When the Pain Never Ends…

prison+

 

I don’t like struggling.

I want days with little drama, minimal stress, no pain.

But as I look back over my life, those simple, lighthearted days are not the ones for which I’m most grateful.

I’m most grateful for the days that I’ve had to fight for faith. The days I’ve called out to God in desperation and pain. The days that I have barely survived, struggled to make it through, wondered if life was worth it anyway.

Those days have driven me to my knees. They have molded my character, grown my dependence and made me see Jesus.

For me, that gratitude is often in retrospect. Looking back, I can rejoice at what God has wrought through my trials. When the pain is gone and only the fruit remains, I see the value of my suffering.

But for some trials, the pain never passes. The long-term ongoing daily struggles that grind away at us.  Chronic illness. A difficult marriage. A child who is “atypical.” A disappointing career. Financial worries. Depression. Unfulfilled longings. When we live with these wearing trials, we often fantasize about how pleasant and normal our lives would be without them.

I’ve frequently thought, “If I just didn’t have to struggle with this one problem, I could handle everything else.”

But in reality, this one overarching problem is the thing drawing me closest to Jesus.

I have learned from saints, living and dead, that I need to thank God for my deepest suffering. Believers who have thanked God for blindness, for prison and for quadriplegia. Unthinkable suffering that most would consider unbearable, these Christ-followers have seen as God’s gifts.

Gifts wrapped in black, but gifts nonetheless.

These heroes, George Matheson, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Joni Eareckson Tada have mentored me from afar, teaching me the value of my thorns.

Rather than summarizing their thoughts, I want to let their own words stand, as they each describe what God has done through their trials.

The first, George Matheson, was a well-known blind Scottish preacher who wrote the hymn, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” He says of his blindness:

“My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross; but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory.

“Teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbows.”  (Streams in the Desert, April 8)

The second, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was a Russian writer who endured prison and forced labor camps under Joseph Stalin. It was there he became a Christian, and went on to write:

It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts…. That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!” I…have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” (The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2, 615-617)

The third, Joni Eareckson Tada, is a Christian author, speaker and ministry leader who became a quadriplegic at age 17 after a diving accident.

Joni says:

Most of us are able to thank God for His grace, comfort and sustaining power in a trial, but we don’t thank Him for the problem, just finding Him in it.

But many decades in a wheelchair have taught me to not segregate my Savior from the suffering he allows, as though a broken neck- or in your case, a broken ankle, heart or home- merely ‘happens’ and then God shows up after the fact to wrestle something good out of it. No, the God of the bible is bigger than that. Much bigger.

And so is the capacity of your soul. Maybe this wheelchair felt like a horrible tragedy in the beginning, but I give God thanks in my wheelchair…I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Saviour. And that’s where the joy is…

Your “wheelchair”, whatever it is, falls well within the overarching decrees of God. Your hardship and heartache come from His wise and kind hand and for that, you can be grateful. In it and for it.  (Joni’s foreword to Nancy Leigh DeMoss book, Choosing Gratitude, pp. 12-13)

I thank God for these fellow believers, who have shown me how precious my pain is. In the hands of an Almighty God, my tears have made my rainbows, shown me my own depravity, and pushed me to the arms of my tender Savior.

What more could I want?

 

 

photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar
  • July 10, 2015 - 9:34 am

    Kelly Lessard - I thank God for you, Vaneetha.ReplyCancel

    • July 11, 2015 - 2:57 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you for your faithful encouragement, Kelly!ReplyCancel

  • July 10, 2015 - 4:57 pm

    Danelle - Love this and you, beautiful lady. I pray married life is treating you well. I think of you often. God Bless you and your precious family! Tell Shalini I said hello!ReplyCancel

    • July 11, 2015 - 2:57 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Danelle. And marriage is great! Shalini was just here- I will tell her!ReplyCancel

  • July 10, 2015 - 7:06 pm

    Georgia - I have no doubt that a part of me that wants to hold on to my grieving or pain… or the sense of the hole that my loss has created… is due to exactly what you have written about here. I clearly remember back to earlier days of my suffering, when I was still pregnant and told I would lose my little girl if she made it to and through birth… I felt such a sense of gratitude that was unexplainable, but very much centered on what your post has reminded me about… just a sense that I was grateful for the way my suffering was pushing me toward God and what he would teach me, so much so that I sometimes considered it a gift and honor that he would choose me to carry this little girl who would die. Even writing that out just now sounds so absurd, but I really did feel it. And I do miss that sense of gratitude. I know full well that there is that part of me that wants the pain to remain up front and center so that I would not forget what it drove me toward… who it drove me toward. But I have also found that I struggle with bitterness there. Almost as if there is a fine line. We can choose gratitude there or bitterness, and dwelling in the grief or pain makes the temptation of bitterness all the more prevalent. Not sure if that makes sense. So I find myself almost wanting to numb or forget, just so I won’t be bitter. But in doing so, I will also become numb to the gratitude God wants to cultivate in me. Well, I don’t know if that’s is the right way to say it, but it’s just what I seem to have experienced in my suffering. It’s like I just want to rush back to the way things used to be, and I try to find meaning and gratitude in all that’s “right” or what things have not gone wrong for me. But I know I’ve pushed away the memory of what that time was like and how close it brought me to God or how in tune it made me to what he wanted of me though it. I know you have written about Ebenezer stones here, and I have before as well. I sort of lost sight of the significance of my Ebenezer stone, perhaps putting off remembering where God has brought me thus far for when suffering might come again. But I guess we should take note of our Ebenezer stone every day… even when things are going right. That’s not to say the pain is gone. It is very much not. But I like to pretend it is sometimes, so I can just feel like things are good again. I see very much what you are saying. I’m reminded to embrace the pain of my loss, but with gratitude, and not bitterness. Maybe where I struggle most is struggling to see where God changed me through what we went through. Maybe what’s hard about that is wondering if I ever, in fact, allowed him to. ???ReplyCancel

    • July 11, 2015 - 2:56 pm

      Vaneetha - Oh Georgia, I do understand what you mean. I know God has changed me through suffering, but I’m so far from where I’d like to be, and change is so slow, that I wonder if I am as sanctified as I should be after all I’ve been through. I’m thankful that God is in charge of that part, and I just need to trust He is working in and through me, in spite of myself! Now all we see is in a mirror dimly, but one day we will see face to face!!ReplyCancel

    • July 20, 2015 - 2:19 am

      Mike - What you said made sense. What God did for me was to bring me to a point where I no longer question or nag myself about where I am at spiritaully. He’s freed me to just be who I am in him and trust his provision. My gratitude is always based in the fact he never left me no matter how many times I failed and sinned with intention. I don’t deserve his love so I am able to give it freely. I always hear he is a God of second chances thank God that’s not true. He is a God of infinite mercy every morning. I am on chance number 5002 today.ReplyCancel

      • July 20, 2015 - 9:48 am

        Vaneetha - All of us have so much to be grateful for… Thank you for writing, Mike.ReplyCancel

  • July 10, 2015 - 7:08 pm

    Georgia - Also, just wanted you to know that I read every one of your posts, and I have no doubt God led me to your blog. Pretty much every time you write, the words speak directly to me and where I’m at. So, I thank you for writing and letting God speak through you.ReplyCancel

  • July 13, 2015 - 12:48 am

    Raul Silva - Hello. Thank you very much for your website. A friend sent me a link after I sent him these lyrics I wrote. I am blessed with a couple of chronic pain conditions that make each day a struggle. I write songs and poems and play when I can with a Christian Band.
    I have come to realize that there is a purpose for my pain and God is sending me signs to the path He wants me to take. I’m beginning to follow that path and feel it is right. This is a simple song but I wanted the message to be clear.
    Thanks again,
    Raul

    AND I FEEL OKAY

    Oh my Lord
    Today is right
    The day
    I’ve been waiting for
    All my life
    A day when
    Nothing’s
    Going my way
    But I feel Your love
    And I feel okay

    Yes Lord I pray
    Like others do
    Requesting this
    Or that from You
    Sometimes You do
    And sometimes You don’t
    Hurts go away
    Sometimes they stay
    But I feel Your love
    And I feel okay

    Trying too hard
    To make things wrong
    Satan’s subterfuge
    Doesn’t like this song
    Lying to keep
    Everyone confused
    A newer frame of reference
    We need to peruse
    Good or bad
    Doesn’t matter today
    I can feel Your love
    And I feel okayReplyCancel

    • July 13, 2015 - 10:39 am

      Vaneetha - Thank you so much for sharing your song, Raul. I’m sorry that you live with chronic pain, but I rejoice at your God-honoring attitude towards it and the way God has gifted you with music. I know He is using you, and as you said, there is purpose to your pain.ReplyCancel

  • July 20, 2015 - 6:18 am

    Effie Darlene Barba - I found your website through the post on Desiring God’s website. Your message touched my heart. God has so blessed me as well with His Magnificent Grace. My life seemed filled with sorrows from failures, guilt, divorce, abuse, widowed, single mother of teenagers battling cancer, years of multiple surgeries and a faithful God who patiently, gently wanted me to realize that He is my joy, He is my greatest treasure. I find I must write and speak of Him where ever I go. It is necessary for me to tell the world one person at a time or whom ever He chooses to send to my website. I would be honored if you would visit my website. I would love to share this poem with you as well. TO GOD-MY LOVE, MY HOPE, MY JOY

    My life-so filled with hopes and dreams
    Lay shattered at Your feet
    So many tears, so many pains
    I laid before Your seat

    Can I look upon Your face of love
    And question what You’ve done?
    For You have been my only hope
    My only morning sun

    You’ve seen my heart when crushed with pain
    Your hands have held it tight
    When I have been so weak, so frail
    You’ve shown Your strength, Your might

    You’ve held me close within Your arms
    When darkness filled my night
    And when I could not see my way
    Your eyes, they gave me sight

    I lay my life within Your hands
    That You may heal my soul
    And keep my eyes upon You Lord
    That I may reach Your goal

    Shine forth Your grace, Your mercy Lord
    And let me be Your light
    That all may see Your eyes of love
    The blind, they might have sight

    Let not the sorrows, nor the pains
    Bring bitterness within
    And give me strength to walk this path
    Protect my heart from sin

    I lay my heart, my soul, my dreams
    Before Your throne of love
    I lift my eyes to You, My God
    And seek Your will above

    You are the only one I need
    To fill my heart with glee
    It is Your face, my one true love
    Tis all I need to see

    So lift me up and hold me close
    Reveal Your love divine
    That through the holes within my heart
    A world might see You shine

    And if the sorrows of my past
    Can touch a wayward one
    I thank you Lord for each dark path
    That lead them to Your son

    I praise You now from mountains high
    For each dark path I’ve trod
    Twas there I found Your heart, Your love
    Twas there I found You God

    What great and wondrous joy I know
    Because You are my king
    And though the path I cannot see
    My heart will trust and sing

    A song of praise unto You Lord
    Who knows what’s best for me
    You’ll hold my hand and lead me on
    In darkness, I can see

    Your love, Your help, Your guiding hand
    Is all I’ll ever need
    So hold me close unto Your path
    For this is all I plead

    I’ll skip with joy along this path
    Though darkness may surround
    Because I know You hold my hand
    My feet will e’er touch ground

    I cannot fall outside Your love
    I cannot lose my way
    I’ll hold my broken dreams once more
    And see them real, one day

    A song of praise unto You Lord
    Who knows what’s best for me
    You’ll hold my hand and lead me on
    In darkness, I can see

    Your love, Your help, Your guiding hand
    Is all I’ll ever need
    So hold me close unto Your path
    For this is all I pleadReplyCancel

    • July 20, 2015 - 9:51 am

      Vaneetha - Wow. What a beautiful poem. Thank you so much for sharing it, and for your amazing testimony of God’s faithfulness in the midst of unspeakable pain. It was such an encouragement to me today.ReplyCancel

  • March 4, 2017 - 9:30 am

    Beatrice - Dear Vaneetha,
    Thanks again for your article!
    These thoughts have been particularly encouraging:

    “I have learned from saints, living and dead, that I need to thank God for my deepest suffering. Believers who have thanked God for blindness, for prison and for quadriplegia. Unthinkable suffering that most would consider unbearable, these Christ-followers have seen as God’s gifts.”

    “Joni says:
    Most of us are able to thank God for His grace, comfort and sustaining power in a trial, but we don’t thank Him for the problem, just finding Him in it.
    But many decades in a wheelchair have taught me to not segregate my Savior from the suffering he allows, as though a broken neck- or in your case, a broken ankle, heart or home- merely ‘happens’ and then God shows up after the fact to wrestle something good out of it. No, the God of the bible is bigger than that. Much bigger.
    And so is the capacity of your soul. Maybe this wheelchair felt like a horrible tragedy in the beginning, but I give God thanks in my wheelchair… I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Saviour. And that’s where the joy is…”
    Thank you again!!! Have a blessed weekend!ReplyCancel

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