The November holiday of Thanksgiving in the United States is offers us a time to reflect on the grace of God in our lives. This series will focus on the fact that gratitude is the rock of our faith; if we lose gratitude, we lose our way.
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This post is about pain. It is not an in-depth discussion of the problem of pain; other noted authors have written fascinating books on this subject (Philip Yancey, C.S. Lewis, Joni Eareckson, Gerald Sittser, and Tim Keller among others). It is simply a personal note to self: Pain is a reason for gratitude.
Pain is truly “the gift nobody wants.” And yet, as missionary doctor Paul Brand said, “Pain is not antithetical to life, but a requisite for it. God designed the human body so that it is able to survive because of pain” (Pain, the Gift Nobody Wants – with Philip Yancey). I would argue that the human spirit is also able to survive because of pain. I agree with author Elisabeth Elliot:
“I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.”
Pain can bind up our emotions, our spirituality, and our physical being. Wherever it is lurks, it robs our joy. Pain is a bird dog; it flushes out emotions – positive and negative. Pain is an alarm clock; it wakes us up and calls us to action. Pain is a match; when lit, it exposes dark places. Pain is a shadowy corner; it arouses fear. Pain is a flood; it rises out of nowhere and sucks the ground out from under us. Pain is a microphone; it amplifies all of our complaints. Pain is a quilt; it blankets our empathy and warms up our self-pity. Pain is a detour sign; it tells us we can’t go or do right now. Pain is a tank; it runs right over our illusions of control.
We can be afraid of pain and wish it away. Or we can greet pain as a gift-bearing visitor and invite him to stay as long as needed to teach us what we need to know.
And what is it that we need to know? That God is present. That the Holy Spirit turns trials into blessings. That Jesus, who has memories of the physical and emotional and spiritual pain we carry, is our best friend and example. That the only thing we control in this life is our choices. That the community around us can soften the pain. That no matter what we lose because of pain, we gain something better.
Philip Yancey says that “the existence of suffering [and pain]on this earth is, I believe, a scream to all of us that something is wrong. It halts us and makes us consider other values. . . . Pain, God’s megaphone, can drive me away from him, I can hate God for allowing such misery. Or, on the other hand it can drive me to Him” (Where is God when it Hurts?). And that’s why I am grateful for pain.