Here’s what I found. Pain is a gift.
It took years to believe this and there are times I still choke on the words, but deep down, I know it’s true. Pain seems like the kind of gift no sane person would desire, but it is a gift nonetheless.
Several weeks ago I wrote a heartfelt and painful post – Life With Pain – What I Lost. It is a lamentation – mourning the things I lost through years of pain. If you haven’t read it yet, go back and take a look, because it’s where this story begins.
That wasn’t an easy post to write but it came from such a raw place that the words poured out of me. This post has proven to be even harder to write. I struggled with these words for weeks. I wrote and rewrote this post but I’m still unable to express how profoundly pain changed me for the good.
If pain is anything at all, it’s complex. I don’t want to sound trite or give you the impression that the things I found came quickly or easily. They did not. So here is my humble attempt – a celebration of the lessons I learned and the beauty I found in pain.
I found trust.
As a mother, my deepest desire was to keep my children safe, provide for their needs, and let them know they were loved. Seizures and pain robbed me of that ability for years and many precious childhood moments are lost to me. But recently, as we began unpacking the pain of those years together, we looked back as a family and recalled an endless catalog of ordinary days, hilarious mishaps, sweet family times and more. Every photograph and memory is a treasure to be mined over and over again.
Sometimes, in our desire to protect our children from all pain and discomfort, we don’t allow them to experience growth essential to character development. I see now that the trials and difficulties we survived as a family drew us closer to each other and challenged my kids to discover God for themselves.
My children can’t live their faith on the coattails of their parents or grandparents. In order for it to be real, their faith must be their own. I need to trust God enough with my children to allow them to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling”.
God is developing their faith and their character. I trust Him with that.
I found the Source of strength.
Before the years of pain and illness, I looked strong. A young, healthy, type-A woman, I was organized, disciplined and appeared to be in control of my life. But much of my confidence was bluff and bravado, masking a deep uncertainty about my place in life and my relationship with God.
Pain strips everything down to the core. It removes all the skin and fat and leaves the bare bones of the matter.
In the stripping away, my bravado was removed. My confidence was shaken. I questioned everything I was taught. Everything I believed. But when I hit rock bottom, I found a foundation. I found a sweeter, truer, deeper faith than anything I knew before, and I found that I can’t do it on my strength alone.
I can’t manufacture a feeling of wholeness out of emptiness. I can’t coax ‘good feelings’ out of depression but I can tap into God’s power, knowing that it is in surrender to His perfect will that I find the strength to carry on, in spite of the pain.
I found a connection with Christ’s suffering.
The cross was Jesus’ voluntary acceptance of undeserved pain as an act of total solidarity with all of the pain of the world. Reflection on this mystery of love can change your whole life.” Richard Rohr
There aren’t words to describe how Christ’s suffering somehow makes sense of my own. But it’s true. It does. I can’t explain this. It’s a holy mystery.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Is. 53:4)
I found a purpose for the pain.
Pain serves a purpose. It is essential for growth. It clarifies what’s important and leaves us either crushed or strengthened. There was a time I thought it crushed me – a time when I saw no purpose to the pain, no mercy in God’s will and no end in sight. But today I see the work that God is doing in my life and I am thankful for it.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18 NKJV
I found a community of the wounded.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well. “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above the master. Following Christ means passio passiva, suffering because we have to suffer.” (The Cost of Discipleship)
This is one of the sweetest things I found. Pain opened my eyes to the suffering of others and initiated me into a special tribe – the tribe of the walking wounded.
It has given me a deep empathy for others and brought connection and community with those who, like me, are walking through their pain, struggling with their faith and trying to make sense of it all.
I could go on and tell you about the peace I found, about the clarity I now have and perhaps, another time, I will. I’m still unwrapping the gifts that I received through the darkest times of my life.
Pain may be the gift I never wanted but it is one of the dearest I’ve ever received.