What is the Purpose in Your Pain?
What is the Purpose in Pain?
Do you ever wonder if there is any real purpose in the pain you’re experiencing? Do you wonder how we can experience such pain if there is really a loving God? We all have times in our lives when we experience pain – and when we wonder how God can possibly be in it.
Painful life events bring us to a crossroad in our faith; that proverbial fork in the road where we have to choose one path or the other. These are the kind of circumstances that often prompt a crisis of faith; when we question what we really believe and wonder if God is really there.
Death of a loved one
Betrayal, rejection, loss of a friendship…you get the idea.
These are times of uncertainty that cause us distress and great pain. It’s at times like this that we can go either way. We can move toward God, or we can turn away.
Moving Toward or Walking Away?
Some people really do walk away from their faith as a result of painful life experiences. Maybe someone you know – or maybe even you yourself – walked away from God for a time because of some tragic, devastating events. You hear stories of people who say things like, “Yeah, my child died and I didn’t talk to God for 14 years.”
The mystery is that the same thing that can destroy our faith can also grow our faith. Some people come out on the other side of pivotal events in their lives with a faith that is stronger than ever. They have more faith, more trust, greater belief.
Why? Why do some people lean in to God in horrible circumstances and some people turn away?
I believe there are probably a number of reasons, but I’m going to focus on two.
Reason #1: Preparation
One factor that can determine whether someone walks away from God in a crisis or clings to God in a crisis is advance preparation.
The time to prepare for a trial is well in advance of the trial. I’ve noticed that people who have a solid foundation before they face life-defining circumstances are more likely to lean in to God.
An Unprepared Disciple
Peter’s story is a great example. Peter had the opportunity to prepare for his pivotal circumstance, but he failed to take advantage of that opportunity; and because he failed to prepare, he turned away from Jesus for a time.
It was the night before Jesus was crucified. Peter and the other disciples had just had dinner with Jesus. After the meal, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to the garden to pray.
But while Jesus prayed, Peter, James and John fell asleep.
In Mark 14:37-38, Jesus said to Peter,
“Are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
Watch and pray. Prepare. Get ready, because a trial is coming. But instead of preparing, Peter slept. And when Peter was confronted with his pivotal circumstance, he turned away for a time.
Jesus had been arrested. He was being questioned by Jewish religious leaders. Things weren’t looking good. Peter was shocked…and heartsick…and scared. Things weren’t turning out the way Peter thought they should. When people said to Peter, “Hey, aren’t you one of those guys who were with Jesus?”, Peter pretended he didn’t even know him. For a time, when circumstances got tough – and painful – Peter turned away from Jesus.
Don’t get caught unprepared when trials come. Watch and pray in advance; and know who God tells us he is in his word. Doubt is common in times of crisis. Knowing God’s character in advance will help us trust him when the crisis comes.
But, I wonder if any of us is ever truly ready for tragic events.
Pain and Preparation
I know I wasn’t ready to hear that my husband didn’t want to be married anymore. I was devastated. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I prayed that God would change his mind. I begged God to make him stay. But he didn’t.
This was my pivotal circumstance – well, one of them anyway.
God seemed so far away. I couldn’t feel God. I couldn’t hear God. And I wondered if God heard me when I prayed.
But someone had taught me at some point in my life that there’d be times in my faith journey when my feelings wouldn’t match what I knew about God and at those times, I had to stand on what I knew and not what I felt.
There was a song by a Barlow Girl called Never Alone that meant a lot to me during that time. Sometimes when I was driving, I would roll up the windows and cry the words at the top of my lungs:
“I cry out with no reply and I can’t feel you by my side, so I hold tight to what I know – you’re here, and I’m never alone.”
Experience the whole song right here:
For years I had studied and meditated on God’s word. I knew who God said he was, and I knew what God promised. Regardless of my circumstances, regardless of my feelings, I knew God. Because I had made it my habit to know God’s word, I had established a foundation that didn’t crumble when I was personally falling apart. I trusted God, and so I leaned in when crisis hit. I was more prepared than I knew. And God used my circumstances to grow my faith in ways I never could have imagined.
Preparation. Are you preparing? Are you watching and praying and studying God’s word? Or are you like Peter – sleepwalking through life?
Reason #2: Community
Another factor that can determine how we respond to life-defining circumstances is the people we have in our lives.
We need community: a community of faith. We need people who will stand by us and pray with us: people who will help us understand what we’re experiencing in light of who God is and what the bible tells us.
People who have a strong, supportive faith community are more likely to lean into God in crisis than to walk away.
What are you doing to build your faith community? Do you have people in your life who will support you and give you wise counsel when you face your life-defining circumstances? If not, consider how you can begin to build your faith community. Find a church. Join a bible study or small group. Find a mentor. Invest in relationships with people who will be there for you when life causes you pain.
I’d like to share a couple stories of women who leaned in to God. They’ve found purpose in their pain and have grown tremendously in their faith. They’ve both experienced raw, life-changing, life-defining circumstances. They both enthusiastically said “yes” when I asked if I could share their stories. It is their hope that God would use their experiences to encourage you, bring purpose to your pain, and build your faith as it has built theirs.
Melanie is a single mom with two young daughters.
We met when she started coming to a bible study I taught. Each week, we opened the bible and studied God’s word along with 50 other women. (There’s the preparation and the community.)
Several months ago, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Cancer. This is Melanie’s pivotal circumstance.
Multiple myeloma is a rare type of cancer that develops in the plasma cells in the blood. It’s incurable, but sometimes it can be kept at bay for many years. Multiple Myeloma is complicated and unpredictable, so there’s no knowing whether Melanie will live a couple more years, or 20.
When I asked Melanie to tell me one or two ways her faith has grown, she said, “I’ll try to be as brief as I can. That’s hard because God has shown me so much.”
Melanie told me,
“I don’t know how long I have, so for someone who likes to plan, I have a big question mark on my head. Through this disease, God has taught me to live by faith alone. Unfortunately the genetic type of myeloma cells can be aggressive so if you asked the doctors, my prognosis is not great. I don’t know God’s plan. God may plan for me to come home in a few years, or God may plan for me to be here for quite a while. I don’t know. This experience has taken away my need to plan, and worry.
I am a single mom with 2 girls, and I own my own home. I may lose my home over this. If I become disabled, I won’t be able to work. But God will provide a home for me.
I do worry about my 2 girls not having a mother. But I gave my life to God 4 years ago. I had to even put him above my children. But in doing that I had to TRUST him with my children. If I have to leave them, I trust that they will be OK. That is still a hard one. But they belong to God and He loves them more than I can even imagine and He will take care of them.”
Melanie’s faith is growing in incredible ways. She’s learning to trust God in the unknown. She is learning to trust God with her children. She is learning to let go of her own plans and trust God with the future. Trust in the midst of uncertainty and fear and pain.
I also talked with my friend Jaimie. I met Jaimie when she was a nursing student. We worked together in an office on campus. As we got to know each other, I became one of her mentors. We started meeting together outside of work to read the bible together, to talk, and to pray. (Again, we see preparation, and community.) During Jaimie’s senior year, when the long commute became too much for her, she moved in with my family for a semester.
We were all thrilled for Jaimie when she married a young Christian man she met on a Christian dating site. She was a beautiful bride. He was a handsome groom. The wedding was lovely. A dream come true.
Within the first year of their marriage, an acquaintance of Jaimie’s called her. She said a friend of hers was dating a new guy. This friend was pretty sure the new guy was Jaimie’s husband.
Jaimie didn’t want to believe it, but something in her gut told her it was true. When he got home from work that day, she confronted him. He didn’t deny it. He left. And he didn’t come back. He had been cheating on her since before the wedding and all throughout their marriage. Pain. Betrayal. Disappointment.
Jaimie was still only in her twenties and was now a divorced woman.
To add insult to injury, her husband had opened credit card accounts to secretly pay for the gifts he bought the women he was seeing. In the divorce, Jaimie ended up paying half of his debt.
When I met Jaimie for coffee, she told me she was different now. She still had her faith, but her faith had changed. It was miles deeper.
I asked her to share one or two ways her faith had grown.
Here’s what she had to say,
“What stands out is how much I have truly- and I mean truly- learned to trust God. I mean, when you’re in a painful situation you have no control over and you kick and scream and then God blesses you with the most wonderful gifts, it really stops you in your tracks and you wonder why you ever doubted God’s goodness.
A second thing that always stands out for me is how God has made a mosaic out of my broken pieces. I am a divorced person who doesn’t even believe in divorce. Somehow, the Lord has taken that piece of my life and put it into this beautiful work of art. He’s shown me there is beauty to be made from the ashes. He has used this experience to open my heart to see others as Christ sees them. I am free in Him.”
Jaimie’s faith is growing. She’s learning to trust God more fully. By becoming something she never wanted to be – divorced – she’s learning to see others the way Christ sees them (Wow!). And she’s learning to see beauty even in her pain.
How Does Pain Make Us Grow?
The common response I got from everyone I talked with was that their faith had grown in many ways – not just one or two. It wasn’t just a little growth – it was an explosive growth.Painful circumstances. Tragic events. This is what God uses to catapult our faith forward. Click To Tweet
James 1:2-3 tells us to
“Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
Perseverance. Maturity. Growth. Transformation.
And in Romans 5:3-5 Paul tells us,
“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
These kinds of painful circumstances are not circumstances we would ever choose for ourselves. But they are the kind of circumstances that can cause the greatest spiritual growth in our lives.
C.S. Lewis said,
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
What’s Your Story?
So what’s your story? What’s your life-defining circumstance? Actually, I should say, “What are your life-defining circumstances.” We will all likely experience multiple crises and painful events that shape our lives.
How have you reacted in those circumstances? Are you leaning in closer to God so that he can use those events to grow and mature and perfect your faith? This is when we discover purpose in our pain – when we press in to God, hard, and watch what he teaches us and how he transforms us.
When you face painful, difficult circumstances, remember this:
God will use all things, even your pain, for your good. Click To Tweet
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
This song by Laura Story really spoke to me and helped me take a different perspective on the hard times. I hope it speaks to you as well.
“What if your blessings come through raindrops?
What if your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near?
What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?”
Want to know more about preparing for life’s trials? Read, “The Hope Found in the Story of an Unfaithful Disciple.”
Feel like giving up? Find hope. Read, “Four Things to Do When You Feel Like You’ve Had Enough.”
Grieving? Read, “Crying Out to God: Learning to Lament.”
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