No Pain, No Glory

I hate when people offer “God has a plan” to assuage whatever pain, frustration, or struggle I am experiencing. In lieu of anything helpful to say in the face of profound misery, however, I also offer platitudes to somehow cover a person’s pain and move onto something pleasant or at least fathomable. What else is there to say when I can’t understand suffering—mine or anyone else’s?

In the book of Job, he has three friends who silently joined him in his misery in chapter two. I appreciate that. It takes guts and strength to sit quietly with someone who is hurting. Comfort is most eloquent in its silence. For the rest of the book, Job’s friends berate him in the name of love and righteousness. They want to redirect his path to God. But it is quite evident that they are also rather pleased with their wealth of wisdom and righteousness. They must be wise and righteous, otherwise they’d be decimated like Job.

When someone is hurting, I want to be the one who lightens his load. I want to be that ray of hope in their despair. How arrogant. The difficulty in keeping silent is I am admitting the deficiency of wisdom and words in the face of suffering. We are all powerless in the face of pain, grief, betrayal, and despair. Even the most devastated person knows in some dark corner of his being that the pain will end, he will adjust, life goes on, and there must be a reason. But in the moment? There is only pain.

Pain hurts. Suffering is difficult. Everyone tries to avoid suffering because it isn’t fun, no one likes it, it shreds the heart, and it feels never-ending.

So why do I gloss over that fact? Shouldn’t I get real and acknowledge that it hurts? For years I have swallowed my hurt, frustration, agony, grief, pain, and despair. I shrug, smile, and say “life goes on.” Recently I recounted a laundry list of trauma from the last seven years to a therapist. She stared at me when I finished and asked how I’m still functioning. I shrugged and told her I’m a survivor.

Those traumas I listed are gut-wrenching, soul-shredding, agonizing events that shattered my world, my identity, and my perception of God. But when I recounted them, my eyes were dry. I chuckled.

Suffering necessitates pain. Without pain—emotional, psychological, physical, or spiritual—we wouldn’t suffer. So if suffering is supposed to count for something, why am I so afraid to admit that I’m hurting? That I have feelings that aren’t positive?

My life is hard. I am hurting. Hundreds of people may look at my life and wish they could exchange their struggles for mine. Hundreds of other people may look at my life in horror and suddenly appreciate their own struggles. It doesn’t matter. I am hurting. My life is hard. It is my perspective on my life.

And God met me in my suffering. He spoke to me. He reminded me of his promises, assurances, and comfort. My God sat down next to me and showed me that he is working, he does have a plan, and he loves me.

I can’t say that x, y, and z happened for reasons a, b, and c, but I know that he sees and feels my pain. I know that he is refining me for a future that will make all of my suffering worth it. I can join Job in saying “I know my Redeemer lives” (19:25). He will exchange my suffering for steadfastness, completion, and the crown of life (Jas 1:3, 4, and 12).

Until I acknowledged my pain, saying, “this hurts,” I could not say with conviction that there is a purpose to suffering. Why would I need to acknowledge some special purpose that would turn the broken, black, pulsing pain of my life into a radiant, life-giving shower of steadfastness if I never acknowledged that what I was experiencing was painful? I have been given a difficult life. It hurts. But I know that I can trust that God has a plan for my good and his glory. How? Because He says so:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans for wholeness and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

The Mountain’s Shadow

It’s frightening, really, how easily we stuff trauma under our proverbial mattresses, put on a smile, and move on with life. Even the darkest, most difficult experiences we have ever experienced can be whittled down into a “phase” that we went through. How terrifying.

Will and I obviously had a difficult summer. We are reminded of it almost every day, since we are newly relocated, working jobs that just pay the bills, and cut off from our family and friends of the past three years. Our struggles this summer are never too far from our minds.

But, since we’re trying to avoid being pariahs here in our new place, we have watered down our story, focusing on the high points and explaining away inconsistencies with vague references to illness and “bad experiences.” Will and I don’t like editing the truth. But what choice have we had? I left my teaching job in October for my fiancé. My fiancé is a teacher as well. Why did we relocate since it obviously wasn’t job-related?

So far we’ve been able to tell two people the truth in our new home. And one was a psychologist. Will is seeking counseling for the first time, hoping to deal with the trauma he has sustained from years of life and bipolar. I went with him to his first appointment, so the psychologist could grasp the context of our relationship as well as the story of the summer.

As we shared our story, anxiety constricted my chest and tears filled my eyes. I was sad and silent (truly a miraculous occurrence) for several hours. The trauma was overwhelming. The hurt and confusion, fear and anger, uncertainty and stubbornness. As we left the appointment, Will noticed my distress and as we discussed it, he suggested that I also begin counseling. Fear and anxiety spiked even higher.

We are newly married—happily married. What if we discover some deep, horrible issue that takes years to overcome? I know dealing with issues is crucial to having a healthy, functioning life, but I also know that psychology often unearths mountains of pain and trauma before it can level the ground again. My mother spent decades faithfully chipping away at her mountain. I respect her courage and determination. But, if I’m honest, I don’t want the challenge.

Suffering has been a constant theme in my life for the last few months. Everywhere I look, whether in the Bible, sermons, books, articles, life in general, suffering is discussed, dissected, and lived. The last two weeks have been downright depressing as I have dealt with a new round of therapy to recover from my multiple concussions and a recent car accident. Will’s support has encouraged and strengthened me but many days, all I want to do is curl up in bed and pretend the world no longer exists.

That is simply therapy for my body. What will therapy for my soul and psyche uncover? I’m afraid. For me and for Will. But I want to be like my mother. I want to possess the strength and perseverance to get out of bed each morning, bless the Lord for life, and confront my suffering. I don’t want to wait for trauma to sneak up on me and debilitate me with its unexpectedness. I want to be healthy for Will and for myself. I want Will to be healthy for Will and for me. I want to experience true, soul-level freedom and peace.