Tag Archives: Pain

Digging Deep

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Once upon a time we were in Youth Ministry at a church.  A young couple that worked with us as youth leaders got pregnant and had a baby.  A few months after wards, it became apparent that something was not right with the little girl’s health.  After months of medical tests, they discovered that their baby was suffering with profound genetic defects and there was no hope for a cure.  She was given just a few months to live.  They signed a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) medical order and took their daughter home to enjoy the last few months of her life.

We prayed like crazy during those couple of months.  We prayed for a miracle.  It did not happen.  When their smiley little baby died, we were stunned and hurt.  We all said the awkward, unhelpful things that people say when friends experience such a tragedy.  None of us knew how to help them grieve.  We were all in our early 20’s, and none of us had the wisdom nor the life experience to know how to handle this kind of sadness.  They retreated into their grief and we stood ineffectively on the sidelines wanting to do something, but doing nothing more than providing a few meals and pitiful sympathies.

At the funeral for their baby girl, the grandfather gave the eulogy for this young life taken far too soon.  I wondered how he found the strength to do it.  But he said some of the most beautiful and life impacting words that I have ever heard.  I’ve never forgotten them.  He talked about foundations.

On his morning commute through downtown, he would drive past an entire city block fenced off with barricades indicating that construction would soon take place there.  As the weeks passed, the buildings that were on the site were demolished.  Heaps of rubble were hauled off the site.  Then the digging machines were brought in.  For MONTHS they dug the hole deeper and deeper, preparing to lay the foundation for the future building.  As the hole got bigger and bigger he wondered what kind of massive building would be built there.

As the months passed and the sky scraper began to take form, the grandfather pondered these things in the light of the impending and certain death of his first granddaughter.  At the funeral he said, “When God lays a foundation, he has to dig deep.  We wonder what kind of structure he will build here.  The deeper he digs, the bigger the building will be.  In order to build something massively ‘upward’, you need to take the time to prepare the ‘downward’ part first.  The deeper God excavates our lives, we can be sure that He plans to build something very big on the surface, but he has to dig first.”

I have no idea if the family even remembers this eulogy spoken through the haze of their pain, but it has stuck with me for all these years.  I think about it when I feel like God is tearing down and digging out too much stuff in my life.  I thought about it when we let go of our life and possessions and family to move to the mission field.  I cried for the pain of the deep digging, but I wanted the results of God’s construction in my life even more than I wanted the rubble I gave up.  The bigger the blue print for the building, the deeper the hole for the foundation.

If God is digging really deep in your life, hauling out a ton of dirt and making a really big hole, then he plans to build a really big structure with your life.  We are the temple of God.  Does our foundation go deep?

And God hardened Pharaoh’s heart

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lump of clay

 

“The same sun which melts wax hardens clay.  And the same gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sin.”  ~Spurgeon

Problems reveal what you’re made of.  When the pressure comes, do you crumble or turn into a diamond?  The same problem that causes one person to draw closer to God can cause another to shut God out of their lives forever.  The same crisis that causes one person to become aware of and appreciative of God can cause another to curse God and grow bitter and hard.

The Bible says that when God was preparing to deliver the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt,  God had a plan to show his mighty hand to the polytheistic, idol worshiping nation.  He planned to use the man Moses and to use the apocalyptic powers of nature to reveal his mighty powers.  Every time Pharaoh would come close to letting the Hebrew slaves go, he would change his mind at the last minute, his heart getting harder and harder each time.  The Bible says “And God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” because he still had more lessons to teach the Hebrews and the Egyptians alike.  Is it fair for God to harden a man’s heart and then condemn him for it?

Yes, it is fair.  Because your reaction to pain is evidence of what you are made of.  Hurricanes of pain and suffering happen to both the good and the bad.  But only a certain kind of person comes through with resilience.  Your reaction to God will reflect what you are made of in your heart.  Will the pressure turn your life into a clump of dirt or a diamond?  Only going through pressure can reveal that to you.

My roommate from college lost a child when he was just over 1 years old.  As I read her emails from wherever I was in the world, I saw her growing stronger and stronger in her faith.  If you had asked me back in college whether I thought her faith could survive such a storm, I would have said No Way!  And yet, here she was maturing and growing right in front of my eyes and it was the pain and pressure that was promoting that kind of rapid growth.  The astonishingly high divorce rate among couples who have lost a child is evidence that this kind of pressure causes many to crumble.  But not my roommate, she was pressed into her true form through this tragedy.  She is a diamond.

The Encyclopedia of Pain

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When I was a little girl, my grandparents had a set of Encyclopedias… you know, books with articles in alphabetical order summarizing all human knowledge… OK, it’s like the internet, but in paper form.  No, I’m not lying.

The pages that I liked the most were of the inside of the human body.  There were 5 or 6 clear acetone pages (like overhead projector sheets… oh, never mind.) that showed the layers of what is inside us.  One page showed all the bones.  The next page showed all the blood vessels; the next all the muscles then organs then skin.  You get the idea.  You could peel back each page to reveal a deeper layer of the body or look at them all together to see the whole body.  I was fascinated by that.

OK, put that story on pause.  I’ll get back to the encyclopedia in a minute.  

Right now in my life, I’m reading a book that you’ve probably heard me talk about called “One Thousand Gifts”  by Ann Voskemp.  I’m reading it slowly to digest each concept and, seriously, it’s changing my life!  The main theme of the book is giving thanks to God.

She writes:

“Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks.  Remembering frames up gratitude.  Gratitude lays out the planks of trust… This is the crux of Christianity: to remember and give things, eucharisteo… remembering with thanks is what causes us to trust- to really believe…

I was totally grooving with her on all these points.  Then with her next thought, I stopped dead in my tracks.

But what do you do when…

“When your memories have an old man groping of your crotch, hot, foul breath on your face, and your skin crawls?  Give thanks?

“And an ultrasound screen stretches still and you’re sent home to wait for the uterine muscles to contract out the dead dreams?

“Or the woman you lay down with, shared the naked and unashamed, she beds another man, hands you back the wedding albums, and says she never knew love for you, what then?

“Remember and give thanks?  For what?  What if remembering doesn’t kindle gratitude?  What if remembering just leaves third-degree burns?

“The words sear… I wait… Spirit comes and He whispers a name.

“Christ.”

When your memories are only painful, how do you look back and find gratitude?

This is the time to superimpose Christ over your pain.  Like the acetone overlays of the body in parts, when we only see our own pain, we only see part of the whole.  But when we overlay the Cross of Christ over our partial perspective, we see the whole.  We look at our pain THROUGH Christ and then, only then, do we see meaning… not in our suffering, but in his.

He was there in your pain.  As he hung on that cross, he felt the pain of all the sin done to you, of all the pain ever caused.  He was there holding you in your pain, with hands wounded.  He pressed your weeping head against his spear-pierced heart and held you in his arms.  With a back split open with lashes, bleeding and raw, he bent over you and picked you up.  You were not alone.  You were not a singular layer.  You were meant to be covered over with the suffering of Jesus.  Only then can you see the whole picture.  Your own suffering is meaningless without the suffering of Jesus.

Just looking at the body parts in sections can look gory and gross… all raw muscles walking around or all blood vessels uncontained and exposed… horrific.  But place the skin over the layers and suddenly you see the whole.  You see beauty.  You see intelligent design and plan.  You see what is recognizable.

Overlay Jesus on your pain and suddenly you see the whole.  You see beauty instead of gross.  You see plan instead of chaos.  You see a familiar face on a strange and surreal memory.

Only then can you remember and let those memories lead you to thanksgiving instead of anger, shame, and hatred.  When you overlay Christ on top of your pain you transform a savage death into the source of life.  Your worst memory becomes your greatest victory.  Your pain seen through the cross will lead you to thankfulness for the cross of Christ.

When you look at Jesus, you defeat the one who tried to defeat you.  You humiliate the one who humiliated you.  Instead of handing your enemy a triumph, you rub his face in his ultimate defeat.  And Jesus turns your mourning into dancing.  He takes your ashes and turns them into something beautiful.  He takes your pain and shows you how it can help others, how it has a greater purpose.

We only understand our suffering by looking at the whole, looking at our past through the filter of the Cross.