The Way of Pain

Every now and then I like to give in to my “introverted-self” and go to a movie alone. Last night happened to be one of those nights. It was a long day, filled with questions about my future, conversations about my present, and lots of time reflecting on what it all means. I needed to escape from the reality of my own painful journey, if only for a couple hours. You see, as far as I can tell, I am under the hands of the Potter and he is exerting more than a little pressure in the process of reshaping me. He is not letting me up. Not yet. (see Jeremiah 18:1-6)

I was thrilled to watch the movie, “Captain Phillips,” for two primary reasons: Tom Hanks is an awesome actor and any movie that has Navy Seals ignites the “adventure-spirit” in me. The movie was outstanding. It did not let me down. It was action-packed, intense, heroic, and profoundly insightful. In the end, Tom Hanks did an incredible job portraying just how intense and gut-wrenching a feeling it is to know we have survived the scariest moments of our lives.

My big take-away: Pain is inevitable and unavoidable. When we are in the biggest crisis of our lives, it feels like hell. Something within us comes alive and we are never the same as we cross to the other side. Most importantly, we can relate more fully to the pain and desperation of others as a result of our own time in the “valley of the shadow of death.”

I wasn’t able to escape my own story – my own pain – as I watched Captain Phillips. In fact, I was brought face to face with it. No, I’ve never pirated a cargo ship around the horn of Africa. And the closest I ever got to joining the Navy was watching “Top Gun” about a million times. Still, I know what Hanks was expressing when words finally failed him, when the reality of “what just happened” can only be expressed in languishing cries of desperation.

Crying Out and Christian Hope

The chorus of a Third Day song, called “Cry Out To Jesus,” expresses what I am trying to say here, although the challenge is to avoid the temptation of minimizing our pain through glib sentiment:

“There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus”

Here’s what Jesus said about our painful journeys: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

We cry out to Jesus because he’s been there, too. He faced evil head-on, crying out from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?(My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?)  Jesus ultimately conquered death and hell through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension. He has truly overcome the world, and through him, God is “putting the world to rights at last,” as N.T Wright would say. This is our Christian hope!

“To hope for a better future in this world – for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world – is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to the gospel as an afterthought…The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing, close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future. (Surprised by Hope, N.T.Wright, copyright 2008, pp.191-192)

Pain As a Way of Knowing

This morning I was given a gift as I cruised through “Facebook” and landed on a post from Willy Hernandez, one of my former professors at Spring Arbor University. It was entitled “Pain As a Way of Knowing” and seems to be drawn from the work of Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest in New Mexico and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation.

I’ll close today’s entry with Willy’s post, trusting that the Holy Spirit will tie up all the loose ends. The way forward, for you and for me, may very well be the path of pain and suffering. May we walk courageously and humbly, trusting that God is present in our weakness, working in goodness, and leading in love.

“Suffering is the necessary deep feeling of the human situation. If we don’t feel pain, suffering, human failure and weakness, we stand antiseptically apart from it, and remain numb and small. We can’t fully understand such things by thinking about them. The superficiality of much of our world is that it tries to buy its way out of such necessary knowing.

“Jesus did not numb himself or withhold himself from human pain, as we see even in his refusal of the numbing wine on the cross (Matthew 27:34). Some forms of suffering are necessary so that we can more fully know the human dilemma, so that we can even name our shadow self and confront it. Maybe evil itself has to be felt to understand its monstrosity, and to empathize with its victims.

“Brothers and sisters, the irony is not that God should feel so fiercely; it’s that his creatures feel so feebly. If there is nothing in your life to cry about, if there is nothing in your life to yell about, you must be out of touch. We must all feel and know the immense pain of this global humanity. Then we are no longer isolated, but a true member of the universal Body of Christ. Then we know God not from the outside but from the inside!”

Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 209, day 218 (Available through Franciscan Media)

2 thoughts on “The Way of Pain

  1. Thank You Adam for you encouraging words. I am headed to Haiti on Saturday and am finding myself a bit overwhelmed with some situations and circumstances that are out of my control. I needed an inspirational moment to help me understand that this is a long journey that I am on and although we will have bumps along the way I know my faith and belief in helping those beautiful children and their community is what God has intended for me to do. I am accepting of his challenges to keep me focused on doing what is rooted deep in my heart. I am accepting adversity in his name, suffering gains meaning and will continue to draw me closer to my savior.

    1. You are absolutely right! “Suffering gains meaning and will continue to draw me closer to my Savior.” That is very true. Hang in there. Keep facing the challenges with courage and confidence. You are doing what God has put in your heart to do. You’re giving hope to children, not because it’s easy, but because each one of those kids is worth it!

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