Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Graceful Suffering

I've been learning a lot lately about pain and healing, particularly about how to go through it in a graceful way that allows my faith to remain not only intact but to be stretched and grow in ways that bring deeper meaning and purpose to my life and relationship with God. Needless to say, this is a very personal post and I hope that sharing my heart with whoever reads this will encourage you to take a look at your own faith journey and struggles with pain in ways that facilitate a better understanding of who God is in your life.

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Let me first explain the problem I've had with pain. As I have experienced deep sadness, I have wrestled with several common issues:
  • Loneliness. Where is God in the midst of this? How could He allow me to go through such hurt?
  • Helplessness. No matter what I do, I can't change the past and I can't escape the reality of this pain.
  • Hopelessness. I know I will likely struggle with the same issues my whole life; when will it ever end?
Now, I know there are answers out there to address these issues. I've read them. I can explain them to people I work with. But experiencing them first-hand and trying to maintain sanity, let alone joy, is quite another thing altogether. I have by no means "arrived" or figured out some hidden key to this, but here's what I have learned.

First, I've come to realize that Satan is trying to use my pain to take me away from God. I can recognize the pain, which is real, but then the doubts and negativity in my mind take over. These are not real - they are lies that the Deceiver is trying to convince me of so that I will serve him and not God. This has been a critical discovery, because it reminds me to constantly watch my thoughts and doubt my own doubts about God.

Second, I'm not alone. As much as I feel like it, I have to remember that I'm not. Hebrews makes me recall the Great High Priest who can sympathize with my suffering. He knows my pain but, unlike me, He volunteered for the experience whereas I did not.

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Third, helplessness is the reality, not the illusion. The illusion is that when things are "fine" in my life, that I actually have some control. Again, this is another lie that Satan wants me to believe - that I can have control and that I need to in order to "be okay." The truth is that I am completely helpless apart from God, but that this is the way things are supposed to be - in fact, this is where real life is. To depend on God is to seek at all times to get all my needs met by my Creator who designed me for this task. This is, in truth, how I will live eternally in His presence (except without the sin and pain).

Fourth, it's too easy to forget the gravity of Christ's death and resurrection. He died, yes, but He also arose in glory and confirmed for all of us who suffer that He has overcome it and will yet again overcome it once for all.

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Finally, where my heart and my mind go is a direct result of where I put my will. Some days I honestly don't want to feel better. I want to hide myself away somewhere and wallow in my sorrow. What I'm realizing is that though I feel this way, but it's not truly what I desire. Sadness is familiar and even comforting in a strange way, but deep down inside I want to be rid of those wounds forever. What I truly desire is healing, which only God can provide. If I'm not careful (which is too easy to do), I find that I've run from God and am listening to the lies of Satan. It's challenging to battle against that evil to surrender my will to God when I feel that way, but it's the only way to actually overcome it. The more I learn to trust God with this pain, the easier it gets and the more opportunity He has to heal me.

For me, this has been a learning process that has been difficult yet rewarding. I'm certainly not an expert on it and my problems are not magically disappearing, but I'm discovering the height and depth of the love of God in Christ Jesus. And I think, if I'm being truly honest with myself, that this is what I really want anyway.

5 comments:

Wendy Thompson said...

Aaron,
I would say that suffering is also a preparation for a greater purpose God has in mind for us later if we let it. I am expectantly waiting for God to use me in ways that only could have come about by the suffering and growing I have done to this point. Sharing in Christ's suffering for the purpose of being useful in His Kingdom will be well worth it in light of eternity!

Aaron said...

Thanks for commenting Wendy! I've heard/read that many times before - that suffering is preparation for a greater purpose (and also that Jesus was made perfect through his suffering [Hebrews 2:9-13]) - but never experienced it. I think it's one of those things that you have to experience before you fully understand it, too.

Anyway, it's comforting and inspiring to hear how others experience these challenges for the greater glory of His Kingdom. So thank you for the words of wisdom and for shining your light on me as you follow Christ's leading!

Aaron said...

Also, I found this in my Google Reader inbox today... quite fitting! (Here's the link, from John Macarthur's Daily Readings, if you'd like to subscribe)

February 11 - What Is Poverty of Spirit?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:3

Poverty of spirit means recognizing how truly deficient we are apart from God. It means seeing ourselves as we really are: spiritually lost, hopeless, and helpless. Without the gospel of Jesus Christ, everyone is spiritually impoverished, regardless of his or her material accomplishments, educational achievements, or even religious knowledge and church activities.

The “poor in spirit” are people who have recognized their spiritual destitution and their total inability to save themselves—their complete dependence on God. They know their only hope of salvation is to repent and ask for forgiveness, leaning on the sovereign grace and mercy of God. Such a person knows he has no spiritual merit of his own and that his personal strength or wisdom is insufficient to earn him lasting spiritual reward.

“In spirit” expresses the understanding that poverty of spirit can’t be merely a hypocritical, outward act. Being a genuine spiritual beggar reflects true humility, not some phony, pretentious, mild-mannered behavior. Real poverty of spirit is what the prophet said the Lord looks for and affirms: “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isa. 66:2; cf. Pss. 34:18; 51:17).

Augustine in his Confessions says pride was his greatest barrier to salvation. Until he realized that his achievements and possessions were nothing, Christ could do nothing for him. It’s the same for any who would be poor in spirit.

Ask Yourself

What specific items or attitudes threaten your ability to remain “poor in spirit”? How does a person maintain a comfort level in God’s presence without losing the perspective of being undeserving of the privilege?



From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL 60610, www.moodypublishers.com.

Amy Guerino said...

Aaron,
I wish we could have you and Melissa over right now to get into a long discussion over what you have written here. You have often mentioned how my road of suffering encourages you on at some level....thanks for writing this out so I can read more.

A few things I've been holding onto to keep me from the 'illusion of control':

"What does not satisfy when we find it, was not the thing we were desiring." ~ C.S. Lewis

"The human soul was made to enjoy something that is never fully given - that cannot even be imagined as given, in our present mode of existence." ~ Mary Kassian

O Lord, all my longin is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs; my strength fails me,....But for you, O LORD do I wait; it is you O Lord my God, who will answer. (Psalm 38:9-10)

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, as to as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2) The ESV Study Bible note explains: "Although believers will never be totally free from sin in this life (1 John 1:8), when believers endure suffering for the sake of Christ they show that their purpose in life is not to live for their own pleasures but according to the will of God and for his glory."

Your entire post echos these words and passages that are holding me up these days. Press on, the Lord is watching and lovingly recording your endurance. "Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heart them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed him name." Mal. 3:16

Amy

Aaron said...

Well, that's great. I just spent 15 minutes replying, only to get an error in trying to post it and now it's gone! Bah!

I will simplify with this, Amy: THANK YOU so much for your reply and support! It has encouraged me to press on and strengthened my spirit. Although I'm late in replying, I've thought about what you (and the Saints you quoted) wrote often!

Now let's see if this works to post (copying this all just to be safe)...

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