By Elaine Creasman
I’ve discovered a truth: when I run from pain, I tend to run from God, the one who can help me endure it. The most blessed course I’ve found is to embrace what God allows rather than run from it.
John Piper writes in his book, Don’t Waste Your Life (Crossway, 2003), “There is more of God’s glory to be seen and savored through suffering than through self-serving escape.” I’ve realized how much time and energy I’ve wasted attempting to escape pain.
Now, instead of trying to avoid emotional pain, I’m rejoicing in how God uses it to refine me and draw me closer to him and to other people. Here’s what helps me keep embracing my pain to stay vitally connected to the Lord.
Let Go of Pain-Free Thinking
Too often I’ve fallen into thinking, If I’m doing things right, my life’s supposed to be free of suffering. Yet then I remember what Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, New King James Version). So I accept the fact I’ll have pain this side of Heaven. Even though suffering is inevitable, an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus brings me back repeatedly to the place of being of “good cheer.”
God uses hard times to draw me closer to him and mature me as a Christian. I cannot escape this truth when I read James 1:2, 3: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” Once I accept that life on earth involves pain, I stop repeatedly trying to build a barrier between me and a broken heart.
A while ago I talked to a mom who has an autistic child. She told me of the distress she felt when she first heard the diagnosis: “One of the most important things I did was move closer to my son,” she said, aware of the temptation to withdraw from him. She expressed that staying close to her child and to the Lord helped her deal with the pain. As she did, she discovered joy in the midst of her sorrow.
In my marriage I’ve withdrawn from my husband at times when he’s wounded me. I believed the lie: “Marriage is never supposed to hurt.” Yet I’ve learned that drawing close and feeling the emotional pain of difficult times is key to forgiveness. It’s also important in avoiding the ultimate escape-from-pain door marked “divorce.”
Drawing close to my husband or my children when they have caused me heartache has led to me having deeper understanding and compassion for them.
Believe God Still Loves Me
God, if you loved me, I wouldn’t suffer like this. How often I’ve entertained that lie. Because I have, I’ve shirked dealing with my pain, which has led to avoiding intimacy with God. When I avoid drawing near to God, I use the things of this world to numb my pain—comfort food, shopping, worldly books, and television.
Over 30 years ago, I prayed that the Lord would heal my sister of schizophrenia. Instead I received a call saying she had jumped from a seven-story building and was dead—at age 21. When I ran from dealing with the pain and ran from seeking God in the midst of it, I felt miserable and considered ending my own life.
As I determined to believe God had not abandoned me but still loved me even though I was suffering, this drew me to him, and he healed me in many areas. He offered more comfort than I dreamed possible and gave me a desire to pass comfort along to others (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). My sister’s illness inspired me to work in the psychiatric field, where I’ve been privileged to touch scores of lives with God’s truth and grace.
In February 2012 the unthinkable happened—another sibling took his life. He was happy with a beautiful, loving wife and loving children—ages 12 and 14—until he developed health issues. He could not cope with the physical or emotional pain of having a severe back problem and ongoing limitations on his life. After a visit to the doctor where there was more bad news, he shot himself.
My brother’s death has brought much emotional pain, but I’m accepting it and drawing close to the Lord as my source of comfort. I’ve been amazed at how God is using this pain to help me reach out to others who are facing tragedies and dealing with grief.
The verse that has sustained me is Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” He’s healing me and binding up my wounds, and it’s a beautiful experience. Some days I feel so sad over my brother’s death, but at the same time I am glad to have the Lord right here, helping me through the valley of grief.
Run Toward God with My Pain
Once I move past seeing God as punisher to seeing him as provider, I’m free to turn to him to manage my pain. Part of running toward God is staying in his Word.
“This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me” (Psalm 119:50, New American Standard Bible).
When I think of someone suffering pain and running toward the Lord, I think of Nancy Guthrie. She and her husband, David, had one healthy child; but their second child, Hope, was diagnosed as having Zellweger Syndrome, for which there is no cure. Hope died at 7 months old after much suffering. They decided not to have any more children, since the doctor had informed them the next baby would likely have the same disease. However, Nancy got pregnant again, and their son also had the disease. They could have chosen abortion to avoid further pain. They didn’t. Their third child was born, suffered, and also died.
I feel close to Nancy Guthrie because she has dealt with a double portion of grief as I have—two loved ones with the same cause of death who died too soon.
In her book, Holding on to Hope (Tyndale, 2006), Nancy challenges people in pain with these questions: “Rather than running from or resenting your suffering, would you be willing to look for God in it? Would you allow suffering to lead you to the very heart of God, a place where you can find the comfort and peace you crave as well as the hope that has the power to transform your tomorrows?”
As I run toward God in the midst of suffering, I can see the good he brings out of it.
Avoid Isolating Myself
When I’m avoiding pain, I also tend to avoid people. The truth is, God wants to use his people to help me deal with pain.
For a time I didn’t want to go to church because my children, who had been raised in church, had abandoned their faith. Each time someone asked, “How are your daughters?” or celebrated ways their children were living godly lives, my pain rushed to the surface and threatened to drown me. I avoided my Bible study group, where the leader called her husband “my sweetheart” during times when it seemed my marriage was nothing but heartache. I determined no one else was having the degree of difficulties I was—a marriage hanging by a thread and prodigal children who were breaking my heart.
Yet as I determined to keep going to church and return to my Bible study, I learned to stop keeping pain a secret. I allowed myself to cry in front of others. When I was honest about my pain, some people were uncomfortable, but others offered godly counsel, hugs, prayers, tears, and stories about their own pain.
Some days I still get miffed about pain, and I feel weary of dealing with it. I know I’m going to have those times. When I feel overwhelmed, I remember what a good friend said to me years ago: “God never wastes our pain.” As I reflect over my life, I see how true that is.
Elaine Creasman is a freelance writer in Largo, Florida.
Helping Teens Heal from Pain
The teen years are full of situations and decisions that are painful in the moment and can cause even greater long-term pain. If you know a struggling teen in your church or family, you may want to suggest these resources to help them heal—or even prevent—some of life’s pain.
Scars That Wound: Scars That Heal
A Journey Out of Self-Injury
by Jan Kern
Seduced by Sex: Saved by Love
A Journey Out of False Intimacy
by Jan Kern
Eyes Online: Eyes On Life
A Journey Out of Online Addictions
by Jan Kern
Live Free Journey: Small Group Study
by Jan Kern