Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
Let’s be honest, Paul sounded crazy! Why would anyone in their right mind delight in pain?! Furthermore, why would a merciful, compassionate, sovereign God allow insults, hardships, persecution and difficulties to be inflicted on those that he loves and calls His children? How could a God that claims to love us so much, in his infinite power foresee our pain and not block it from happening?
Oxford dictionary describes pain as:
• highly unpleasant physical sensation caused by illness or injury.
• Mental suffering or distress.
• Great care or trouble.
• An annoying or tedious person or thing. (informal)
Pain takes on many faces and does not discriminate against age, gender, color, class or creed. It is a fact of life, an inevitable occurrence for every single breathing human being. And if you’re anything like me, the pain that I have experienced in my life has taken on all of the facets described in the list above. Now, before I continue, let me be the first to admit that, yes, some of that pain was self-inflicted. My decisions to “figure it out” on my own rather than allowing my life to be guided by the word of God resulted in much of the adversities that I faced during my early adulthood. And, if there is anything that I have learnt along the way, it is that violating natural and spiritual laws can have negative effects on one’s physical, financial, mental and spiritual health and stability.
What do you mean by that Simone?
Well, for argument sake, let’s say a chain smoker overtime developed lung cancer, one would conclude that their illness was as a result of the direct violation of the natural law that says “Smoking can lead to cancer”. If someone ate at least three cheeseburgers a day and washed them all down with 16-ounce bottles of coca cola soda and overtime developed a heart disease, it is safe to say that they have violated the natural law that dictates “the excessive consumption of certain foods causes high cholesterol which leads to clogged arteries and ultimately heart problems”.
If at the end of every month I took my salary and went on a shopping spree and neglected to pay my monthly obligations, the laws and policies of the companies for which I owe would automatically take effect, no? So wouldn’t it be hypocritical of me to pray to God for a miracle when the electricity company comes to disconnect my electricity for none payment because I decided that having that designer bag or shoe was more important? I can go on but I think I’ve made my point.
Those were some examples of how violating some natural laws can lead to self-inflicted suffering. This same theory holds true even in our pursuit of finding our true north or moral compass; there are always consequences for every decision that we make in life, both good or bad. For every action, there is a reaction. People less spiritual tend to refer to it as karma, but it is the simple principle of seed, time and harvest.
The reality is, because we are human and subject to human error and failures, through the gift of grace God makes provisions for such shortcomings. So despite our disobedience, God’s love for us as a father, protects us from ourselves, to the point that although we may feel the sting of our own actions, he does not allow it to completely destroy us. However, God has also given us all free will, so in order to receive total deliverance or healing from our strongholds, it is up to us to first come to ourselves, take responsibility for our actions, change whatever those habits are that is causing discomfort in our lives and then take the necessary precautionary measures to ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes again.
Ultimately, God is able to turn what was meant for our destruction around for our good but also for His glory. By that same token, not only would we have grown from the experience but we would’ve survived it to provide moral and spiritual support to others; cautioning or advising them against such behaviors, and encouraging them to take a more progressive approach in their future decision making.
One may ask, “Ok, I understand all of that but what about the pain that I know I didn’t deserve?” This seems to be one of the most challenging questions in the life of a believer. “God why?” Many people have suffered loss, be it the loss of a loved one, a job, material possessions, broken relationships, broken marriages. Some are facing poverty, various illnesses and infirmities for which they did not bring upon themselves and they question why God would allow them to go through what they are being faced with. There is never an easy response to that question because the answer always sounds so cliché but I am a firm believer that God does not place on His children more than He knows they are able to handle. The question then is “How can we truly know the strength of our abilities or the depth of our faith, if they have never been tested?”
Job is a perfect example of someone that reflected the epitome of righteousness but yet God allowed Satan to destroy all that He had so that Job’s faith might be tested. He lost everything, his family and his wealth, but the story didn’t end there. The end result was that God gave Job double not only for his trouble but also for his faithfulness. Thus proving to the devil that Job was in fact an overcomer and He had the final say.
As Mothers’ Day approaches, I am reminded of the pain that many people who have lost their mothers will be faced with this weekend. For some, the wounds created by their loss are still fresh, while for others, this weekend of celebration bares with it the bitter sweet memories of old times coupled with the old wounds that followed their passing. It is a constant yearly reminder that she is no longer here on earth to celebrate another Mothers’ Day with them.
This coming Sunday will mark the 4th Anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, but it wasn’t the day that her breath left her body that I remember most about the painful experience of her death, it was the days leading up to it. Let’s face it, she was 92 years old and had well exceeded her promised years here on earth. I had long been preparing my heart and mind for the inevitable but absolutely nothing had prepared me for the toll that caring for my ailing grandmother would have on me. For ten years I watched the once, healthy, vibrant, independent, proud, poised statue of a woman slowly deteriorate to the frail, helpless, completely dependent and now bid ridden structure. I remember in the final hours of her life, walking into her room and becoming overwhelmed with a feeling of total helplessness. I stood there for what seemed like forever and watched the life slowly drain from her body. It had been days since she had eaten, she was rapidly losing weight and slowly she was becoming more and more unresponsive. Completely incapacitated, her breathing faint, unable to move, speak or even comprehend anything that was going on around her; it was more than clear that it was only a matter of time.
I remember in that moment turning away, walking back into the kitchen and bursting into tears, as I asked the question, “God why?!” And it was not a question of “why was this happening?” I knew full well that it was her time to go; she had lived a full life but mine was just starting and I was already mentally and emotionally exhausted from the journey. My question carried a far greater weight for which I did not have the mental capacity to fully articulate at the time.
Someone once said “Sometimes you don’t realize the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release.” You see, the passing of my grandmother did not just signify the loss of a mother; it was symbolic of the end of an extremely long season. As her primary caregiver and only blood relative living in the same country, that season carried with it, an incredible level of responsibility that at times felt like a massive load that I was far from equipped to carry at such a young age.
However, along with its pains and challenges came also an equal amount of skills, a wealth of knowledge and an uncommon level of wisdom gained, that could not have been obtained any other way than through that experience itself. It also forced me out of the comfort of dependency on others to think and to do for me what I thought I never could. I had to learn very early on in life to become independent in everything that I did. The responsibility of caring for someone else gave me a sense of courage and commitment. I was forced to keep moving and to be strong even when I didn’t want to because someone else’ life depended on it.
I have learnt that the pain of life’s experiences acts as a catapult to some of life’s greatest achievements. It is the bridge that connects our weaknesses to that of our strengths, the scale that balances our confidence to that of our humility. It is the ladder to which every step upward symbolizes another weakness conquered.
So it turns out Paul wasn’t so crazy after all, he was on to something. In Romans 5 he again reiterates this same notion:
“ Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
The revelation that pain does serve a purpose became even more evident during the birth of my son. I was excited about finally meeting the little person that had been sharing my personal space for the last forty-one weeks; but I was just as relieved to finally be rid of the extra weight that I had been carrying around for the last nine months. My sleeping pattern had become increasingly uncomfortable, as my bathroom trips forced me to get up multiple times throughout the night because of the pressure of the baby’s weight pressing against my bladder. Moreover, normally I was most comfortable sleeping on my stomach but by the third month my options were limited to left side or right.
Overall, pregnancy was an overwhelmingly beautiful experience but I was more than ready to be done with it! The overnight bag was packed well in advance and it was time to serve the little person who had outgrown his shared space an eviction notice! He was doing well and was in full formation to make his grand entrance into the world but my body was very slowly dilating.
It seems, the advised at-home-remedy that I had taken just the day before had triggered contractions but didn’t work out quite the way I had anticipated. After settling in to the delivery room, four hours had lapsed and there was still no progress; I was tired, hungry but patient nonetheless. I had watched enough TLC Baby Stories to know that sometimes these things could take all day, but time was of the essence, so my doctor ordered the oxytocin to help speed up the process. Now, initially I had a birth plan that included an all-natural birth, free of any form of medicine or chemical. I was hard fixed on it for months but in the grand scheme of things, I had to come to the realization that a safe delivery and a healthy baby was far more important than my own dream of becoming a super hero. So when I saw that I had already passed the first half of the day, I was well aware that I needed reinforcement and with a narrow window of opportunity I ordered the epidural. I was done playing Wonder woman and I recognized that after so many hours of labor there was only so much that my physical body could take. I also needed to be well rested with enough energy to push when the time came and this chemical injection would make that all possible. So with birth plan now tossed out the window, I gladly surrendered!
The anesthesiologist came into the room and began making the necessary preparation to administer the commonly known miracle drug used by wise women the world over during labor. Prepping the area for the injection and insertion of the catheter, the words that came next held the most profound meaning of the entire labor day experience “I need you to be completely still, while I am doing this. Now, you will feel a very cold sensation around the spinal area but that is normal. I will give you a low dosage which is just enough to help alleviate some of the discomfort and relax the muscles but it won’t be enough to completely numb your system because you need to be able to feel some level of pain or pressure during labor. That pain is an indication that you are having a contraction and that you should push. If I completely remove your ability to feel anything at all then you won’t be able to bear down and push with the contractions.”
In the moment, although I understood what was being explained to me, the revelation of it all held absolutely no relevance until months later.
Needless to say, three doses and five hours later, it was time to push and sure enough there was sufficient pain to indicate exactly when I needed to do just that! I will spare you the gory details of what the next 30 minutes of the labor experience entailed but just know that for me it held one of the greatest lessons on the purpose of pain and the power of persevering through it all. During labor, my tunnel vision was in full effect! I had already been forewarned that if I didn’t get this done soon, the doctor would have to move on to plan B; and plan B was not an option for me!
Though exhausted from nearly eleven hours of labor, I knew that the pain that I was feeling was temporary and pushing through the pressure would ultimately give way to a much greater purpose. With my husband at one end of the bed and the doctor at the other, they relentlessly cheered me on with every contraction, both holding a leg. LOL! I was determined to get this right! I had failed at many things in my life but this was not going to be one of them! A life depended on my ability to push. So with everything that I had left in me, I pushed and after thirty minutes of pushing and a total of eleven hours of labor a healthy baby boy was born.
The analogy of childbearing maybe physical in nature, but I think in so many ways, it can be likened to most of life’s challenging situations. Most times, it is very difficult to focus on what is ahead when our temporary set backs are staring us right in the face. It is in those times that we must always remember that we are never in it alone. We might not always see them, but God is there every step of the way cheering us on as we push beyond the pressures of our present circumstances; he releases his angels of grace, mercy and protection as reinforcements during our weakest moments but it is up to us to call on Him during those times. Sometimes our plans get derailed because of circumstances beyond our control, but God in all of His infinite wisdom always provides for us a way out. His plans for us are always far greater than we can ever think, hope or even imagine. So when you are forced to tap out or give up, it is imperative to see beyond the scope of your current temporary situation. It is important to know that with every struggle that you face, pushing past the pain of that season will eventually give birth to a greater purpose. You might not be able to see it now but the reward for your troubles is wrapped in a beautiful gift yet to be unveiled.
“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”
― Lance Armstrong, Every Second Counts