“I am so sorry!” I said as I swallowed the lump in my throat. My friend told me their marriage was having an incredibly difficult time. Their spouse had found another and was not wanting to work on things. A myriad of emotions crashed through my mind and heart as my friend said, “This is not what I wanted, planned, or dreamed. I just needed to tell someone who knows what it is like to hurt. How do I walk through this?” My throat tightened again as pictures flashed through my mind of times when I had felt ‘this is not what I wanted or planned or dreamed’…
Difficult circumstances come in a variety of forms. Illness, death, career challenges, emotional wounds, family hurts, natural disaster, disappointment in people, financial strains, broken appliances, conflict with loved ones or friends or neighbors or coworkers or the driver in the other lane – these happen. Life happens. At times it hurts. Some days it isn’t even a specific thing, it just seems like it’s more difficult than it should be. Pain is a heart matter. Embracing it well takes a thoughtful perspective, a nurtured skillset, and modeling.
Part of maturing is recognizing everyone has a story, everyone has it hard. Many of us have played a great game of “Have you ever?” watching people get bolder, sharing more vulnerably as they realize they were not alone. Our theology of suffering impacts how we engage with pain. Do we despise and resist, tolerate and endure or do we see it as something to embrace because we have been entrusted with it? There will be pain and hardship in this world. No one can avoid it. In John 16:3 Jesus tells his followers there will be trials and sorrows, but he has overcome the world. When our original parents chose to determine good and evil on their own both brokenness and foolishness entered the world. You and I will experience pain and distress from a broken world and foolish choices, choices made both by ourselves and others. God, Creator of all, is not thwarted by the broken or the foolish. Under His divine direction of time and eternity He will use even the challenges and pain coming from the broken and foolish to accomplish His purposes. Do you believe this?
Our theology needs to impact our perspective. Job and Paul were entrusted with suffering. Paul tells in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 how God responded to his request to remove the pain by telling him that His grace was sufficient, and weakness would display God’s strength. This encourages us to view pain and difficulty as opportunities to uniquely experience God, instead of feeling the absence of God. It also encourages us to embrace the idea of weakness and difficulty being as valuable as strengths and success. Psalm 34 says God is especially near to the brokenhearted. A shift in perspective is seeing pain as a place where God is at work with grace and as being entrusted with a set of kingdom blessings (Matt 5:1-12).
If we think pain is punishment, something to be avoided at all costs, or something to be endured as stoically as possible, we can resist it, developing a set of responses more a kin to fear, anger, denial, numbing, stuffing, isolating, or distracting. But, if we embrace and expect pain as a part of the human experience, we are more apt to see the purposes suffering can accomplish. Romans 8:28,29 tells us it is place where God works to bring good in only ways He can, and it will be used to shape us to be more like Jesus. 1 Peter 1:6-8 shares it has a refining and testing purpose. Romans 5:3-5 gives us hope, as character and perseverance are formed. What would change if you viewed your difficult circumstance as something you were entrusted with for a good purpose?
Embracing pain is not merely a theological exercise. It is an embodied experience impacting us physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and relationally. We need skills to help us embrace difficulty. We learn skills and new perspectives best in community, seeing people we are attached to model how to handle difficulty. Those we are leading and discipling need to see us model how to put off the old way and put on the new way of responding to difficulty.
Jesus modeled to his followers how to embrace pain at Gethsemane. He let Peter, James and John see him become deeply distressed, overwhelmed with sorrow. He asked them to be with him, not fix him, but be with him. He needed to talk with his Father. He needed people to be with him. (Mark 14:32-36) Jesus was emotionally honest about his challenge, being real about what he was feeling. He didn’t isolate, try to fake it, muscle his way through or play the victim. His lament was sincere, he was present to what was happening, creating space to process. Later, when his disciples were in a difficult situation, they, too, were real about the situation, doing what they saw Jesus do. (Acts 4:23-31) We need skills; we need models of how kingdom people embrace pain. We have the opportunity to learn ourselves and to show others.
What has been modeled to you about handling difficulty? Who has modeled handling difficult situations and pain in a way that reflects a kingdom perspective? What skills help you or hinder the process? Think about those you are leading and discipling, what have they seen you model?
…. I looked at my friend. I thought of Sue and Vic, who showed me how to embrace pain through one of my most difficult moments in life. I replied, “I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I do know the pain of being entrusted with something I didn’t want, plan or dream. I can imagine how it hurts. You have watched me walk through my hard and I will walk with you.”
Mental Health & Wellness Ministry Lead
Real Life Ministries
Post Falls, ID