My Problem With Pain

Pain insists on being attended to.

C.S. Lewis

It’s hard right now. It feels like a lot of the problems in my life are unnecessary. And the worst part is, if you would jot down my life like a checklist, you couldn’t find anything wrong.

  1. Emily is living in a beautiful house.
  2. Emily has financial security.
  3. Emily has a family that welcomes her home when she wants to visit.
  4. Emily has a car.
  5. Emily has a freaking adorable dog.
  6. Emily has friends.

But can I be honest with you? None of this satisfies.

And I don’t mean this to say these things mean nothing, especially my friends and my dog. But there is another side to life beyond the external tallies, and it’s the spiritual side. The soul. The part of the human that is eternal, conscious, holds desires and dreams. That part of me, when left undistracted, alone, aches right now. Even among people, I find my mind to drift and a heaviness fall on me.

It feels like loneliness. There’s something missing. And there’s confusion, too – confusion because I shouldn’t feel this way based on the list above, and confusion because I don’t know how to remedy it. It’s not something more sleep will help. The right diet won’t fix it. More socializing won’t fulfill it. But no matter what, no matter how many people I tell or how I share it, I find no relief.

There is something to be said for sharing burdens (Galatians 6:2). But the amount of relief it provides at the end of the day is minimal.

There is, too, something to be said for crying out to God (I Peter 5:7). But even then, you can reach the end of the prayer and still feel pain. The causes don’t magically disappear in a prayer. The questions aren’t solved. The tears still may flow.

“Pain insists on being attended to.” Oh yes… it does. And pain can multiply as a believer, because you know this isn’t how it should be. You know pain isn’t post-redemption in the sense that a truly, completely redeemed creation is freed from that pain. You know God to be all-sufficient, and yet… here you are. Feeling unsatisfied, aching, and even… empty.

Yeah… I’m there.

This is my problem with pain: it cannot simply be taken away.

It’s not like a physical pain where I can take an ibuprofen and wrap a bandage around it, knowing that in a few minutes, it will subside. As I said earlier, there are “bandages” I can apply. But even after application, spiritual pain can still ache and feel like no progression was made. Sure, there’s a little relief in knowing that someone knows, in having a distraction, but the source remains and weighs heavily.

Just last week, I went on an annual road trip with my mom and my sister up to a place of both natural and cultural beauty. We went to a wine tasting, we had a delicious lunch, we enjoyed the beautiful weather, we bought delightful things, and we ended the day with a Shakespeare play performed outside. Externally, it was such a happy experience. It was full of goodness and beauty.

Yet internally, for most of the trip (and I feel shame saying this), I was aching and could have cried, given the space and solitude. And at the end of the day, driving home, it felt as though the pain consumed me.

This morning, I woke up and remembered the dream I had moments before my eyes opened. A dream that spoke to an unmet longing that, while asleep, felt real and pure and “as it should be”, but once awake, deepened the ache and created a sense of shame and failure within.

There is no easy answer. I believe God is fully sufficient. I do, but He doesn’t feel like it right now, at least not in the way I would expect He would. God’s sufficiency, right now, as I would expect it, would be creating a joy in me that says in the face of all this pain, “Yes, these spiritual circumstances are on paper pretty hard, but I am happy and I still see life as full of color.”

But it’s all grays. There are pinpricks of light, for which I am thankful and fully attribute to God as mercies from His hand, but the flash dies and I slip back into a colorless sight.

God, I’ve asked, how are You sufficient right now? What is the answer?

And it’s not merely a sinner’s plight, this problem of pain. It’s the Savior’s, too (John 11:35, Luke 22:41-44, Isaiah 53:3, Matthew 27:46).

There’s another quote by C.S. Lewis I love.

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?

Maybe sufficiency doesn’t look like how I expect. Maybe the result of casting our cares on Him isn’t to simply erase the damage done (although, God may certainly choose to work that way), but maybe it’s ultimately for another purpose.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

God is a good Father. He only gives us what is absolutely best (Psalm 16:2), so we can trust that in pain, we are being given nothing less than what is best for us. We look at the sequence of events above and, if we follow it, we find a bigger sufficiency than merely mending a wound:

Suffering > Endurance > Character > Hope

Suffering produces endurance: “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.” Without giving way. We build a resilience to the pain and develop a sturdier resistance to the changing winds of a torrential storm. Our anchors press deeper into the ocean floor on rocky waters.

Endurance produces character: “moral excellence and firmness.” In light of the rest of scripture, we see this to mean further holiness and growing more in the ways we are like Christ. Upon enduring storms, we can come out the other side resisting its temptations to sin and even leave our faith, and carry with us the traits that had to develop in order to do so.

Character produces hope: “to cherish a desire with anticipation; to expect with confidence.” Expect with confidence. This is the biblical hope we know. Seeing the progress in us by the grace of Christ, knowing more of His nature through seeing sin defeated in trial, we can further rely on and trust in the Savior of our souls.

And what is this hope, exactly?

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:2

The glory of God.

Through salvation, we have been given this gift – the ability to dwell in His presence and see His glory, and not only see it, but receive it ourselves (Romans 8:17).

So maybe I need to turn my eyes away from my temporal perspective and to the eternal one.

How is God sufficient, right now, as I lay down to sleep with the same aches and confusion and heaviness? When I didn’t get a temporal answer to my “Why?”

God is fulfilling His promise of producing in me a deepened hope.

God is showing Himself to be faithful in actively working through this pain, perhaps even in ways I cannot yet see.

God is humbling me and clearing my sight to know Him, my ultimate treasure, more.

I can only be satisfied by God Himself, and so if this is producing a fuller hope in His glory, then the pain itself is a display of God’s sufficiency.

This season will end. But until it does, may I rejoice in my tears. They are proving more valuable than diamonds.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C.S. Lewis

September 2, 2017

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