Most people approach their pastors in times of pain, so shepherding people through the dark nights of their souls is what I do.
Pain is merciless.
And oftentimes, the question is simply, “How can I go on?”
Whether it’s a slight rejection from the job you wanted or the traumatic tragedy of losing someone you love, pain is pain. And unfortunately, internal pain is the hardest to find a resolution for.
When you lose your house, the dire loss strikes an urgency in you and, hopefully, in others around you — to strategize and work to rebound from the situation. When you break a bone, you are rushed to the hospital, given the proper treatment and medication to deal with the matter. The issue with the storm within is that no one rushes to your heart at the first sign of pain. There isn’t a manual. There isn’t a step-by-step, foolproof process to overcoming it.
In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis says, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”
So, we carry the weight, and man, is that weight heavy. You can try throwing food at it, money at it, and any other worldly pleasures at it…but, as I said, pain is merciless. It will wait by your bedside the moment you wake, and it will poke and prod as you spend another day with an emotional limp.
Depending on your perspective, I have found that pain can be one of two things: a destructive blind spot or a powerful revealer.
When pain is a destructive blind spot, it literally does just that — it blinds you. It becomes that area in your heart that blocks you from hearing God’s voice, creates compulsive behavior, and make irrational judgement calls. When pain is a blind spot, you can easily become indignant at church phrases such as, “His Presence is enough,” or “It’s all happening for a reason.”
The pain from blind spots isolate you, causing you to withdraw from those you love and those that love you back. It can even create negative narratives of those whom you used to trust. All of a sudden, in your mind, everyone’s left you or betrayed you in some way. Your default mode becomes self-preservation, so you begin to consider yourself the only dependable person in your own life.
Even the heroes of the Bible are not unfamiliar with this sort of pain. Psalm 73:21-22 says, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.”
Many of you may resonate with the few words above. And while it’s always nice to feel understood for a moment, you also don’t want to remain in that place, for it is dark and fruitless.
When you are ready, you can allow pain to be a powerful revealer.
When you bring physical pain to the doctor, their initial instinct is not to just inoculate you with drugs. Because in a doctor’s eyes, pain is a roadmap towards revealing the actual dysfunction within your body. So they poke you, take scans, ask questions centered around the actual place of pain until they finally discover what the pain is trying to reveal.
Pain in the heart can do such things, if you allow it to be so. Oftentimes, we treat it like an enemy, when it can actually be an honest friend.
It can reveal your deepest, darkest desires. It can expose your actual opinions of who God is. It can show you the quality of your character and the extent to which you actually trust in God.
How many times have we sworn our allegiance to Jesus Christ and have pain reveal the true strength of such allegiances? How many times have pain revealed unseen pride and even faulty theology?
And yet, pain doesn’t always reveal bad things. Sometimes, it can reveal the gold within us.
Although everything was stripped from Job, he fell to the ground and proclaimed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21). Satan attempted to use pain to reveal the worst in Job, but all it did was reveal the gold in him.
Pain will never be easy, and you will never get used to it. But, you can attempt to understand it and attempt to navigate through its dark waters for redemption’s sake.
Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Where there is pain, there will always be God. This is His promise.
In the pit of despair, you may not feel Him. In your confusion and anxiety, you may not hear Him. But, you can trust Him. He will be there.
Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Although the pain will reveal much about you, allow it to reveal Him too. Allow it to reveal His kindness, His goodness, and His gentleness unto you.
In the midst of your storms, instead of creating a wall from God, create an open space.
Grieve in front of Him. Allow your honesty to pour out into His courts. You don’t need to pretend like your pain doesn’t sting. Instead, you just need to make sure to invite Him into the process.
Because of the cross, He can afford to offer you His peace for your pain. And, it is at His Presence where such a trade is made.