When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. – Henri Nouwen
I was sitting in the auditorium of our church building trying to center myself from restless thoughts and devilish inhibitions that keep me from glorifying the Savior when I heard the words that I have heard many times before. You have heard them in one form or another and it goes something like this…
Father protect us from all harm and help us to enjoy a worry-free life so that we might serve you.
I have even heard some of the old-timers thank God for being able to worship him “unmolested.” I must admit, as a new Christian that prayer scared the crap out of me. I thought, “do they molest people in this church?” Thankfully someone explained this to me and they used that term to mean keeping us from harm, in any facet, form or function.
I wonder though, does God want us to live a live free from pain?
If so, then why are there so many instances of pain among God’s followers in Scripture?
Adam, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Bathsheba, Solomon, Samson, Ruth, Naomi, Job, Daniel, Isaiah, Jonah, Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, Timothy, Barnabas….
They all experienced pain.
Yet, pain was a part of their story that was something to rejoice in rather than suffer in. When we pray that we live a worry-free pain-free life it behooves us when pain actually comes. Why? Because we thought that if we lived right, gave enough in the collection plate, avoided saying naughty words and abstained from drinking a beer or a glass of wine then somehow we were supposed to live until we were 80, have a beautiful house with a three-car garage, have three kids all named after bible characters, 7 grandchildren (perfect number right?) and a perfect story. Then we die in our sleep.
The problem with that is 99.9% of us will not experience life in that manner. Some of us will get cancer. Some of us will never get married. Some of us will get married three or four times. Some of us will have kids, some of us will not. Some of us will have to bury our kids while some of us will have kids grow old.
But we will all experience pain.
So we need to stop trying to live a life mitigating our pain and instead live a life seeking to glorify God in our pain.
A few years ago John Piper wrote a piece called, “Don’t waste your cancer.” I thought it was helpful because it shows that God’s sovereignty reigns supreme over our finite comprehension. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and while the journey to understand God’s will is important we need not confuse our will with God’s ultimate will for us. One seeks to self-glorifcation while the other seeks Savior-glorification. Here are the major points from Piper’s article:
- You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.
- You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
- You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
- You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.
- You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
- You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.
- You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.
- You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.
- You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.
- You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.
In other words, this life is not about the mitigation of pain (here, in the form of cancer) but the glorification of the Trinity. So understand that when you endure pain… and you will… this pain is a part of your story and does not need to be dismissed, underestimated, overestimated or misappropriated. It needs to be placed, in its naked and ugly form, as part of the grand story of God where then, and only then, it can be redeemed.
Photo Credits: Shannon Yeh on Creative Commons