Many years ago, I knew a man who fell off his bike and broke his arm. This man believed that sickness and disease have no place in a Christian’s life and so when faced with the reality of a broken limb, he’d loudly declare that it WASN’T broken but that he’d ‘been healed in Jesus’ name’. The plaster cast on his arm said differently and after a while he began to avoid church because constantly denying you have a broken arm, when clearly you have a broken arm, is a tough road to walk.
It sounds like a bit of a silly story, (it did actually happen!) but I was thinking about it recently after stumbling across a well-known Christian preacher who was talking about the ‘power of positivity’. On the surface, it seemed like a great message, full of perspective-shifting nuggets, encouraging us to look up, not look down when life chucks us a curveball.
Of course (just so that no one gets me wrong!), there is huge power in turning our eyes upon Jesus and on learning how to renew our minds in God’s Word, but guess what? There’s also power in pain.
I’ve been in the church all my life and more and more, (particularly through the current global situation), I’m discovering Christian teaching and movements which seem to run from pain. This kind of teaching tends to gloss over the difficult-to-answer questions or it insists that if you jump up and down enough in a ‘faith-filled atmosphere’, remove negative people or words from your world or just immerse yourself deeply into the spiritual experience of Sunday morning, you’ll be ok.
It (unfortunately) glosses over the difficult, thorny issues of life and it recoils in horror at the thought of suffering. To be fair, we probably all recoil in horror at the thought of pain and hardship, but the truth is, suffering is a biblical concept.
When I read the book of Job, a man who lost literally everything including his family, his property and all his riches, I see a man who sat in the ashes and somehow, while picking at the scabs on his flesh (and no doubt weeping uncontrollably), he still managed to offer praise to God. He didn’t run from the suffering and try to sing happy tunes until he felt better, he sat, he grieved and he sorrowed and somehow in the middle of the ashes and the heartache, he once again found joy.
I think of Jesus too, on the night before he was executed. His grief for what was to come was so intense that he sweat drops of blood. Jesus was following the will of the Father and and not only did he choose to walk toward death, I am also sure he felt all the terror and heartache of the physical and spiritual pain that was to come. The night before his execution must have been the longest, darkest night of anyone’s soul.
The truth is, whether we like it or not, there are some pretty incredible riches to be found in the middle of sorrow. I’ve experienced it myself many times over the years. I’ve sat by hospital bedsides as people I love face terrible pain. I’ve experienced the sorrow of grief, broken relationships and having to walk away from a personal situation that left me feeling as though my fractured heart could never recover.
I’ve seen friends battle through infidelity, serious illness and just about every heartache known to humans and in the middle of the pile of stink their lives have (temporarily) become, I’ve seen many discover this incredible richness in God’s presence.
As humans, we tend to run from pain but it’s often only in pain that we discover what is really real. Daniel discovered this when he was IN the lion’s den, as did Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego, when they were IN the fire. They didn’t discover the very real presence of Jesus as they walked around it or when they sang happy songs, they discovered him right smack in the middle of pain and heartache and fear.
In the 14 months or so since losing my mum, I’ve experienced God’s grace in the middle of the storm. Grief is a dark shadow that in the early days, clings on for dear life. There’s been times where I’ve been so weary that I called out to God for respite and every time, without fail, he showed me something new. I would not have had those incredible experiences if it had not been for the pain of loss.
Would I sign up willingly for suffering again? No. I’d prefer to live life in a happy bubble trying to protect myself from all harm, but the reality is, suffering also produces great fruit. The early church is an example. Out of death, destruction, loss, loneliness and persecution, an incredible global movement was born.
There are lessons to be learned in pain and if we try to run from it by ‘thinking happy thoughts’ then we might just miss some of God’s richest blessings. Sometimes it’s ok to sit in sorrow, weep, lament and mourn. You’ll find that God is sitting with you, right in the middle of the ashes.