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What Will You Do With Your Pain?

What Will You Do With Your Pain?

"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others." (1 Peter 4:10, NIV)

Hamburgers are a regular item on the Southerland summer menu for several reasons. Hamburgers are inexpensive, easy to prepare, and scrumptious. Hamburgers can be cooked outside. We live in Kansas, where the summer heat can be brutal. Why add to the rising temperature outside by turning on an oven inside?

On one particular hamburger-kind-of night, my husband offered to do the grilling, but he had just gotten home from work and looked like he needed a nap more than he needed to grill anything. Being the wonderful wife I am, I said, "Honey, why don't you take a quick nap while I grill the hamburgers?" Being the wonderful husband that he is, Dan responded, "I will be glad to do that for you. It really is hot outside." I should have taken him up on his offer. I didn't want to be in the scorching heat one minute longer than I had to be, so I quickly seasoned the hamburger patties, slapped them on the grill, and headed back inside.

Our daughter met me at the door with our grandson, who was looking for his Mimi. That's me.

When Justus saw me, he smiled and stretched out his chubby little arms for me to hold him. I immediately accepted his invitation and promptly forgot about the hamburgers sizzling on the grill – until Danna asked what we were having for dinner. As visions of charred hamburger patties danced through my head, I made a mad dash to rescue our meal. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that the hamburgers were still edible – barely – but a little charcoal is a healthy addition to any diet – right?

I quickly transferred the hamburgers to a plate, closed the lid on the grill, and turned to head inside. My foot caught on the leg of a patio chair. I stumbled, juggling the plate of meat in my hand. I was not about to give up those hamburgers without a fight! Instinctively, I reached out for something to break my fall and found the grill – with three fingers.

Have you ever had an accident that seemed to happen in slow motion? I could feel the searing heat followed by the temporary numbness that accompanies second-and-third degree burns. Ice! I needed ice and water! I raced into the house, dropped the plate of burgers on the dinner table, and said, "Let's eat!" Leaning over the kitchen sink, I turned the cold water on full blast, hoping it would ease the growing pain. It didn't. We tried every pain reliever we had and finally resorted to soaking the injured fingers in a small bowl of ice water – which really did help – but when large blisters began to appear, Dan and I headed to Urgent Care close to our home.

As the doctor applied a burn cream, I asked, "Will it stop the pain?" The nurse had taken my bowl of ice water, and I couldn't believe how badly those three fingers hurt! "It won't actually stop the pain, but it will help the burns heal and prevent infection. I'll give you a painkiller for the next couple of days," she explained. When the doctor handed me the prescription, I was surprised. It was the same pain medication I had once taken after major surgery and now take on a daily basis for my back. I have Scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and stenosis in my back. Now that is all major stuff – and very painful. I take the lowest dosage I can possibly take to enable me to function and do all of the things I really want to do. But taking stronger pain medication for three fingers? Really? I am not a doctor but taking pain medication that affects the whole body seems like overkill when only three fingers are in pain. But as the hours passed, I was very thankful for each little pill. Every part of my body was screaming, "Pay attention to the fingers! We hurt!"

The Body of Christ should function the same way. Instead, we often shoot our wounded and leave them lying in the dirt to find help on their own. The problem is not always that we are unwilling to help someone in pain. We are simply blind to the fact that they exist and that they are hurting. We overlook wounded people because we are in a hurry or because we don't want to deal with the mess of a broken life.

Jesus Christ willingly gave up heaven and came to Earth as a man; He went straight for the messiest lives, those in the greatest pain. The losers and the misfits. Jesus felt every pain we have ever felt or ever will feel. Jesus was misunderstood and slandered. He was beaten, tortured, and then crucified to pay for our sin. It must break the heart of God when we so easily toss aside what cost Him so very much - the chance to help one of His broken lambs.

Look around you. Someone needs you to see them – to really feel their pain and then be willing to do something about it.

"He gives strength to those who are tired and more power to those who are weak." (Isaiah 40:29, NCV)

I love a great movie! To me, a movie is great when good wins over evil, the right guy gets the right girl, nobody gets hurt, and everyone lives happily ever after. A bit naive, I know. But I have decided that there is enough harsh reality ripping through daily life without paying to see more on a movie screen.

With these criteria in mind, I went to see the movie "Sea Biscuit." There I was - popcorn in hand, minding my own business and enjoying my brief respite, when his words slammed into my soul, yanking me back to the tenacious essence and endless power of truth.

"You don't throw a whole life away just because it's banged up a little." I was done. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the movie, those words linger still because it seemed they were written just for me. The reality is that we are all "banged up a little." In "A Farewell to Arms," Ernest Hemingway writes, "The world breaks everyone and many are strong at the broken places." We all have hidden scars, fresh wounds, and broken places. The good news is that God is drawn to broken people. He accomplishes His greatest work through those who are most broken.

"I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name." (Isaiah 45:3, NIV)

God has gone before us and has buried a treasure or stored rich secrets in every trial and painful circumstance that can only be found by going through that darkness. The most powerful truths are revealed in the darkest of times. Pain intensifies our need for God and can be counted as a blessing.

I struggle with clinical depression. The darkness has been an all too familiar companion for most of my life. Over the years, I tried just about everything to soothe the pain - things like success in ministry, the approval of others, perfectionism, doing good things, food, and - you get the idea. In 1995 my carefully constructed world fell apart, and I spent two long years at the bottom of a dark pit of depression. I had no idea how to handle the pain and hurt. I cried out to God. He heard my cry and led me to a passage of Scripture that continually heals me and helps me handle hurt. 

"I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD." (Psalm 40:1-3, NIV)

I don't know what your particular pit is. But I know what you are feeling. You may be desperately clinging to the broken and mismatched remnants of your life, wondering how you can go on. Whispers of the enemy creep into your heart, soul, and mind, taunting you with the lie that you are just too dirty and broken for God to love or use. It seems as if nothing and no one can change that reality, so you might as well give up, throwing your life away. Stop! Nothing could be further from the truth! Hurt may be inevitable, but misery is optional. How we respond to pits and pain is our choice.

We can surrender to the darkness and create an identity that feels at home in a pit, or we can embrace the pain and learn from it.

man upset and stressed battling sin

Photo credit: ©GettyImagesRawpixel

Our son, Jered, played football all the way through college. Over the years, he endured several injuries, but Jered experienced his first surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot as a junior in high school. The orthopedic surgeon explained exactly what he would do during surgery. "First of all, I will remove the scar tissue that has formed around the break. I will then insert a metal screw to connect the broken bones." As he spoke, I was comforted by my mind's depiction of a shiny, thin, and smooth metal screw resting gently in my son's foot. There are times when ignorance is a blessing. The surgery went well, and after two weeks, I took Jered in for a follow-up visit during which his foot was x-rayed again to make sure it was healing properly. The doctor walked in, smiling and waving an x-ray in his hand. "Your foot is healing beautifully," he announced with great pride.

Curious, I asked the doctor if we could see the x-ray. When he slapped it up against the light board, I was horrified to see a thick, long metal bolt. In fact, on closer examination, I was certain the beginnings of rust could be seen on that barbaric screw jammed up into my son's precious bone. Seeing the look on my face, the doctor assured me that everything was fine. I was far from convinced and had a few questions that needed answering – immediately. "Is that screw supposed to look like that, or did you put the wrong screw in my son's foot?" I asked. The doctor listened patiently, smiled, and said, "Well, now that you mention it, I need to be honest and tell you Jered's foot will not be as strong as it was before." The evil doctor then grinned and said, "It will actually be stronger. New scar tissue will form around the broken place and make it tougher than it was before."

We can settle for a life defined by pain, or we can harness the power of our pain and use it for good. We can try to ignore the pain and hope it all goes away, or we can face it and let God heal the broken places. Those are not just words. They are choices that you and I can and must make every single day. God knows. God hears. God will breathe life into the right choices that we make. And today, He is asking, "Child, what will you do with your pain?"

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.