Monday, April 25, 2016

Suffering With(out) Hope

Yesterday at physical therapy, I met a lady who is in a great deal of pain. She had a total hip and a total knee replacement a few years ago, and neither of them has proven to bring improvement in her pain. Not only that, but she also has neurological issues that cause painful burning and pins-and-needles in her arms. Back pain is also on the list of her chronic issues. This lady seemed very sad, and though I only overheard these facts as she told them to the therapist, I couldn’t help but express my sympathy to her. With tears welling up in her eyes, she said, “I’m just so tired of being in pain all the time.”

Can you relate, my suffering sisters? I certainly can! After making that statement, she turned the other way and her therapist started applying ice, so I didn’t get to respond. But, as I silently prayed for her, I began to think of what it would be like to have such pain without Christ. Now, I don’t know whether this lady is a believer or not. I hope to see her again and get a chance to find out. But meanwhile, my heart is heavy for those who suffer ongoing pain, day after day, without the hope of the Gospel to comfort them.

How does that hope comfort you? Today, I’d like to share a few things that are particularly encouraging to me in my pain, and I would love it if you would leave your input in the comments.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the comfort I have in Christ is the truth that my pain is not without purpose. I cannot imagine being in constant pain without knowing that there is a greater purpose in it. I use my experience of suffering, and the ways He has come to my aid, with many of the counselees I see. It gives me a platform to speak to any kind of pain they may bring to counseling. This has enabled me to develop rapport, and a level of involvement that I would never have had without it. I also know that my pain develops my faith, and makes me more dependent on Christ. The more I draw near to Him, spending time in His Word and in prayer, the more like Him I will become, and the more glory I will bring to His name. Since God’s glory is the reason I was created, my pain helps me to fulfill the purpose of my life.

Secondly, I know that my pain is ordained by a holy, loving, merciful, compassionate God, who will not allow one twinge of pain more than is necessary to accomplish His purposes. Without Christ, pain is random and senseless but more than that, it is cruel. Without Christ, my botched surgeries would seem like a cruel trick, and I would be very fearful of what might be next for me in this senseless series of events. Instead, my loving God provides perfectly timed ups and downs in this journey, as He molds and shapes my heart to be conformed to His image. I can trust that he will send just the right relief, or just the right challenge, at just the right time, always accompanied by His dear presence.

Finally, I do not experience my pain in isolation. This suffering is experienced in the context of the Body of Christ. As I share honestly about my struggle, other believers come alongside to encourage me, and to lift up my struggle before the Lord for His help. There are many others in this body who also struggle with physical pain, and He arranges for us to interact, so that we might encourage one another. I cannot imagine dealing with this suffering alone, or even in the company of other suffering, hopeless, godless individuals. How demoralizing it would be simply to commiserate with others who are just as frustrated and weary as I, yet have no hope to offer. How easy it would be to become bitter and depressed!

Though our pain can be sorrowful and difficult, let’s praise the Lord together today that it has purpose; that it comes from the hand of the Author of Love; and that it happens in fellowship with others who also know Him. As I pray for this lady at physical therapy, I am so thankful that my Father has scooped me up out of darkness and brought me into His light, turning my pain to purpose, and my sorrow to hope. Hallelujah! What a Friend! What a Savior!