Recently my family shrunk. Unexpectedly. Tragically. Permanently. This isn’t my first run in with death, I’ve seen it before and I’ve seen its greed applied to those who are 20 years old and to those almost 100 years old alike. This time, the departed was somewhere in the middle.
Every time I’m here, reminds me of all the other times I’ve been here. Not to say that each experience is the same, but the familiarity of death has a way of triggering the memory, sending a wandering mind back to the last time the psyche was challenged to accept the drastically different reality that is always a result of loss.
When I was 19 I buried a dear friend who was 20. I wrote a lot, in that aftermath, in an effort to process and heal, and one of the things that I wrote was that perhaps God hollows us out with pain- to fill us all the more with Himself. Maybe that is still true, but the three rounds I have had with death since I wrote those words have led me to a slightly different perspective.
I don’t know if we are hollowed out by pain or not, but what I do know, for certain, is that there are two very different types of pain…one that is hollow and one that is not.
Yesterday, I sat across from a beautiful 13 year old boy; a boy whose anxious smile and questing eyes flooded my senses as he pushed up his sleeves exposing the skin on his wrists. Skin that was littered with the scars he had received from the barbed wire his father used to tie him up with. It was a heartbreaking story, but one that was just a small snap-shot of the horror he has known since birth; a life saturated with pain.
It was an interesting moment that he and I shared. He, feeling the pain of his life, and me, feeling the pain of losing a life. But the biggest difference was that his pain was hollow and mine was not.
The purpose of pain is a topic I have spent much time analyzing partly due to my personal experiences and certainly due to my professional ones. I am far from deriving an answer for perhaps the biggest question of humanity, but recently, I have been able to view the concept of pain from a very different angle than I otherwise had before.
I guess the best way to explain it is to compare it to work, or love. These are things that we pursue and experience as humans, but none of it has purpose until I accept Christ’s redemption. Suddenly, I complete my work as if I’m working for Christ, and I love as if I’m loving Christ.
Christ’s presence in my life is what brings purpose to all the elements of my existence, including my pain. I don’t believe that God chooses to inflict pain on His creation, but for the saints who have allowed Him to redeem their lives, the pain they will inevitably bear as the result of a fallen world has purpose. It’s not wasted.
Certainly, I think one of the strongest uses God wrestles out of our pain is to remind us of Himself; in a way just like a burning bush. The ground beneath Moses’ feet did not suddenly become holy because the bush was on fire. It was holy the entire time, Moses just needed a reminder. Or Jacob and his dream; God had always been there, it was Jacob who didn’t know it. So God gave him a dream to remind him. How many other times had Moses and Jacob wandered into God’s presence, unknowingly? How many times have I? God always has His finger on the pulse of my life; I am just incredibly talented at distracting myself; but not from this. Pain has to be the one human emotion we can’t ignore…so what a perfectly beautiful opportunity for Christ.
Now, because of His presence in my life, my pain becomes swollen with purpose. It doesn’t mean that I hurt less, it doesn’t guarantee that I’ll be stronger because of it, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I can heal faster or even at all, but what it does mean, is that out of senselessness, Christ can extract significance. And my identity in that significance is secure; my existence belongs to someone. And there is immense purpose in living a life that belongs to someone.
Since Christ entered my life, I’ve always had this identity, just like from the time God entered Moses’ life the ground had always been holy. Sometimes it just takes a burning bush of pain to realize it. So the question is, how will I choose to respond now that I see the flames…