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Category: Pain

Pain: Hindrance to Help

Pain can easily distract us from God. It isn’t commonly seen as a ‘help’ in our relationship with God. It can keep us from serving, from loving, and from worshiping.  And sometimes, I have half a mind to give in and let it. It is so strong sometimes, so all encompassing, I don’t have the strength or the stamina to push the pain to the peripheral.

And maybe we shouldn’t actually disregard our pain so much.

A World of Pain

Pain is real. It is strong, and vibrant, and excruciating.

And I used to think pain was incompatible with Christian living.

When my pain flares, my self-focus blinders go on and it’s hard for me to worship God, serve others, and love as Jesus loved.

I imagined the only way to worship, serve, and love was in a bright, pain-free vacuum, but I was wrong.

That vacuum doesn’t exist here on earth. Everyone lives with some level of pain.

How Pain Can Help

Pain isn’t fun, as you’re well aware, and our default reactions range from anger to self pity to selfishness to pride. But Jesus intends for very few, if any, of our default reactions and impulses to stay exactly the way they are. He wants to teach us a new way. He wants to teach us more about worship, service, and love than we could learn in a pain-free existence.

[Related Post: An Unnatural Reaction to Pain]

What If…

Pain is the Common Human Experience. So what if there was a different way to react to the pain? What if there was a way to take the pain and, instead of reacting on default we could convert our pain into worship, service, and love?

I think it is possible, and I think it is an important part of each of our journeys with Jesus.

So, what if?

What if pain led us to turn to God and remember his character. Or his faithfulness, or his power?

What if pain led us to cling to God’s word and sing songs of hope and freedom?

What if pain led us to prayerfully seek nonstandard service opportunities in our homes, churches, and neighborhoods? You and I may not be able to serve in traditional ways, but service is still possible.

What if pain birthed an empathy in us for others, unmatched by people with less experience with pain.

What if we prayerfully took it to Jesus and invited him to teach us how he’d like us to react to our pain?

Yes indeed, what if?

I rather think that’s a prayer Jesus is longing to answer in my own life. What about yours?

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Now I’m curious! What has been an aid to you to help you turn to God in the midst of your pain?

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6 Habits to Actually Practice When You’re in Pain

Pain stinks. When pain sets in, we react. We usually don’t think about it, we just do it. And those reactions become habits. Now, in our fallen world, most of the time our reactions are worldly and unhealthy, but God can redeem even our reaction to pain.

My Unhealthy Habits

I have a lot of unhealthy habits when it comes to how I respond to and act when I’m in pain. I tend to put on blinders that only allow me to see my pain.

With these blinders securely in place, I’m no longer able to:

  • see God working
  • remember the truth about who God is
  • see others’ needs
  • believe that God loves me
  • remember how God has used my pain in the past

Instead, I go into self preservation mode, dropping what I was doing in order to do whatever necessary to get free from this pain. After all, it hurts! It’s a normal human reaction, I think, to want to avoid pain, problems, and trouble of every kind. But we can’t. It’s a normal part of human life. So, the question becomes, how are we going to respond?

New Habits

Any bad habit is an opportunity to replace it with a good habit. It takes time, of course, and perfection isn’t the goal. However, some of these habits make the pain more bearable because they take my focus off the pain and turn my attention to Jesus.

  • Trust God, even when things aren’t going as planned. Let’s face, it pain is never a part of our plans, but it still happens. In those times, we can remember the truth about who God is, and grow in our trust of him.
  • Choose to believe God will use even this for good… and maybe start using my imagination to think of how many ways God might possibly use this pain for good. Not in expectation that one of them will be ‘it’, but more to reignite my creativity and remember how very big and powerful God is.
  • Listen to truth. Find an audio Bible and when the pain hits you, listen to scripture. Or, listen to worship music. Another go-to thing to listen to would be verses set to music, like these at The Verses Project website.
  • Pray. Pray for others in pain, pray for whoever God brings to mind, pray for pastors, for persecuted Christians, for family and friends.

The Opportunities Given by Pain

Pain gives us opportunities. It is an opportunity to turn one’s back on God. It is an opportunity to wallow in self-pity. However, it is also an opportunity to lean on God, to let your faith grow, and to practice trusting God even when the going gets tough.

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Encouragement through hard times (Interview with Sarah Cauley)

I have always heard about God’s faithfulness. Growing up in a church and a Christian home will do that. I’ve heard and read both the Bible stories and the missionary stories, and God’s faithfulness has become a fact, written in stone on my mind. Something I took for granted. Something I stopped noticing. And then I met Sarah Cauley, who made God’s faithfulness come alive again. What encouragement!

More about Sarah

Sarah is a ballroom dancer, a church volunteer, a receptionist, a generous friend, a prayer warrior. Sarah also has cerebral palsy. It is through the pain, Sarah says, she has learned of God’s faithfulness, and how gentleman-like His is. Through the pain, and through the dancing.

When Sarah was five, she knew she would have a harder life. Yet she recognized that despite any circumstances of the world, Jesus would always be there for her. She saw the joy and peace her parents had, and knew it was from Jesus. “It was just that simple. It’s not any more detailed or extravagant. I just asked Him in, from the side of my bed. He came into my heart and He’s never left me since.”

Cerebral palsy and God’s faithfulness

Sarah says that it is because of her cerebral palsy that she has learned God’s faithfulness these past 30 or so years. “I am a walking example of His faithfulness. I wasn’t supposed to live. I was born three months premature, and that’s how I got CP. It’s a condition, it isn’t a disease. It’s very much like a stroke, as it’s instant and permanent. Your muscles are really tight, and you have literally no control over it. By the time I ask my body to do something, the message from my brain to that specific body part is completely different. So, I basically fight against myself to do anything.”

“The last two years have probably been the hardest, actually, of my spiritual walk, due to change in job and money, and having to live on a lot less, but I’m finding that in everything He’s still faithful.” I asked her to expound on that. “He never leaves us, no matter what. And no matter what people choose to say about believing God, and as cliché as is sounds, I tell people that Jesus is my best friend. He is so faithful, even if it’s not in the way, or what, we ask for. He is such a gracious Father and He truly knows what’s best for us, even when we think we know what’s best for us.”

Dependence

As a triplegic, Sarah is familiar with dependence. She cannot drive a car. She cannot curl her hair. “My life is a planned event, from getting to work to going to the grocery store, to a million things.” But Sarah isn’t a fan of being dependent. “The less I ask help, the better. But then, in the last few years, my friends have started to point out to me that by not letting them help me, it robs them of serving. My friends are like, ‘We want to help you, not because you have cerebral palsy, but because we love you.’ ” Receiving, Sarah confided, is still a struggle, but she’s getting there.

And although she’s not a great receiver yet, she loves to serve. “I will do anything for anyone, whether it’s cooking, baking, being there on the phone, or giving of what God has given me financially to help someone else.” Sarah lamented that she couldn’t babysit, be a part of a friend’s moving crew, or scrub the baseboards in the house of a friend who is moving, but she has found other ways to serve. She continued, “I can find out what you’re struggling with and walk beside you and pray for you in that. I know sometimes physically I can’t do as much for people as I would like to, but I know I can pray for them.”

Dependence is spiritual, more than physical

It would be easy for Sarah to become bitter or resentful, but she doesn’t. I could hear her joy right through the phone! Sarah has an incredible attitude and miraculous optimism. “I realize that I’ve been given so much. And there are people in this life who can’t feed themselves or dress themselves, and I can do that.” Sure, there are still rough days. But Sarah sees the tension between dependence and independence as more of a spiritual struggle than a physical one. Sarah has learned to depend on God, and she sees His faithfulness at every turn. “Being in constant pain is so very tiring. But the Lord is faithful still!” Her testimony about God, even in the midst of her pain, is an encouragement to me. It’s just more evidence that God will be faithful to me, too, despite what my circumstances scream.

God and dancing

A conversation about God’s faithfulness was familiar to me, even His faithfulness through trying, painful times. Sarah caught me off guard, though, when she talked about God as a gentleman. Look at these parallels she has drawn between God and a gentleman dancing partner:

“He’s the most perfect gentleman that there could be. He respects us, He calls us gently, He doesn’t force us into anything… It’s like when a gentleman comes over and they ask you to dance. He comes over and asks us, and he respectfully waits for us to say yes. And he will lead us gently and quietly onto the ballroom floor. And we have to follow his leading. If we don’t, we get off time and then we stumble and fall, but he’s right there to pick us up and to start over. We have to let him lead.

Following God’s lead

“Once I know my choreography, I’m so focused on what comes next that, sometimes, I forget that I’m
dancing with someone else! And my partner’s just like, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, I’m in charge, not you. And I think that correlates to our walk with Christ, too. That we forget sometimes that God is in charge, and we just go ahead and do something and we find out that maybe that wasn’t the wisest choice. You’d think after thirty years walking with Christ, and seven years as a dancer, I’d get that concept in both areas of my life, but I don’t.”

We are all learning, aren’t we? God wants us to wait for His leading and timing, and although it isn’t easy He calls us to grow in obedience. Often, following God is hardest when times are tough—Sarah has plenty of experience with that. And yet there is a truth Sarah clings to that gives her hope even when life is just plain hard:

“Even through times that are not so great, He can still be glorified through that. And that’s what I just have to trust in, because in the moments where I don’t feel like it’s going well, spiritually, or physically, or both, that somehow, even through the hard moments, God can still be glorified. And that gives me encouragement to go along.”

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The road to motivation

 

They walked away from Jerusalem, Cleopas and his friend. They had zero motivation to stay. Sure, they had been followers of Jesus. But that hadn’t ended well.

At first, they really and truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the one who would save the people of Israel.  But then the religious leaders had handed Jesus over to the political super power of Rome, and that was that. Jesus was crucified. They had not been saved.

Cleopas and his friend stayed in Jerusalem with the other believers for three days, and then they decided to leave and just go home. Maybe they could stomach Jesus being dead, but it they couldn’t bear the whispers circulating that people were seeing Jesus—alive. That was just too big, too weird, too fantastical. Maybe they decided it was time to go home, return to Emmaus, and get away from these loonies.

Possibly, the hardest part to swallow was that they had honestly thought Jesus was The One. Everything else had made sense, it had lined up. But then, during Passover, everything had gone so dramatically and impossibly wrong. It didn’t make sense. It hurt. This is what they explained to the stranger they met on the road.

Except, the stranger didn’t just accept their side of the story. For someone claiming ignorance of everything that had happened in Jerusalem the past three days, He sure knew a lot. He walked them back through the Scriptures, explaining how the Christ would have to suffer and die.

Arriving at Emmaus

Then came the moment when the three arrived at the turn-off for Emmaus, and the stranger seemed ready to continue his journey further. But it was getting dark, so Cleopas and his friend invited Jesus to stay the night with them, and continue his journey in the morning. They did not think his destination worthy of a risky, night-time journey.

And so it was that, when they ate together and the stranger prayed over their food, Cleopas and his friend realized that this stranger was no stranger to them, but Jesus Himself! As soon as they recognized Him, He disappeared. He, who was supposed to be dead, but wasn’t. He who represented all their hopes reborn. Alive? Yes, somehow alive.

Motivation to leave Emmaus

I imagine it didn’t take Cleopas and his friend long to decide to head right back to Jerusalem and rejoin the disciples, the not-so-loonies claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was even later and darker now than when they convinced the Stranger it was too late for a journey. But that did not stop them. No, they had the motivation for this journey. This would be worth it. This destination, a return trip of seven miles, was worthy of traveling at unusual and unsafe times. They had to tell the others that Jesus was alive! They simply had to.

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They called it stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (or, trusting God when plans change)

As the junior high students shared their stories from the week of summer camp, Lindsay Miller sat by the campfire, listening. She was one of the leaders that year—2013—even though it had not been her plan. Her plan had involved building houses in West Virginia all summer, but her plans changed, as plans often do, at the mention of one word: cancer.13663517_1269193226425409_2107516556_o

The doctors found the cancer just months before, over Lindsay’s Easter break. Lindsay had gone in checking for bronchitis. Instead, after more tests, they found a twelve centimeter tumor encroaching her lung space and they called it Stage Three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “When we got the diagnosis,” Lindsay said, “I bawled my eyes out.” It had started with confusion, but it did not take long for the fear to set in.

She spent the summer in and out of chemo treatments. After just three treatments they found a pattern in her side effects, making life a bit more predictable. Every two weeks she would go in for treatments. The hardest days were the three days right after. That left a week and a half for life to move on. Lindsay chose to volunteer in her church’s youth group that summer. She had volunteered there in the past, and since she was still home, not in West Virginia, she went back to working with the youth. It just made sense to her.

As it happened, their junior high summer camp fell between her cancer treatments and she was able to serve as a leader. That is how she learned David’s story at the campfire.

David would be entering sixth grade in the fall and a friend had invited him to camp. David almost decided not to come, fearful of how others would treat him since he had cancer. When he shared at the campfire, he confided that he was glad he came and that the people in his small group had been great. As Lindsay listened to David share, she felt God nudging her to talk with him. So she did.

She shared with David that she also had cancer and they bonded instantly. She prayed for him and for both of them. “I told him I’d be praying for him, but before I could say anything else he threw his arms around my neck and hugged me. When I got back to my seat, I sobbed. I knew God had totally directed my steps. I saw how He was using me.” It had been a painful, yet spiritually edifying, few months in the making.

Lindsay shared that through the cancer she experienced God unlike she had in any other season of her life. Sure, she knew lots about God, but this was different. “I grew up in the church, but this opened my eyes. It was engrained in my mind that you can trust Jesus. But you don’t know, don’t understand, what that looks like until you have to make that choice. It was a choice I had to make every day.”

Some days were easier than others. The chemo left Lindsay tired and weak. She needed three hours of sleep for every hour of being awake. Despite her exhaustion, Lindsay and her mom would take walks around the block. Many days she could only manage one snails-paced lap. But on other days Lindsay would suggest another lap, and on these days Lindsay’s family celebrated with her. The small victories were just as important to them.

They celebrated a big victory together in August, too. Since August 9th, 2013 Lindsay has been free of cancer, but she has not forgotten what she learned about God in the meantime.

Making the choice several times each day to trust God is a strength-building exercise, sometimes as strenuous as a walk around the block. But Lindsay didn’t see an alternative. As she saw it, she could “trust God, who has the power to get me through this, or be angry and hate my life and maybe get through it.” And so Lindsay chose to turn to God day after day, and every day she found God right there with her.

“He’s so much 13898719_1269193313092067_276051421_onearer than I ever really knew He was. You don’t always necessarily feel that or even know that. But His proximity—He’s with us at every step. And knowing that cultivated joy in me. Joy wasn’t something I knew until it was all I had.”

It has been quite the journey for Lindsay, but it is far from over. Lindsay spent the next summers as an intern in her church’s youth group. More recently, she even interned with a church in Manchester, England. She never would have imagined that, especially not four years ago while planning her trip to West Virginia.

“Looking back to sitting on that log with David, and how God led me there, to where God has led me now—it’s been really cool. I don’t think God likes to work within the confines of our expectations. He likes to show us He’s bigger than that.”

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When all seems lost, remember God’s character

We treat our identity in Christ as if it is the silver bullet to sin and overcoming life’s hardships and tragedies. While I agree that being confident in what God says about me is important, it is by no means the solution to all problems. When I’m drowning in a spiritual trial, wouldn’t it be better to focus on God’s character– His determined love, His strength, or even His wisdom? After all, He’s the only one who can actually get me out.

Know God’s Character

There is a time to remember the truth about me, and there is a time to remember the truth about God. When life is not what you expected, when you are surrounded by turmoil and pain, that is a time to remember who God is– what God’s character is. Remember all you have seen God do. Remember the truth about God with gritted teeth and white knuckles and don’t let go.

When you remember what God has done, it inspires a hope, a confidence, a certainty that you can trust Him yet again.

Because Life Stinks

It may seem as if everything is swarming around you and spiraling out of control. Maybe it seems that every time you get your head above the waves something grabs you and drags you under again. David knew this feeling too. He says,

“the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me (2 Samuel 22:5-6).”

David knew he couldn’t survive on his own so he called out to God, and boy did God move.

God Cares

David proceeds to use the imagery of a thunderstorm to capture the intense ferocity of God fighting against enemies.

“In my distress I called upon the Lordto my God I called. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears. . . The Lord thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered his voice. And he sent out arrows and scattered them; lightning, and routed them. (2 Samuel 22:7, 14-15).”

Contrast this aggression with the interaction between God and David:

“He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me (2 Samuel 22:17-20).”

 

See the gentleness, see the care, and know God treats you the same way. Cling to that knowledge like its the only way to survive this stormy ocean of life– because it is.

So will you call upon the Lord? Will you count on Him to save you, even if it seems all is lost?

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Not your usual post about God’s love

Do you want to know a troubling set of verses about God’s love? They’re in John 11. John tells us, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” And Lazarus died. Jesus chose not to heal Lazarus right away and He called it love.

I don’t know about you, but that’s tough for me to swallow. Jesus’ actions do not look like the fragile, egg-shell-walking, chick-flick love plastered everywhere we look.

It would be nice, don’t you think, if God’s love meant he would protect us from all hurt and pain the instant we became uncomfortable. But that is a shallow love, thinking only about the moment and nothing about the future.

Could it be that God values a thriving, deep relationship with us over keeping our lives painless?

Jesus told His disciples, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14-15). Because of Lazarus’ death, Jesus was able to raise him from the dead—and then many believed in Jesus.

The belief—the good—came out of the pain.

Maybe, like Mary and Martha, you’ve petitioned Jesus but He isn’t making changes as fast as you had hoped and now (it looks like) it’s too late. But don’t give up!

Not all painful situations will be reversed, but no painful situation needs to be wasted. Do you trust God to make the most of the pain in your life? Do you trust God’s love?

If so, I’m sure there’s a story to go with it, and I’d love to hear it. Email me, or share it in the comments! It will be an encouragement to us all!

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