Our culture does so much to encourage us to avoid pain. Whole industries have been developed to help us avoid, manage, and alleviate as much pain from our lives as possible. There are many ways that this is a good thing. For people dealing with chronic debilitating pain, to have medical professionals work to be able to function without constant hurt is a godsend. Professionals and resources that help us work through and heal our emotional and spiritual wounds help move us to health and help us in our quest to mature in Christ. But is pain always a bad thing? Could it be that pain can be useful and helpful?
Physical pain is our body’s way of telling us that there is something wrong, something that we need to pay attention to, something that needs changing. It warns us to remove something harmful, or leads us to seek treatment. In Philippians 3:10, the Apostle Paul writes about pain as important to knowing Jesus intimately. He calls us to know the power of Christ’s resurrection, but to also find fellowship in suffering.
Jesus has often been called the Suffering Servant (from the prophecy of Isaiah who told us the way Jesus would love us hundreds of years before Christ came). We are also told that Jesus is able to sympathize with us because he also walked a hard and painful road in this world (Hebrews 4). While I don’t believe that God goes out of his way to cause us pain, I do believe that the Holy Spirit will both comfort us, but also help us to grow through the experience of pain.
The next time you are experiencing pain what if you reacted spiritually in the same way that our body would tell us to react when we are hurt physically. Maybe the pain is God’s way of inviting us to remove something that is hurting our walk with him. If we step on a thumb tack we know to stop the pain we need to first remove the tack from our foot. This isn’t always as obvious with spiritual or emotional pain. If we experience pain as the result of another person we can’t always “remove” that person from our lives. Coworkers, neighbors, and family members are often in our lives for the long run, but we can seek God for why that person’s actions are causing us such hurt. The Spirit can help us understand what there is about us that makes us vulnerable to that person.
Maybe that pain is pointing us toward the need for forgiveness, or an invitation to trust in God for our worth above other people. Jesus will always want to walk with us in the hard stuff, because he wants to be with us all the time. Too often we push God away with the attitude that essentially tells God, “if you really love me, you’ll make this stop hurting!” Maybe God is inviting us to trust more deeply even when things aren’t going our way.
It is within this holy work of letting God into our pain and walking with us that we find our hearts conformed to Christ, even his death. And it is in letting Jesus lead us through death that we find life. This life is certainly for eternity, but it is for the here and now as well. Let’s not be so quick to wish our pain away, it might just be what brings us closer to Jesus than we have ever been.
Because of Grace,