The Experience of Pain
Lessons learned from life’s hard knocks
"There are lessons God can teach us only in the center of the flames."
By Maria Lombart
It takes a special God to walk us past the pain.
Sometimes God allows us to go through painful experiences, not because He finds pleasure in our suffering, but because there are lessons He can teach us only in the center of the flames.
I find I am closer to my Father when I’m hurting. I know instinctively that even though I cannot run to Him and physically feel His arms around me, I can pour out my heart to Him through tears, unheard words, even angry questionings, and He is a safe place for me (see Ps. 62:8). To be closer to my heavenly Father is something for which I constantly strive. And while I do not relish the experiences of sorrow, pain, and grief, I recognize that He uses these to help me to develop a closer companionship with Him than before.
Not Always What We Want
God doesn’t promise that He will grant our wishes once we’ve endured the hardship. At times, we have difficult lessons to learn, which include not always having the outcome we might hope for. I tend to be someone who looks for the reward after the testing. I can be patient and deal with hard times as long as I know I’ll receive what I want after everything is all over.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Or, perhaps, fortunately. God knows our hearts. Sometimes our desires line up with His plans for us; sometimes they don’t. We may have to learn to live in a place of emptiness for a while until we’re ready to accept the far more beautiful gift that God has waiting for us. We must walk by faith, believing that God wants the very best for us, and not try to run ahead and attempt to create our own destiny based on our feeble efforts to understand ourselves.
When I find myself facing pain, my instinctive reaction is to push it away until it has subsided. I am learning, however, that we should push through the pain, accepting it and holding it close instead of hiding from it.
Personal pain and suffering can soften our hearts to the pain of others: a mother who has lost her child; a young woman who has lost her husband; a grandmother who has lost her spouse of 50 years. Or perhaps the pain isn’t caused by the death of a family member. Perhaps instead it comes from the loss of a beloved pet, a culture, an identity, a job, a dream, a home, a love. Each of these losses creates pain that is unique in its experience. So while we can empathize with someone who has felt loss, we cannot truly walk with them emotionally unless we too have experienced the pain to the degree they have.
Not long ago a mother I know lost her daughter to death. I put my arms around her, said I was sorry, and expressed words of regret and comfort. I have suffered my own losses to death; some of the people were very dear to me. Yet I knew I could not feel one iota of the anguish this mother feels every time she imagines living without her daughter, every time she wonders whether she could have prevented her death from happening, every time she reaches out to connect and then realizes her daughter is no longer there. Only another mother who also has lost her child can truly identify with the pain she feels.
Pain as a Gift?
I don’t believe that pain is a gift in itself. But I do believe that God turns pain into a gift when we use our understanding born through suffering to comfort another person in their despair. My own experiences in suffering are preparing me for something I don’t yet know. Everyone carries sorrow in their lives and is searching for understanding and comfort in the midst of pain. So I’m learning that pain turns my quick ability to judge into sympathy and concern.
On the other side of pain we can experience joy, peace, strength, and healing. As I look back on my own life, I realize that I have found myself to be a stronger person after trials of suffering. It may not have been perceptible growth, but each time my heart was glued back together with time, understanding, and comfort it became just a little stronger. The experiences weren’t easy, but we can either fall apart from the pain or hold on to God for strength. We make the choice.
Jesus the Pain Bearer
Jesus experienced the worst kind of pain imaginable when He went to the cross. The physical pain was immense, but humans, too, have been exposed to that kind of torture. The pain that tore at His heart was that of complete separation from the One He loved the most: His heavenly Father. God the Father had to remove His presence, His beams of light, one by one, in order to fulfill the demands of the law that He had established even before the creation of the world.* But praise God, Jesus was the victor over sin. He now identifies with us in our sorrows in a way that we can understand, because He has experienced our pain to an even greater degree than we ever will.
Pain and suffering are experiences foreign to our original natures. We were created for joy, peace, and wholeness. We were created to be in close communion with God and with one another. Pain steals those beautiful experiences and replaces them with brokenness. Because of His amazing grace, our heavenly Father, who foresaw the hurt we would have to go through, offered us His dearest One so we could have the hope of one day seeing pain forever eradicated.
God has promised to wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). And as He wipes away those tears, I believe He will also wipe away the memories of the pain, replacing them with unutterable love, for we will no longer need the experience of pain. n
Maria Lombart grew up in the mission field in West Africa, Egypt, and Lebanon. She now works in the mission field of North America.