We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed (2 Cor. 4:8).
Affliction has been a close, unwanted companion to me for the past several years. She is always near my side. She makes her presence known in many ways, and the truth that she will not crush me seems hard to grasp at times.
Pain is a powerful thing, often defeating self-confidence, mental strength, human resolve, and a positive attitude within moments. As I write this, with pain shooting through my body and my soul weary within me, I consider this great truth of 2 Corinthians. And some days, despite my greatest efforts to hold on to hope and strength, my soul and spirit grow weary in fighting through the physical pain I endure on a daily basis. I often find myself being led to a prayer of brokenness in these moments. “Oh Lord, what good am I to you in this place? How much more could I offer you if I were healthy, energized, and strong! Lord, what is the point of this pain?”
The reality is that physical or emotional pain, especially when it is chronic, has a way of stripping away the masks we tend to wear, leaving our hearts exposed and our self-sufficient ways of life threatened. It clears away the fog of empty distractions and suddenly makes us face the question: Is it worth following Jesus when this is what life will be like?
A Broken Bowl
I love the words of Christina Rossetti, a nineteenth-century poet, in A Better Resurrection, portraying the raw effects of pain and heartache in this godly woman’s life, as well as her choice to humbly surrender her will to the trustworthy hands of our Savior:
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remold it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.
Though broken in body and weary in spirit, she clings to the one hope that remains. Her surrender is not a helpless, defeated surrender, but a desperate and humble cry of faith to lay down her desired life for more of the presence of Jesus. Is it really actually possible to think like this? How can I possibly feel this in my own pain and afflictions? How can you?
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:15–16).
Pain is never pleasant, but nothing can compare to the pain of eternity without God. And so my pain today is a small glimpse of what I have been saved from. How much more can we grasp the beautiful and glorious promise of eternity with our Savior, free from pain, when we have a daily reminder of what we have been saved from? This truth of the gospel gives us a reason, purpose, and hope to endure.
Going to the One Who Understands
I don’t know about you, but I am quick to turn inward in my pain and feel as though no one can understand what I suffer; I am often tempted to grumble, mope, and pull away from those I love. But there is Someone who understands—who has been through everything I am going through, and everything I will go through, and far, far more—Jesus.
So why do I often go to Him last? The reality is that no one can fully enter into our pain in the way our Savior can, the only One who knows us intimately and has walked this hard road before us. We are not left to endure the pain of this life in loneliness and our own strength. Rather, we serve a God who bears the physical scars of His love for us and sympathizes with us as one who has lived as a human being and suffered more than you or I will ever have to know.
He longs to fill the broken pieces of our lives, often left by sin and suffering, with the hope of the gospel and the healing power of His presence. One thought about our afflictions can never be true—that no one understands them. We have a God with nail marks in His hands. We speak to a God whose time on earth was accompanied by the afflictions of poverty, of disappointment, of betrayal and mockery and beating and death.
And this Jesus offers us mercy and grace in our time of need. So cry out to Him! God does not leave us to fend for ourselves. I’m so thankful for that! When we have nothing left and are struggling to put one foot in front of another, we can cry out to Jesus, who not only understands but strengthens us when we are weak, equips us when we are weary, and brings beauty out of our brokenness. Praise be to God that we have a hope beyond our pain because of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ!
As I write, I am speaking this truth to my own soul just as much as to yours. Though there are times when pain can seem almost unbearable, we have a hope that much of the suffering world does not know. While you naturally desire the healing of your body or your mind, Jesus desires the healing of your soul above all. And you will either allow the period of pain to bring you closer to Jesus or to pull you away from Jesus. Be aware that the company of affliction can cause you to turn away from Jesus, in crippling bitterness or toward futile self-reliance, or it can cause you to turn to Jesus, trusting that He knows, cares, helps, and will one day bring you to a world where faith will become sight and pain will be no more.
So let’s cry out to Him in our pain! Although we are afflicted in every way, we will not be crushed because of the grace of Jesus Christ that is poured out to us. He will only allow what will be used for His good and loving purposes in your life, and if He has chosen to allow you to endure some form of pain or affliction, you can find strength in the promise that He will only allow for an allotted time what He intends to use for your good and his glory.
Don’t give up or give way to despair, for there is a glorious treasure to be found when the pain of this world drives us to Jesus, and it is of far greater worth than any earthly relief. Yes, pain and affliction are real in this world. Jesus knows that. But what could crush you can, as you struggle on in faith, be the means of reshaping you.
Affliction will be my close companion, it would seem, through this life. But when she tempts me to despair, I have a God who understands, and who helps, and who will use her to keep me His and mold me into His likeness. She will not defeat me, for He is greater than she and will be loving me when she is gone.
This post was adapted from Sarah’s book, written with Kristen Wetherell, Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering. You can hear more of God’s working through Sarah’s and Kristen’s stories by watching this video.