Pain can be defined as an unpleasant physical sensation that is caused by illness or injury. Pain can vary from unbearably intense to mild. Within this range, I would probably say that for three weeks straight I experienced intense pain, as I underwent three surgeries in a space of four weeks.
There is a certain uniqueness that comes with going through pain yourself. And in hindsight I can honestly say that God really does everything in our lives—good or bad—for his glory and our good, in that order. Thus, after three surgeries I can testify that God is still good.
After three surgeries I can testify that God is still good
Struggles, Strains & Surgeries
The mere sound of 2020 leaves an unpleasant taste in all of our mouths. Yet as we move through 2021 our stomachs aren’t settled, nor is the taste gone. In addition to this, Christians are constantly facing up against the world, the flesh, and the devil. But in all of these struggles, both the general cut and thrust of Christian living and the specific challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and my own surgeries, God has taught me invaluable lessons.
In this article I hope to take those hard learned lessons from 2020 and impress them on you, as I see them bearing fruit already in my own 2021.
Pain Teaches Us To Trust God
It’s easy to tell someone to trust God when you’re not wading through deep waters. And a lot can be said about the caution with which we should encourage those who are suffering. We should be slower to rush into expounding God’s grand plan when someone finds themselves in the depths of despair.
It’s easy to tell someone to trust God when you’re not wading through deep waters.
I couldn’t articulate this warning better than one Christian brother. He writes: “Just be sensitive enough to know that the person suffering is very likely struggling with God’s sovereignty over their situation. In other words, knowing that nothing happens apart from God’s will can make suffering all the more disorientating. God’s children are often confused by what their heavenly Father is doing. Far from letting go of God’s sovereignty, we must treasure it. Only, we must also be careful of reducing it to a trite statement or careless platitude.”
But What If I Don’t Understand Why?
Not long before my surgeries I had gone through a Bible study showing people in the Bible who had to trust God entirely. The thought of not having control over anything at that time was scary. I had to trust that the God who brought me to it would take me through it, dead or alive. Looking into God’s face in trust and thanksgiving, knowing that ultimately my bodily sickness was for his glory was the only option I had.
The test of trust for believers is both simple and unsettling. When you’re going through a hard time—physically, financially, or otherwise—can you answer ‘Yes’, to the following question that God asks: “Can you thank me for entrusting you with this experience, even if I never tell you why?”
I had to trust that the God who brought me to it would take me through it, dead or alive.
My pain greeted me in the morning, nagged me throughout the day, and didn’t even allow me to have a full night’s sleep for close to a month. So, like the psalmist, I needed to commend myself to the shadow of his wings where I had taken refuge (Psalm 57:1).
I think what was hardest for me was not knowing when the pain would end. And that was very scary. As the psalm goes on, “till the storms of destruction pass by.”
And that was all I had to hold on to.
Pain Reveals We Are Not Alone
I was bedridden. My interactions with friends and family were limited. Yet I still saw armies arise to fight for me in prayer. Truth be told, I hardly prayed or read my Bible. But I had people walk in and out of the hospital doors daily, praying for and ministering to me. Today I rejoice that God answered their petitions, at the time I could rest in the comfort of Christian community and care.
Truth be told, I hardly prayed or read my Bible. But I had people praying for me daily.
This experience reiterated a truth we easily forget when everything is going well. God does not save individuals or islands. God has saved you in community for community. Their faith strengthened me. In prayer they spoke of a God who heals, cares, and comforts. Rejoicing in my experience of their love, my pain stoked my desire to know my God more, while treasuring his gift of community.
In Africa, it’s a common joy to see and experience unity and oneness when someone gets married, for example. This can even be said of funerals. But, for me, I saw my relatives and Christian family gather around and hold hands over my hospitalisation. God did this, through my pain. By my surgeries and suffering he brought about greater unity.
Pain Can Bring Us Closer To God
But there was definitely a time during my sickness that I felt a kind of ‘spiritual dryness.’ I wanted to run away from the pain and hurt.
We all respond to suffering differently. But most of us seek to escape reality. So I shut down. Because of sheer exhaustion I was tempted to spend what little time and energy I possessed wishing I wasn’t in pain. It seemed like life had winners and losers, and at that moment I was on the losing team. Therefore I needed to start talking to myself just like another psalmist. He asks himself: “Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5; Psalm 43:5).
There was definitely a time during my sickness that I felt a kind of ‘spiritual dryness.’ I wanted to run away
I’m not for a second undermining the intensity of serious physical pain and suffering. But I want to encourage believers. Your seemingly inescapable pain will not remain forever. Paul puts it best in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Trust God To Use Your Pain
One of my pastors taught me a valuable lesson about providence: it is best traced and understood in hindsight. When we are going through deep waters, we may not see God moving. But even when you don’t see or feel his presence, you can be sure that he is at work. As John Piper says, “God is always doing ten thousand things in your life. You might be aware of three of them.”
Even when you don’t see or feel his presence, you can be sure that he is at work
My prayer for every Christian is that, whatever you may go through, God may get the glory for it and that the same God may enable you to learn from your pain. While you go through your pain learn to trust God completely and draw closer to him. I hope that your pain will reassure you that you are not alone and may you be heartened by your Christian community.
I do not wish pain on anyone. Together with you, I long for the day that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and embrace us forever (Revelation 21:5). For he has promised an eternal age when suffering will be no more. You can trust him to get us there. And you can trust him until he does.