church · faith

the problem with pain

I’m turning 45 in a little over a week. I’ve decided to stop counting after that.

But my body isn’t cooperating. I’m starting to get aches and pains where I forgot I even existed. I used up all my youth and beauty. Gone. So long. It’s all ibuprofen and tylenol from here on out.

I kid. Sorta. The pain is real.  I try to remember to take tylenol BEFORE I know I’ll do anything strenuous. Like a big hike. Or working out. Or sorting the laundry.

Our culture talks about pain management. We are experts at it. Sorta. The pain is real. We are just really good at masking it. For a long time you just deal with pain as a way of life. We excuse it – for things like old age. God forbid I admit that it’s because I have way too much fluff on my frame. I mean, let’s NOT be honest, because that’s no fun.

The only way to live the true Jesus-follower life is to be honest. To call a spade a spade. To name the things that are in pain – the dark of your life and not ignore it or belittle it. We’re really good at brushing things aside. Even big things. And then we spiritualize that brushing aside, like it’s more Godly to “let it go” so to speak. It isn’t. And it will eat you alive if you don’t meet it head on.

You can grasp both the pain – the real horrors of life – AND the grace of Jesus. It doesn’t ever have to be one or the other. It is when you sit in the dark that you get to truly experience the miracle of light. Jesus himself sat in the pain of loss and sadness when he came to Lazarus’ tomb. He knew what was going to happen next. He trusted the will of His Father completely… BUT he still WEPT. He sat in his grief and felt the weight of the effects of sin on this world in a very personal way. Don’t rush past the hurt to get to the grace. Grace will come to you where you are.

Here’s another way to look at it.

In a very real way, the world does NOT need to think that Christians are strong. I think so much of what’s happening in the American Church today is that the facade has come crashing down around us, that facade that Christians – or at least people who go to church – have it more together than those who don’t. People went to church because that’s what good people do. They wear their “Sunday best” and they sing their feel good old time religion songs. They make nice with everyone (to their face… bless their hearts) and they “do good” things, mostly attend all the church events and socialize with good people.

And all the while, we’ve been turning a blind eye to the real suffering in the world, the face of true evil and sin. We say things like we’re just claiming the love of Jesus and can’t wait for heaven, and miss our opportunity to make any real impact right here and right now on the problem of pain and suffering. we’re not honest. We’re not honest with ourselves and not with others. We skip past the brokenness on our way to the church whistling a happy tune. Don’t get me wrong. We are called to worship and we are in desperate need of clinging to the grace God freely pours out over us.

But we are sometimes told by well meaning folks in church services to “leave your cares and concerns aside and come to worship Jesus.” I say we cannot possibly even begin to worship Jesus in spirit and truth if we aren’t bringing all our cares and concerns WITH US into his throne room and saying this is where we are. Jesus, meet us here. And he will. He will show up in the midst of all the heaviness. He will sit in it with us. He has and he will. He continues to mediate for us, knowing all the details of our broken, dark lives, and he PRAYS for us. And in this way, he joins us and weeps with us.

And then he does something we cannot do for ourselves. He raises the dead. He raises the stakes. He says “I am making all things new.” Even now he is at work, restoring and fulfilling his purposes for our lives. We believe it and claim it. AS WE WEEP. As we mourn. As we take stock. Honest, open eyed stock of all that need restoration.

Don’t skip past the broken and the dead. You will miss the miracle.

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