“Pain is an old friend.” So said Doctor Strange in the eponymous movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he faced down mega villain Dormammu to prevent him from invading our dimension. Most people that I know would not call pain a friend. Most people call something tedious, unwanted, and difficult a pain. But pain can serve good ends despite being undesirable.
I’ve known a great number of people who’ve lived with chronic pain who have been defined as remarkable individuals by the way they’ve refused to allow their pain to keep them down. In college, I knew a young man with a crippling disease that could have served as an excuse for giving up and lamenting life. Instead, he studied harder than most people I know, jogged every day despite having one leg that just dragged behind him, and always found a way to do what needed to be done, never complaining about his disability. His body was frail, but he may have been one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.
Years later as a hospital chaplain I watched as a young mother wracked in agony with a painful terminal cancer spent every one of her last days writing birthday and Christmas cards for her very young son so that he’d have them to open on each occasion over the years even though his mother was long gone. She bore the excruciating pain by pouring her will into making sure the voice of her love for her son would be heard decades into the future. I knew then, as I know now, that in the presence of the love of a mother that could push against torture that would make the most hardened among us weep, I stood in the presence of greatness.
I have seen beauty emerge from agony. I have witnessed love triumph over brokenness. I have known people in dire circumstances stare down their woes and emerge with character that is rare in this world. Not all pain is physical. I think that there are some hurts of the emotional variety that would be easier to bear if they were merely physical afflictions. However, even when the wound goes into the core of our being and throbs in the constant pricking of woes, what-ifs, whys, and losses that cannot be named, I’ve known people who’ve found a teacher, or perhaps a drill-instructor, in that pain and have found ways to turn trials into triumphs.
This is one of the great truths of the Christian faith—God can turn all things to the good of them that love Him and are called according to His purposes as it says in Romans 8:28. The Bible is full of lives that the touch of God used their horrible circumstances to blaze forth glorious goodness. I think of Joseph in the book of Genesis whose own brothers sold him into slavery. God used all the hardships Joseph encountered to prepare a man who would save both Egypt and peoples from the neighboring lands, even Joseph’s brothers. I think of Jesus whose suffering and death were transformed by God into forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. There are so many other examples, but today I want to ask the question, “What is pain doing to you?”
It would be wiser to ask, “What are you doing with your pain?” Are you willing to take it to God in prayer and invite Him to cause your pain to serve His glory and your good? And while pain need not be an old friend, it can be a teacher, a tool, and an opportunity for God to do something glorious in your life. I know that when we give our travails to God, He might or might not remove them, but He will transform us through them. Pain may be inevitable in this life, but because of Jesus, character and goodness can drown pain in glory.
Contact Pastor Lamb at firstname.lastname@example.org.