19 August 2010

Reinvesting Pain

I used to think that God had singled me out to go through every crisis known to mankind so I could fulfill what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians about comforting others with the comfort that we have received. How else could I know what it was they were going through unless I too had been in their situation? When you're full of yourself and bad theology, it's easy to think those sorts of idiotic things. It is also easy to think that you are receiving more than your fair share of hardships whether or not your theology has improved and even though you realize that you are not the center of God's universe. When you're the one that hurts, when your pain is the focus it's easy to lose perspective in large increments. That's when bitterness and/or resentment sets in and takes hold. Bitterness is like a creeping vine that takes root in the cracks between God's truth and your lost perspective.

I have been guilty of being focused on my pain of late both physical and emotional. Not focused in that I enjoy it or feel unfairly treated, but focusing on how tired I am. Tired of fighting to keep the right perspective, tired of jumping through bureaucratic hoops, tired of being in pain, tired of being sick, and tired of making adjustments in my life to accommodate my failing body. That we all are self-focused and self-absorbed is not an acceptable reason to be content in sin. While chronic pain and all that comes with it understandably gets on your last nerve, it is not an excuse to forget all you have in Christ. In fact, it is all the more reason to take inventory of the blessings we have in Christ and to look back on all the ways God has been faithful.

Recently, I had the benefit of hearing a wonderful sermon that focused on what our responsibility is to the next generation. The sermon (one I highly recommend you listen to) is one that has given me cause to re-evaluate myself. It has made me see that there are incongruities between my belief and my behavior. However, just as God does not leave us without hope in our sinfulness, Pastor Todd didn't leave me without a remedy for my spiritual discomfort. Todd wielded the Sword of the Word correctly, providing conviction and encouragement. Like a scalpel in the hands of God, the truth exposes and excises sin. Truth replaces infection with hope. Hope that rights our perspective. Hope that does not disappoint. Hope in Christ that seals the cracks and kills the root of bitterness and malcontentment.

Sometimes God provides multiple venues to make certain I fully understand what He is reminding me of or teaching me. I shouldn't have been surprised that a young man I had the great fortune to know through my work in Student Development at a Christian University had this to say to me as we were catching up on each other's lives:

"As long as I've known you, your experiences have included extremes in knowing suffering and knowing God's grace, and I think I'm learning that there's an element of depth to God's grace that can only be known experientially through suffering, and most people either flee their circumstances before they benefit from them, or they're too preoccupied to benefit. I don't hold you out as someone who enjoys suffering, but you've always been someone in my mind that God has set aside for a special fellowship and understanding of Him in a way that is beyond the books. And while I don't wish this upon myself, perhaps I'll eat from the crumbs and ask that He give me the perspective more and more that this life including its suffering is worth living because it does indeed mean our joy and His glory, and that there will never be regrets over obedience and suffering when we’re standing in His presence, even if it means living with our sinful selves and others for a lifetime, our bodies and this world fading away as they are."

He is right. This is the only place and the only time we get to learn by suffering. Our suffering is meant to draw us closer to Him. It is the vehicle in which we travel to spiritual maturity, offering views that some folks never get to see. I can say with assurance to anyone who is suffering that you will find comfort in Him, not because I have been through exactly what you have been through but because I have known great pain and unusual circumstances and He has always brought me comfort. He has seen that pastors preached the truth to me, that friends unknowingly say the right words to me and that any number of seeming coincidences are His providence in my life. He has shown me time and again that He knows me and my tendencies to wander and bemoan my circumstances. Gently and with great patience He mercies me back to obedience and with that obedience comes peace and joy. He has also shown me that how I respond to my suffering is my legacy. I will never have money or things of value to leave my family and friends but I am willing to make my suffering and pain coupled with His comfort be my investment in their futures. I know that He is the God of all Comfort. That's a rich legacy live and leave to others.

For now I will leave you with this from Thomas Boston. "The tormenting passions in which the corruption of nature vents itself, for sin, in its own nature is misery. We need but go in the paths of sin to make us miserable and in the high road of duty to make us happy. We shall consider the tormenting passion of discontent with our own estate or condition. This is plainly forbidden here. For discontentment is presupposed to coveting, and there could be no coveting of what we want without discontentment in what we have...."

2 Corinthians 1:3-5
3 Blessed {be} the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort;
4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.


Jackie Pickett said...

Rosemarie, what a beautiful and encouraging post. You truly are a wealthy woman. Thank you for being so generous with your treasure. I enjoy reading your posts.

rosemarie said...

Thank you, Jackie. It is so encouraging to me when someone takes the time to comment, not that a I write toward that end, but it is an added blessing to know you've touched someone's life with yours...even in cyberspace.