I heard a great quote on a radio broadcast. The man talking was a former professional football player who has very bad cancer. He said that every time he's in pain, every time he has to pull over to the side of the road to puke, that pain makes him just a little bit more like Jesus. Ideally, that's what Christians want to accomplish, isn't it? The sad part is how little most Christians and non-Christians know about Jesus's actual character and attitude towards people. But I digress, and now I will write a note to myself to blog about that later.
As soon as I heard that guy saying that he sees his pain as a blessing to make him more like Jesus, my first thought was "What about emotional pain, when life is just tough?" The answer is that emotional pain builds us towards Jesus's likeness just as much- he suffered in all those ways, after all. The most obvious is the extreme physical suffering he went through before and during the crucifixion. As emotions go, he cried over the death of a close friend (Lazarus), and was so emotionally overwhelmed in the Garden of Gethsemane that he was sad "to the point of death." Also, since there's no mention of Joseph being around during Jesus's ministry (while his mother is around), it seems that something happened to him sometime before Jesus began preaching. That's definitely grounds for emotional suffering right there.
When I thought about this and went back to the verses where all these painful situations are found, it really gave me a whole new way to think about what I'm going through (more on that later). Each blow to a breaking heart creates an even bigger place for God's love to fill in, increases our ability to empathize with others and makes us more like our Savior. Each and every kind of pain has at least that as its purpose; and God uses those things for his plan in ways we might never know about until we get out of here.
Recently, I also got to see a clip of a bedridden man talking. He has been completely immobilized and dependent on other people since birth, and when the video was recorded he was 47 years old. He talked about his personal journey after he met Christ, how he came to terms with God being all-powerful while not healing him of his very serious disease. With complete sincerity and a warm honesty he said that he was honored to be chosen to serve God in the area of suffering: he gets to minister to so many people because of his situation and is gets to glorify God through his pain.
When you put it in that perspective... it's really powerful stuff. We're all uniquely called by God to serve in different places and in different ways, and each and every one of our experiences (positive and negative) shape us to better serve Him. Every tragedy and every blessing is used by Him for His plan; we can't change it, no matter how much we screw up or fall. He'll use everything. This doesn't mean we should turn apathetic and just sit back and go our own way, of course... but it lets us know that when things do go wrong, when they fall apart, whether it's our fault or our parent's or a disease's or a drunk driver's, God will redeem it all and use it for good. Even the most painful, evil things that seem to only destroy.
I don't say these things without meaning them... I'm living out this side of life to an extent. A slower, more painful season in life. Not physical pain, but emotional pain coming from the tearing of relationships of others... sadly, it is an issue which a lot of people have to deal with nowadays. If this situation which is upon my family now, though, would have interrupted God's plan, if it had been something which didn't have the potential to glorify God in awesome and huge ways, He wouldn't have allowed it to happen. Even if I don't see the fulfillment of that in my lifetime, I've got faith God's going to use it for the best. That doesn't make it any easier, of course; things have been tough for me (I cried while watching Minority Report... and in retrospect, I laugh at how silly that sounds). God's been providing in huge ways, though. I connected with my sister and talked to her about God, something I hadn't done before; that was a huge blessing. My church family here at home is amazing; if I'm with them, I AM home... as in, the place I am the most comfortable and safe.
One of the biggest lessons I've learned in the past two months is that when "God is my strength when I am weak," I am still going to feel weak. God doesn't just take away the pain and weakness because we ask Him to... there's a purpose for that pain. And that's the thought that keeps me going.