanted trials of life to just flee away, and allow for a time of refocusing on the Lord, and allowing the heart to heal.
“You make beautiful things out of the dust…. You make beautiful things out of us…”
The song lyric was softly playing in the background, and I stopped to pray. There it is. We are in a place where the broken things in our lives are being made into new, blessed, special works only God can do. For this season we may have been called to challenges that take us to our knees, grip our very soul, and show no sign of easing up, or appear to go unanswered….But we are not in heaven yet… and until we get there we will feel the sin scarred life on earth. And we are human, our character is in development. We are desperate for the power, strength and leading of our Great God. Without his strength we are nothing….
So I turned back to the bible, to read passages that might give encouragement, leading, prompting and refocus of these issues. At the heart of the matter it is where our heart is that will tell us how we will get through challenging things.
The book of Hebrews is where I gravitate when hard questions come… and the reason I go there is because that first century church was wrestling with many of these issues. Some commentaries suggest that many of these believers were ostracized by society, kicked to the curb, treated as unwanted by society. Some lost their prominence or position or power because of their faith in Jesus. And some questioned if they should go on in this hard and rough path.
The theme of Hebrews is the superiority of Christ over all. He is greater than everything that life can throw at us, or pile on us. It is powerful, the argument is one that compels us to examine our faith, and this amazing gift of salvation. Our time on this earth is temporal, but eternal life is forever… The pain and struggle will one day melt into a place of peace, free of disease, discouragement or tears. The compelling request is to drink deeply in the word, to find our peace in Jesus, and to follow the many examples of those who have gone before us.
We chatted about Hebrews, and about life. Instant life application is always challenging. Pain is something we want to run from. Social scientists call that “fight or flight response”. Physicists refer to the process as “ seeking the path of least resistance:. If we are truly honest we will agree that nobody likes pain, or trials, or challenge. And when the situation becomes protracted, continues far longer than we had imagined with no end in sight, we grow worn down. We grow tired. We want that path of least resistance to a place of freedom from pain. And yes, we want to fly away from the pain.
Almost thirty years ago an older Christian told me one piece of advice that has both been a concept I have embraced, and a practice that has seemed odd.
Lean into the pain – Don’t shy away from feeling, sensing, living through the deep and challenging places where pain is real, whether physical, mental, spiritual. Pain is a gift that we are given to understand life. This gift helps us to learn more about the goodness of our God, and the way He works in our lives. So when pain comes, and it will come, Lean into it. Embrace it and give it back to Jesus in prayer. Simply acknowledge the pain to Him, and ask Him for help through it….. through it, not around it, but through it. Ask Him to show you the lesson in this place, and ask for insight into the way this will be used for His Glory.
There are many living examples of people who have wrestled with life in profound ways. And when this struggle was yielded to the mighty hand of God the results have changed the world.
I have been thinking through this idea of leaning into the pain. And over the past decade I have wrestled with it. When my mom died in 1993 I knew that life would never be the same. The pain of her departure for heaven ripped a deep wound in my heart and soul, but as I took this to the Lord in prayer he began to work on my heart and the pain. The waves of intense grief were less frequent, less intense, and in its place was a new set of eyes for those around me. I saw the comfort of the Lord in my life through that pain… and I sensed the gift of ministering to others who have grieved in the way I received comfort.
Leaning into the pain can be distilled into a number of points, which are by no means a full list. Here is what I believe it means:
1 Acknowledge the truth of the current situation.
2 Speak honestly to God about the current situation
3 Examine your heart
Pain is not the enemy, but a choice instrument used by God to refine his people, to conform us to his image, and to ultimately bring us to the place where we bring him the greatest possible glory.