When we recognize that God is teaching us something, we’d best beware that soon he’s going to call us to apply that truth to our lives in a very real way.
I don’t like pain, emotional or physical. I shy away from suffering, both other people’s and my own. When I see pain and suffering in others I’m afraid that I’ll do or say something to make it worse and when it’s in me I just want to fast forward and get to the other side where I don’t have to deal with uncomfortable feelings or situations anymore.
But that’s not how Jesus responded to pain and suffering and he wouldn’t let me respond like that anymore.
So he started to show me the value of leaning into suffering, of letting suffering do it’s good work and not rushing it along, of letting Jesus be my companion as I do that.
I anticipated God was preparing me to enter into other people’s suffering. To support them as they walked through it.
Turns out he was preparing me to walk through my own.
I woke up early one morning with a terrible headache on the left side of my head. It was extraordinarily painful and like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I popped some painkillers and went back to sleep. When I woke up several hours later my head still hurt so bad I was afraid that Ryan was going to come home and find me dead.
I called Ryan and he took me to the ER and I am so thankful the staff took me seriously. A battery of tests showed I wasn’t in immediate danger so I was given enough narcotics to get me back on my feet and more tests were scheduled.
Over the next couple of weeks I was in the ER three more times because of increasing symptoms and I could barely do anything, much less care for our kids. More tests showed more normal results and nothing was getting us closer to understanding why I was in so much pain and all the attempts at controlling it were not working (me and narcotics do not get along). Eventually I would spend four days in the hospital before the pain came to an end after 18 days.
Being unable to do anything else, I had to lean into the pain. I had to let the suffering do it’s work because there was nothing I could do to make the pain stop. I had to lean into Jesus because there was nothing else to lean on.
Finally, I welcomed Jesus as my companion as I walked through the suffering.
Because it was Lent I was spending more time contemplating the final days Jesus spent on earth and as I thought and read about the Crucified Christ I realized that this is the Jesus who walks with me. The Jesus who walks with me is well acquainted with pain and suffering.
The hand that holds mine is nail pierced.
The brow that looks on me wore a crown of thorns.
The side that hold me up when I can’t walk any farther is gashed.
The Jesus that walks with me walked through horrific suffering himself (Isaiah 53:3) so that he could be with me, so that when I’m hurting I can know he understands (2 Corinthians 1:4), so I can be confident that I will come through this (John 16:33).
Jesus acquainted himself with suffering and endured so much pain, and even death, but he not only came through it, he conquered it (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). That is the kind of companion I want as I walk through everyday life, much less through suffering. I want someone who knows what I’m going through and can speak compassion, empathy, and hard-earned truth to me. And that’s just what Jesus does.
He came to earth as a helpless babe, giving up heaven, so he could walk the path that we walk and through his death and resurrection he could redeem all the pain and suffering we endure and bring us back into intimacy with him.
So on Sunday I will excitedly proclaim, ‘He is risen!’ and give thanks that just as Jesus was buried in the tomb bloodied and broken but he rose again in glory I too can pass through pain and suffering and come out the other side with a better understanding of God’s love for me.
Pain and suffering are hard and they always will be. But when we walk through them with a companion who already has victory over them we can be thankful for the pain and suffering because they made us walk closer to Jesus and they can make us more like him.