This week I listened to a message that challenged my thinking about pain and the burdens we carry. The challenge to me was simple, even though I'm not sure it's what the speaker intended: God may not simply tolerate and allow pain in the lives of his children; He may give it to us as a gift for His purposes. The speaker said something akin to this:
God may be saying, "I'm giving you this gift. I know it will crush you, break you, and you'll find it hard to stand up underneath. But I will be with you. I know you don't understand and won't understand, but I trust you with this gift, and am asking you to trust Me."
Is it really possible that our Father could give us a gift that could potentially crush us?
Is it really possible that our Father would give us a gift that we would find difficult to bear?
The concept here is that God has his purposes and is accomplishing so much more than we could ever comprehend. That, in fact, God may be giving us this gift of suffering in order that He might be glorified through it. Pretty simple. I've heard it before. But why did it hit so much this time?
Jesus says to his disciples with respect to the blind man in John 9:3 -
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him."
Remember, blind men have ears. In fact, sometimes hearing can be heightened to compensate for the loss of vision. I wonder what this blind man thought when he heard Jesus speaking about him, almost as if he wasn't there. "You mean this has nothing to do with me? You mean this isn't my fault or maybe even my burden? You mean that God wants to do something through me with this? God wants to be on display through my blindness?"
Again, this simple truth was profound to me in this way: as I heard this message, I heard God say directly to me, "Stop complaining about what is or has been happening to you or in your life. When someone asks you how it's going, stop telling them all the negative things you might be experiencing. Instead, help them see Me through it. Point them to Me in your suffering. Point them to Me in your pain. Point them to Me in how you stand in the midst of it. Point them to Me as your source of strength and sustenance. Point them to Me." Is it possible that suffering is a gift to steward rather than a burden to bear? The speaker in the message I heard said it this way:
“When you focus on what’s wrong, you lose sight of what God is making right.”
Some of you know that our kids - who are beautiful, wonderful, amazing, and unique in each of their own ways - have some significant medical issues that still remain much of a mystery and provide their own types of suffering. We have helped them to "manage" and to learn alternative ways of living, but not a week goes by without some pretty heavy struggle for us. In fact last week we learned some new things that really knocked me off kilter again. And I have been guilty of not recognizing that God may be using these things in our lives to show His glory through us and in us. I get myopic, focusing on what's in front of me - or on top of me. He may be showing His glory by how we press on, fight back, challenge the darkness, push through, and trust Him in the midst of confusion, frustration, and helplessness.
About a week ago, my brother - who is paralyzed - moved his leg at therapy several times. Watching the video he sent brought tears to all of our eyes as he said to his therapist, "It won't be long now, boys." I know he's not always positive and has many days of struggle, but I see the power of God in my brother's hope, perseverance, and never-say-die attitude. I see God's glory in the lives that have been impacted by his persistence in living the life he was called to live, not giving in to the difficulty of life in a wheelchair. He may never walk until he runs down the streets of gold, but don't tell him that - because anything is possible. I'm afraid I would have given up, and I'm thankful for the faith-building that the constant perseverance of so many people in my life has taught me. I've watched people walk harder roads than I can imagine with grace, peace, and hope. I've watched people face the darkness with fearlessness that can only come from a deeper strength of a well of divine depth.
I've seen the opposite, too. I've seen people crumble under the weight, give up, give in, let go, blame God, blame their loved ones, blame themselves. I've seen hopelessness lead to helplessness lead to despair and ultimately to defeat. I've seen people dig deep for human strength in a well that runs empty without a divine and living water reservoir.
So here's the question: what might someone looking at my life think as I face my giants? What might someone learn about the goodness of the Father when I continue to place my trust in His love when, honestly, I sometimes want to give up? What might someone learn about my hope in the resurrection body as I long deeply for my children's stomachs to work, nerves to fire appropriately, muscles that don't quickly fatigue, and a normal meal without pain?
I wonder... if we thought that everything - even pain and suffering - were somehow a gift to steward in order to bring glory to the Father - a glory we may never glimpse in this world - how would that change our approach to life? I wonder, what it would look like to truly trust the Father enough that even if I see nothing come of it my lifetime within my limited view, that I would still be able to trust Him with the gift of suffering He gives for his sake? Can I trust the One who has entrusted me with something I don't understand?
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
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