In Process – “I thank God for my pain”
A fascinating thing about deep pain—it always gets your attention, and God uses it as an instrument for just this purpose.
So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7-9 NLT).
Quoting this passage recently in a sermon, I was startled to hear myself add: “I know that God permits my back pain in order to keep me from becoming proud.” I was taken aback by my own remark.
In my January column I described the extensive back surgery I underwent last September which, while successful, was excruciatingly painful. In the course of that ordeal, I learned to pray from a far deeper, more personal level than I ever had, and God gave me peace there. Since then, I have come to accept that some pain will linger indefinitely.
A good friend of mine—with 25 years in recovery from alcoholism—I know to be a very wise man. Recently I looked on attentively as he addressed a group of other alcoholics. Some of his observations that night stayed with me.
“I thank God for my alcoholism,” he said. “I thank God for the pain. James commands us to consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, and this I do with my alcoholism—today I count it pure joy. For were it not for the pain wrought in my life by this disease, I would not have been forced 25 years ago to face the chaos of an unmanageable lifestyle and consequently make a real decision to hand the control of my life over to God who, by the way, has run it far better than I ever could. Being the stubborn man that I am, today I know that otherwise I would never have accepted Jesus.
“I was well aware that if God were in control of my life, guess who would not be in control and would not get to have things the way he pleases—me! I loved my independence. But faced with the consequences of an uncontrollable lifestyle, I had to admit that sticking with my way lay the way of the loser, but God and I together would form a winning combination! In desperation I finally reached out to God. Therefore, today I am no longer a loser but a winner!
“Consequently, I sincerely thank God for the trials and pain of my alcoholism. Without them, I would never have found the serenity, the pure joy of my Christian life today. I believe
that we alcoholics and addicts are far more blessed than many other people because our life circumstances force us to take a hard look at our lives and finally make choices that others may not be forced by their own life circumstances to make. Many of them, therefore, do not surrender the control of their lives over to the Lord and find the true serenity that life with him brings.”
Like my friend, I have learned to say: I thank God for my pain. I continue daily to gain from it. Through personal experience I have learned that pain changes us. It humbles us. As Paul put it: It keeps us from becoming proud as we learn to see life more clearly. Clinging to God in a more desperate way, our grip on him firmer, we better filter out the truth from the lies that bombard us daily. We see through the illusions. As the Holy Spirit guides us further into all truth he shows us how we have based many life decisions on lies—a most humbling realization! This is fertile ground for the development of empathy within us. We sympathize so much more with other suffering people. Now we begin to understand what Paul meant when he said: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…(Phil. 3:10 NIV). And with humility we grasp Peter’s observation that he who has suffered in his body is done with sin (1Peter 4:1 NIV).
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains,” noted C. S. Lewis. “It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world…Until the evil man find evil unmistakable present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion…It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul” (The Problem of Pain, p. 95).