Monday, February 14, 2011

Pain is Inevitable

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling Charlotte campus

I am teaching “Ministering to Women in Pain” this semester. It is one of the new courses in our counseling curriculum, and it is the first time I am teaching it. In preparation, I have been reading about theodicy (the theological question of a good and sovereign God and the problem of evil), and on pain and suffering in general.
One book I have read that has really affected me profoundly is “More than an Aspirin” by my friend Gay Hubbard. Gay and I have been exchanging thoughts on pain and the life of faith since I attended the first Sabbatical for Women in Ministry that she and Alice Mathews taught here at GCTS. This latest book of hers has been transformative for me. I would like to share some of her thoughts, and my thoughts about what she has written, with you.
If pain is inevitable, is it possible to live with pain in such a way that we alter its negative impact on our lives? Gay’s answer is, yes. It depends on how we respond to it. If we don’t think about it, pain will often lead to bitterness. It does not have to, however, if we decide to agree with God that pain can be used by him in redemptive ways to grow us into who he intends for us to become. In Gay’s phraseology, we much choose to believe in an Eastering God, even on that black, despairing Saturday.
An important lesson I am learning is that “I am not the pain,” rather pain is something that happens to me, and there are many other wonderful things in my life that make it worthwhile. “My life is more than my pain, and I will not die from this pain. I can choose to survive” (p.106). God has demonstrated to us in Jesus that he values pain for what it accomplishes. By his stripes we are healed. His suffering enables us who believe to become the children of God and to have complete and total forgiveness of our sins, and to live for eternity with God in the new heavens and the new earth. How great is that? So Jesus, although he did not want to suffer, agreed with the Father, not my will by thine be done. Amen. Me too. I don’t like suffering, and neither did Jesus, but he endured for the glory set before him. I want to do this too.
It is important to note that this does not mean I have to LIKE suffering. Jesus did not LIKE going to the cross. He ENDURED it for the sake of what it would accomplish. So, too, I have to ENDURE the suffering God allows in my life for the sake of what it accomplishes. With this new perspective, I can look at my life and the results of the suffering I have endured and see how God has used it to change me into the person he wants me to be, and to empower me to do the ministry he has called me to do. This is greatly encouraging.
Let me encourage you with some thoughts on this process:
1. If you are not your pain, then you can look at other aspects of your life. Notice the good things, and express gratitude for them. Keep doing that on a daily basis. You will be surprised at how this will help you to live the truth that you are not your pain.
2. God is an Eastering God. How can God bring resurrection to your Saturday pain? Do you see things in your life that God has used your pain to grow and create? Be thankful for them. But remember, you don’t have to LIKE the pain!
3. Try to let go of asking God “why?” He may or may not choose to let you know the whys of it all. We have the promise that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” Trust that and leave it in his hands. When he is ready to le you know why, he will, and until then you will just lose a lot of sleep over it. Focus on God and trusting him for the outcome.
4. What you can change, change. If you are in a destructive relationship, do something about it. If you’ve developed a destructive way of life or pattern of thinking, do the work to change it. Do not continue in self-destructive relationships, behaviors, thoughts or emotions.
5. Don’t worry about whose fault it is. If there is something you are doing that is self-destructive and creating suffering in your life, by all means, take it to God, repent and change. But, if you cannot see any way that you have created the pain, don’t blame yourself. Trust God and leave it in his hands.
6. God does not promise a happy ending. Maybe your pain will end in you knowing God better and depending more on him, without it actually ending. I have learned that this can be okay, too. If I am more than my pain, it need not define me and I can live a full life of loving and serving God even in the midst of it.
7. Remember, what God cares about is your relationship with him. Cling to him, depend on him, trust him, go with him. That is the big thing for God.
I end with Gay’s word on how we may think about our pain (pp. 109-110):
My pain is what it is - my pain. I did not choose this pain. I cannot avoid this pain. But life and God are bigger than my pain, and I am more than my suffering. In this pain I can choose life. I can choose to live productively through this pain.
It is what it is: pain. But that is all that it is: my pain. It is not evidence of my inadequacy, my unloveableness, or the absence of my worth. It is neither proof of my personal culpability nor evidence of the absence of God.
The cycle of life is what it is; laughter and tears; gain and loss; joy and pain. In the cyle of my life I have come to this season of pain. I cannot go around it, but I can and will go through it. I can survive. And I choose to do more than survive. I choose to live in a way that permits good things to emerge from this time of pain. I count upon God’s promise that I cna be more than conqueror in all things (Romans 8:37).
In this pain, I choose life. In the present darkness of my soul and disordered circumstances, I choose life. In wordless faith in an Eastering God, I chose to live.

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