We all hurt at various times in our lives. Some hurts leave deeper, more painful wounds than others. When the pain produces suffering, it’s not uncommon to wonder where is God when I’m hurting.
The Source of My Pain
When Mom got home from being away, I stopped what I was doing, and hurried to the door to welcome her home.
She put down her suitcase and put her arms around me. Her voice cracked when she told me that she and my dad wouldn’t be living together anymore. If there were tears in her eyes, her dark sunglasses hid them.
I was 11 years old. Two of my best friends came from broken homes. It had never occurred to me that my home could end up broken too. As she spoke those words, my mind tried to push them away.
I didn’t know what to say. When someone announces that your life is going to be different from now on, it’s as if time stops and you find yourself standing at an intersection. No matter how much you want to stay in the past, the future pulls you forward with an invisible force. Then time starts moving again.
Our house was sold. My dad moved into an apartment by himself. My younger brother and I moved into an apartment with my mom.
The life I’d come to know, the sameness that gave me security, was taken away. The friends I’d played with in my neighborhood—I didn’t see them anymore, except at school. Mom returned to working full time, and in the evenings she’d come home tired and fix us dinner. We’d watch TV and go to bed. My brother and I only saw Dad on weekends. He’d try to do fun stuff with us.
But the fun we had wasn’t the kind of fun I’d been used to. Everything was different. A part of me was lost.
From Pain to Suffering
When you lose a part of you, there’s pain afterward. If the wound doesn’t heal, you suffer.
I suffered for several years. For a while, I felt sorry for myself. I felt angry. Then, I got married, and I felt afraid that I’d mess up my marriage and end up divorced like my parents.
Where was God?
God was there, but I held Him back. I blamed God for my pain, and held on to my self-pity, my anger and fear. I wanted God to fix the broken world around me, when I needed God to heal my broken soul.
Suffering either destroys you or makes you stronger. What happens depends on whether you choose to receive healing or remain broken.
God brings healing when we’re hurt, but if we hold God back, we remain broken.
At the point where my own brokenness threatened to break up my marriage, I chose to get help, so I could receive healing.
From Suffering to Healing
Jesus’ friend Paul suffered through a long list of painful experiences:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27 ESV)
Through all this, Paul chose to keep his chin up.
Before all this happened, Paul had been devoted to God, but to the wrong cause. He thought he was serving God by hunting down followers of Jesus for prison and death. On the road from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest more Christians, Paul arrived at an intersection in his life. God took his sight, and left Paul’s body broken so He could heal his soul.
From these experiences, Paul was able to write this:
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
Paul had been living a life full of anger, and hatred. He suffered from it, and needed healing. When Paul allowed God to heal his brokenness, his life took a turn for the better. But Paul’s new life wasn’t one without suffering. It was a life with new meaning and a new purpose. It was an extraordinary life.
From Healing to Hope
When we choose to let God heal our brokenness, we open up our lives to 3 extraordinary benefits:
1) Suffering develops endurance
I was tired. Part of me wanted to just give up. I’d come to a point in my journey where all I could see in front of me was a steep climb for which I didn’t have energy. But my choice to let God heal my brokenness allowed Him to give me the strength I needed for the next step.
Have you been there? Are you there now?
God allows suffering into our lives so that we will learn to turn to Him for strength. Our own strength will give out. Our knees will become weak. We’ll lose our breath. But God will give us strength to endure.
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:11-12 ESV)
2) Endurance develops strength of character
With God’s power pushing me forward, I began the climb. I took one step at a time. I admitted I needed help. I agreed to see a Christian counselor. I went to my first appointment, then the next. I began to practice using the tools the counselor offered. In time, I saw positive changes in my self and in my marriage.
I needed to form new habits. Forming a new habit requires you to repeatedly choose to do something that is against your natural flow. It requires endurance to stand up against the current that wants to push you back into the rut you’ve been stuck in.
By repeatedly standing up against the natural flow, my new habits reformed and strengthened my character.
Scottish author and reformer Samuel Smiles wrote:
Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)
3) Character strengthens our hope
As I saw changes in my self and in my marriage, it gave me hope for a better future. Over 20 years later, that better future is now real.
What we don’t see when our focus is on our pain, is the spiritual battle that wages against us. Evil forces relentlessly attack. The enemy bombards us with the memory of hurts from the past, and with the pains in the present. If we can be knocked down and discouraged from getting back up, we lose our happiness and our hope.
But when we’re down, if we let God help us, He will lift us up. God will give us power to take the next step. And with each step, comes a fresh dose of hope.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12 ESV)
How has allowing God to heal your brokenness given you endurance, strengthened your character, or given you hope? Leave a comment below.