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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Experience of Pain

I am learning that sometimes God allows us to go through painful experiences not because He finds pleasure in our suffering but because there are lessons He can only teach us in the center of the flames.

I find I am closer to my Father when I am hurting. I know instinctively that even though I cannot run to Him and feel His arms around me, I can pour out my heart to Him through tears, unheard words, even angry questionings, and He is a safe place for me. Psalm 62:8. To be closer to my Father is something I constantly search for, and while I do not relish the experiences of sorrow and pain and grief, I recognize that He uses those to turn them into the beauty of a closer companionship than before.

I know that God doesn't promise He will grant our wishes once we've endured through the hardship. It's at times a difficult lesson to learn. I tend to be someone who is looking for the reward after the testing. I can wait, I can manage to make it through, as long as I know I'll receive what I wanted after it's all over. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. Or perhaps, fortunately. God knows our hearts and there are times when our desires are lined up with His plans for us, but then there are times when it is better for us to learn to live in a place of emptiness for a time until we are ready to accept the far more beautiful gift God has waiting for us. It can be just about impossible for us to walk by faith, believing that God wants the very best for us, and not to run ahead and try to create our own destiny based on our feeble attempts to understand ourselves.

When I find myself facing pain, my instinctive reaction is to push it away until it has subsided. I am learning that we should push through the pain, accepting it, holding it close instead of hiding from it. As we experience pain to its deepest, it softens our hearts to the pain of others. A mother who has lost her child, a young woman who has lost her husband, a grandmother who has lost her spouse of 50 years. Or perhaps it isn't death of a family member. Perhaps the pain comes from loss of a beloved pet, a culture, an identity, a significant job, a dream, a home, a love. Each of these losses create pain that is unique in its experience, and while we can empathize with someone who has felt loss, we cannot truly walk with them emotionally unless we too have received the pain to the degree that they have.

A mother lost her daughter not so long ago. I put my arms around her, said I was sorry, expressed words of regret and comfort. I have suffered my own losses to death, some of people very dear to me. Yet I knew I could not feel one iota of the anguish this mother felt every time she imagined living without her daughter, every time she tried to understand how she could have prevented it from happening, every time she reached out to connect and realized her daughter was no longer there. The pain she felt, only another mother who had lost their child could identify with.

I do not believe that pain is a gift in itself. I do believe that God turns the pain into a gift when we can use our understanding born through suffering to comfort another person in their despair. I am learning that my own experiences, while I as yet have not had the need to empathize with another person in a similar situation, are preparing me for something I do not yet know. I am learning that pain turns my quick ability to judge into sympathy and concern. For everyone carries sorrow in their lives and they are searching for understanding and comfort in the midst of pain.

I am learning that on the other side of pain there is joy, peace, strength, and healing. As I look back over my life and the different times I found myself struggling with pain, fighting with it, or living fully in it, I see that each time I found myself a stronger person after the experience. It may not have been perceptible but each time my heart was glued back together with time, understanding, and comfort, it was just a little bit stronger. It was not easy, and I'm not saying we should seek out pain so we can find ourselves stronger afterwards. What I am saying is that we can either fall apart completely or we can determine to start again.

Jesus experienced the worst kind of pain imaginable when He went to the cross. The physical pain was immense, but humans had already been exposed to that kind of torture before so He would have been able to endure it. The pain that tore at His heart was the pain of complete separation from the One He loved the most. His Father had to remove His presence, His beams of light one by one, in order to fulfill the demands of the law that He had instated at the beginning of the world. Jesus was the victor over sin, and He now identifies with us in our sorrows in a way that we can understand because He has experienced our pain to an even greater degree than we ever will.

Pain is an experience foreign to our original natures. We were created for joy, peace, and wholeness. We were created to be in close communion with God and with each other. Pain steals those beautiful experiences and replaces them with brokenness. Yet what amazing grace of a Father Who foresaw the hurt we would have to go through and offered us His dearest One so that we could have the hope of one day seeing pain be forever eradicated. God has promised to wipe every tear from our eyes. I believe that as He wipes away each tear, He will wipe away the memories of the pain, replacing them with unutterable love. For we will no longer need the experience of pain.

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