Pain is not a favorite topic.
We hate it, avoid it at all costs, and double our fists, ready to hold someone responsible when it lands on us anyway.
My pastor's sermon this week was about unavoidable pain and the correct response to it. Some people have the idea that if they're doing everything right, life should be a joy ride. After all, God owes them an easy time if they follow the rules, right?
But what happens when you're doing the best you can and ugly life slaps you down anyway?
There is no escaping hard times, heartaches, scary events, and sorrow. No matter who you are. Death, unemployment, poverty, handicap, and sickness strike the just and the unjust alike.
Jesus told his loyal followers, "In this world, you will have much trouble,. But take heart, I have overcome the world." His disciples were clearly as close to God as a human can be on the earth, and yet Jesus warned them life wouldn't be a piece of Boston Cream Pie. His certainly wasn't.
But God is big on personal choice and he offers you a choice in the middle of tragedy. When pain hits you in the face, you can either say, "God, what are you doing to me?" or "God, change me." Your choice of response will make all the difference in what happens next.
I've spent plenty of time shouting the first response and I don't recommend it. Demanding that God explain himself to us is similar to a toddler demanding that you explain life to him. Some things are beyond our immediate comprehension. The first response is adversarial. It automatically sets you at odds with a God who you've decided has done this evil thing to you. He could have stopped it and He didn't, so He owes you an explanation.
But such a response gets you nowhere. It instantly severs the lifeline that could have sustained you. Bitterness takes root and you now see God as the cruel server of this pain you don't feel you deserve. Too many people are still shrouded in the bitterness they adopted during an event years ago, now all but forgotten. But their separation from God has become a part of who they are and damaged their spirit, their relationships, and their healing.
The second response requires humility and God has promised to draw near to the brokenhearted. He tells us clearly that His ways are not our ways. No one doubts that; the trick is in admitting that His ways are better than our ways. We don't really think so. Our ways wouldn't involve such suffering. So we have to be willing to let Him change our perspective to His. If any good is to come from this suffering, we have to be pliable lumps of clay and let Him fashion a beauty from it we had not envisioned.
That's where humility comes in. We have to humble ourselves in order to let go of our opinions and the way we see things. God is attracted by our true humility. He's always searching for it in us, but unfortunately, rarely finds it. What He finds instead are angry, stubborn, arrogant people with a list of demands we call prayers.
It is the second response that opens the door to a storehouse of strength, peace, endurance we would never have discovered on our own. The stronger the pain, the more fiercely we should cling to our only source of help.
Don't let the pain of life drive you away from your closest ally. How sad if the pain in your life does double damage: causing pain in the fleeting present, while destroying your relationship with your Creator.
What will your response be to the next whammy that knocks the breath out of you? You're not a victim; you have a choice.
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