Pain and grief manage to do a lot of things to a human being. They change them, hurt them, stretch them, and push them. But one of the biggest things I've noticed that pain and grief can do to a human is confuse them. How can they not? You drop a life-changing event into a person's life that hurts almost every step of the way, and that person will most certainly start asking questions in complete bewilderment, even if that question is just a small and helpless "why?".
Pain seems almost impossible to navigate. Even trying to write about it is a struggle. How do you tackle a subject like that in written form? Authors have written books and books on pain and suffering and have come no closer to soothing their own. I could write until my computer crashed and there was no paper left in the world, and I would still be turning to God with questions, just trying to make sense of it all.
Pain is confusing. Where there is confusion, there is misunderstanding, and misunderstanding can whisper little falsehoods about the pain that make it worse. I have so much still to learn about pain and grief, and some of my questions might not be answered during my life here on earth. But God is faithful, oh so very faithful, and His word holds some very real truths about pain that can pierce that darkness, even if for the time being it's only a little bit.
If you are reading this, I don't know what you are going through, if anything at all. But sooner or later (if you haven’t already) you will experience deep, world-shaking pain, and there are some truths about it I believe you should know.
1. Pain is not shameful.
What is it about pain that makes us want to hide the fact that we are feeling it? Why do we sometimes feel such a pressing need to conceal it? We feel it, and we can be a little kind to ourselves feel it without pretending it’s not there. Human history has shown me that to be pained is not a crime and we can own our suffering. We can do shameful things with our pain, like lash out at others or waste away in inaction, but to be hurt in itself is not a thing of shame. Grief has a place in our world that is very real. Ecclesiastes puts it best when it speaks of a time for everything, saying in 3:4 " a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance," We may not like to feel it as much as we do laughing or dancing, but pain and grief have just as much a time and place as anything else.
As to noteworthy examples of unashamed grief, the Bible holds one pure and simple in its shortest verse John 11:35 "Jesus wept.". Jesus, the Messiah, openly grieves at the sight of those mourning Lazarus' death. If Jesus was able to feel pain and suffering without shame, can we be kind enough to let ourselves too?
2. Pain is not completely isolating.
Pain is lonely, sure. We all experience it such vastly different ways, there's no way it couldn't be lonely. Even when you go through something as a group, each person reacts to pain with all their perceptions, strengths, fears, and history so that not a single one of us feels it in the same way. There's a reality of pain in that it's very lonely, but not as much as it might seem.
I say this because there's a point of pain and grief where you can believe that you are totally alone and that no one can reach you. You convince yourself that even the ones who can relate to you on some level still don't know exactly how you feel. The problem here is the power we start to give pain from believing that. We sometimes take it a step further and believe that that includes God.
We need to watch ourselves so carefully to see that we don't pretend God doesn't understand or couldn't possibly understand our pain. There is no pain out there that God doesn't know the intricate depths of. Every moment of pain I've experienced in life is completely and totally understood by God. What good would it do for me to ask God "Do you know what it's like to watch someone you love die?" When I already know he can answer that question with the most real "yes" fathomable?
If that's not enough to combat the loneliness, God, that marvelous, wonderful God who understands intimately every kind of pain I can feel (some of it because I inflicted it myself as a sinner), responds to his grieving child with comfort. Psalms written from a place of anguish knew God was seeing all the pain. In verses like Psalm 56:8 we are reminded of just that: "You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Even when God feels distant in our pains, we can take comfort in knowing that he is just that, the God of all comfort.
I'm constantly reassured by passages like 2 Corinthians 1: 3-5 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."
3. Pain is not forever.
It's hard to feel the truth of this one in the midst of grief and suffering. Believe me, I know, but it's still true. I have to tell myself that all the time because I am constantly forgetting it. Still, my lack of faith cannot stop it from being true. Pain is not forever. By salvation, we have this beautiful assurance that something greater is on the other side of whatever trials we weep over and fight our way through here on earth. There is hope, so much hope, that we can hold on to.
Of course, hope is not some fairy wand that we wave over our troubles and voila! They're gone. That doesn't give hope enough credit. Hope is assurance, it is promise, and it is worth holding on to so you can tell pain "Not today." one more time. As believers, we have the immense advantage of knowing how the story ends and we know that pain, suffering, grief, and anguish won't win. They won't last. They won't follow us home.
Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
Romans 8: 18 "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
Revelation 21: 4 "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Pain is so many things that don't make sense all rolled up into one, but if you are able to dig up some biblical truth that pierces it, hold on, keep fighting, and don't give up. Tomorrow is a new day with new hope in it. Your pain is not forever, but even in the midst of it you are seen, you are heard, and you are loved. Keep going.
Let’s find some joy,