Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever experienced, what is your current level of pain?
This is the question nurses and doctors asked me just about every time they came in to see me during my recent eight-day stay at Hotel Eskenazi. That seems like a straight-forward question, right? But as I entered some unchartered territory of nerve pain, I wanted to ask some of my own questions. Do you mean the pain of burning or numbness, soreness or fatigue? Or do you mean the pain of fear or frustration?
Pain is a multi-headed monster that we all must face. What kind of pain are you living with right now?
Let’s think together with God for a few minutes about pain. Here’s what I’m learning about my own experience with pain. Uncertainty is the driver. Here’s what I mean by that. When I don’t know when the pain will end and how bad it will get, that’s when I struggle most. I’d rather take ten shots to the face than slide under an MRI machine for an undetermined length of time. Here’s another thing that’s becoming more concrete to me as I process my pain. It helps to know why the pain is occurring.
Let me give you an example. I woke up a few mornings ago with some pretty intense pain—let’s call it a 7 on the scale. But here was the problem. What does the pain mean? It resembled the pain that brought me into the hospital in the first place. Do I call 911? Am I overreacting? What if I miss something disastrous?
I’ll spare you the details, but after a few doctor calls and some loved ones who helped me talk through what I was experiencing, I came to the conclusion that my pain was not a bad thing but a good thing. The pain was actually evidence that my nerves were regenerating and I was making progress.
This is a game changer. When I approach my pain as an agent of my growth, not my destruction, then it goes down a few notches on the scale. It still hurts, but the fear underneath the physical pain doesn’t amplify the pain. When I can see purpose in the pain, the hope underneath the pain actually seems to alleviate the physical pain a bit.
Now, let’s invite God into our thinking for a minute. The reality of pain and suffering collide with the goodness of God in many people’s minds. I get it. I can see why the faith of so many doesn’t survive the crash. Easy attempts to connect the dots between pain and purpose often fail. For every person who grows through the pain and tells her story of God’s hand at work in the process, there’s somebody else whose mind, body, and spirit gets crushed. For every person who turns the lemons of life into lemonade, there’s somebody else who just gets poisoned.
Here’s where we need to think with God and not simply about God. If you see God as an abstraction and evil as a philosophical problem to be solved, then you’ll always be stuck in a no-win logic problem. God is either not really powerful enough to stop the pain, or he’s not really as good as you think he is anyway. Sure, you can wiggle your way out of the dilemma, but you have to do some somersaults to get there.
Here’s what happens when I think with God. I see Jesus right beside me in my pain. I see the Holy Spirit reminding me that I am a child of God. I see the Father’s love for me in adopting me into the family.
As my physical body wastes away—either at a 1 or a 10 on the pain scale—I must realize that my body will waste away. Your body will waste away. I used to bench 335 pounds. I used to run a 1:44 half marathon. That will never happen again. I celebrate adequate completion of basic bodily functions as my nerves continue to grow back. But I know I am still wasting away. You are wasting away.
Yet, Paul tells us, “inwardly” you are being “renewed” each day. What does that mean? You are becoming more like the person you were created to be. You are becoming more like the type of person Jesus would be if he were in your shoes. You are changing on the inside.
Now watch out for the cliché here. Don’t shrink God down to being just a part of your story. When you do this, Jesus is the hero if your circumstances turn out well and the villain if they don’t. You’re still just thinking about God through the lens of your own narrative here.
When we think with God, God’s presence is enough. When we think with God, we feel the truth that nothing can separate us from his love for us. The pain still hurts. How much longer? How much more will it hurt?
The answers may not be clear. Your pain scale number may rise. But you know that the One beside has been through it all and He will be with you through it all.
One day, Jesus will wipe every tear.
Be present with me Jesus in my pain.
Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18