On June 9th of 2020, in Selma, Alabama, I was out for a run when a man pulled up behind me, stepped out of his van holding a 9mm handgun and began to shoot at me. The number of total shots fired is still unclear. All I know is that I sustained 5 gunshot wounds to my lower body. That day, I experienced pain like I had never experienced before.
Admit the Existence of Pain
It’s counter-cultural to admit pain and weakness. It’s ingrained in the fabric of our American culture that we are expected to face hardships by pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, work even harder and God will bless our efforts and make us successful or take away our pain.
Many Christians attempt to deny the existence of pain. This denial usually is the result of the belief of one of two lies. The first is If I serve God, He owes me a happy, successful and stress-free life. I heard a pastor say recently that many Christians assume the Gospel is some sort of an escape from reality--or pain. There’s an unrealistic expectation that if they believe in Jesus, they will avoid pain and suffering and life should be easy.
The second lie Christians believe about pain goes something like, “Yes I’m hurting but I can’t let anyone know or they’ll think I don’t have enough faith so I’ll just ignore it and hope it goes away”. I have a family member who is caring for her aging parents with deteriorating health. The emotional and relational stress in their family has taken a visible, physical toll on her and her siblings. After observing this for some time, I asked if I could ask her a question but she could not respond with “ok”, “fine” or “good”. With all that’s been going on, how are you really doing? Without missing a beat, she said “Alright” and changed the topic of conversation.
This is not Biblical. We are humans. We have limits. Because sin exists, pain exists. We need help. Denying pain exists is selfish because it puts the focus on you. Therefore, denying pain robs God of worship.
Align your heart to God’s purpose
The apostle Paul is able to grasp the value of publically admitting suffering because he clearly understands God’s purpose not just in his life but God’s eternal purpose.
… My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities... 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Paul has it figured out. When he experiences feelings of “weakness” or “hardships,” he can be content because those are opportunities to glorify God. Paul focuses on the sufficiency of God’s grace and power. God’s purpose in all things, including your pain, our pain, is to draw our attention to Himself, the sole source of salvation and hope. When we align our hearts to God’s purpose, our perspective changes.
In his book, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop offers us an eternal perspective. “Suffering does not mean God has forgotten or rejected His people. Rather, the long arc of God’s plan for salvation is always at work-even though we cannot fully see the trajectory.”
I have spent more time being sad in the last three months since being shot than the last 10 years combined. Missing out on things with my kids, watching from a wheelchair while my pregnant wife was forced to do-it-all, being told I’ll never be able to properly use my foot again are all justifiable examples of suffering that make life hard. But I too can find contentment, like Paul, because God’s grace is sufficient for me. He is working his plan for my good and for His glory, always.
Harrison has lived in East Asia with his wife Lauren since 2010. He has four children: Hooper (5), Benaiah (4), Adella (3) and baby Harriet is due in Oct. of 2020.