It was a cold Sunday morning. It had snowed the day before, and though the church parking lot had been plowed, there were ice puddles everywhere. I was walking across the lot in a no-nonsense, got-business-to-take-care-of way when it happened: my right foot landed on a patch of ice. My foot twisted backward, facing the opposite direction as the rest of my body.
It was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced. I laid there on the icy ground until someone found me and an ambulance took me away.
Yet that’s nothing compared to the pain I experienced when my brother died in January 1984. He would have turned 30 that March; I was nearly 28. How does one explain that kind of pain, the pain of a heart cut through by great loss?
Call it soul pain, a shattered heart: pitch-dark, deeply penetrating waves of grief that leave you raw and exposed. Your heart spasms and you can’t breathe. Dizzy with disbelief, you want to shout and cry out: “It can’t be! Can it? How could it? This is not real! Is it?” It’s as if your soul has swallowed some horrible, ugly truth that you want to vomit out, but you can’t.
There are other hurts: the pain of scorn or rejection. The hurt of ridicule and shame. And you, too, have been hurt in one way or another; all of us have. Indeed, many are hurting even now, as I write these words.
Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I might have said, “I hurt, therefore I am.” For some, it hurts just to live. And without hope, a Comforter, something better to look forward to, how can anyone bear the pain of it all?
Yet, when it comes to suffering, the Apostle Paul, who was no stranger to the pangs of suffering, said that the sufferings of this present time are not even worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us in the end. Indeed, all of creation, which suffers along with us, eagerly awaits its freedom “from its bondage to decay” when we come into the fullness of our redemption (Romans 8:18-25).
The interesting thing about suffering, and perhaps most frustrating, is this: God does not promise to prevent pain and suffering in our lives. No matter how faithful we are, or how spiritually deep we become, God gives us no guarantee that he will relieve us from suffering in this life. In fact, the very opposite may be true: growing deeper and more faithful with God may actually result in more earthly suffering. Nevertheless, God does promise to be with us as we endure suffering.
Perhaps our hurts and our ever-present sufferings fall under the category of Christ’s command to pick up the cross and follow Him. Jesus Himself was no stranger to extreme pain and suffering, having endured the sufferings of the cross. Thus, Jesus is no alien to what we feel and experience in our own earthly sufferings (Hebrews 2:18; 1 Peter 3:18). Perhaps Jesus knows more about the depths of our sufferings than we do ourselves.
Therefore, we are not to live life avoiding suffering at all cost, running from suffering at every turn, or numbing ourselves from suffering by any means, such as the use of drugs and alcohol. In many ways, we are expected to readily face the painful experiences of our lives head-on, especially the inner, emotional pain of spirit and soul, heart and mind. And while we do, we are to allow the Lord to do his work within us, to change, renew, and transform us by its means.
And so, even as we hurt and carry what seems to be unbearable pain in our lives, we remain steadfast with great expectancy. We look forward to something better. Even as we deal with what may appear to be unendurable agony, our trust, our faith, our hope, and our promise is that it will end in due time. And it will have been worth it, once we find ourselves on the other side of it.
Like Paul, Peter also encourages us with the promise and eager anticipation of final relief in the face of suffering: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Peter 5:10-11).
Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.” Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.