“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12
Whether we realize it or not, pain is not the problem. Pain is an indication of the true problem.
In 2012, my husband suffered a heart event. His left anterior descending artery (LAD)—also known as the “widowmaker” for the devastating impact a blockage in that artery can cause—was 99% obstructed! He was transported by ambulance to a local hospital and, within minutes, had two stints implanted. Thanks to the quick actions of the paramedics, skilled work of the cardiac surgeon, and the grace of God, he’s doing great today.
When I tell the story, the common response is “oh that’s awful.” However, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t awful. In fact, the heart attack was the best thing that could have happened! It was a warning sign that one of his main arteries was severely blocked. If he wasn’t able to get immediate medical attention, he would have died from the blockage in his artery, not from the pain caused by the heart attack. It sounds like I’m splitting hairs here, but it’s an important distinction to make.
Pain is not the enemy.
On the contrary, God uses our pain as a powerful tool to get our attention. It's difficult for us to understand that God doesn't view suffering in the same way that we do. We want to avoid it; we want it to go away; we want to pretend it doesn’t exist. Sometimes we see our pain as proof that God is mad at us or doesn't care about us, but nothing could be further from the truth.
One of my favorite success stories is Norman Yoshio Mineta. He served as the Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration and Secretary of Transportation in the Bush Administration. Mineta is the only individual to fill Cabinet positions for both the Republican and Democrat parties. But Mineta—born to Japanese immigrants—didn’t rise to his position of influence in the typical way.
In 1941, Mineta was ten years old when the Japanese military attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor. Following the horrific assault which killed over 2,400 American military personnel and civilians, Mineta was detained along with his parents at an internment camp for several years during the remainder of World War II.
Norman was a big baseball fan as a kid. But when he arrived at the camp with his prized possessions—his baseball bat and glove—the bat was confiscated by the authorities, citing that it could be used as a weapon.
This unfortunate series of events did not break his spirit, though. Mineta went on to graduate from the University of California with a degree in Business Administration and later served as an intelligence officer in the US Army in Japan and Korea. Mineta’s introduction to politics came through his close friend, Alan Simpson, future US Senator from Wyoming. The two young men met when Simpson’s Boy Scout troop would regularly visit the other Scouts, including Mineta, at the internment camp.
The parallels between Mineta’s story and the account of Joseph in the Book of Genesis are amazing. Joseph was sold as a slave by his insanely jealous older, half-brothers. He was trafficked out of his home country of Israel and taken to Egypt. Because of the betrayal at the hands of his brothers, Joseph faced isolation, persecution, and imprisonment. Through remarkable circumstances and God’s favor, however, Joseph defied the odds and eventually became second-in-command in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.
Remarkably, both Mineta and Joseph rose to power in foreign governments. There was not a natural path that either of these young men could take to arrive at their final destination. It took extraordinary, and even tragic circumstances to pave the way.
In fact, it’s my personal conviction that there are very few pathways to success that do not originate, or at least travel through the valley of pain and suffering. G.K. Chesterton, a theologian from the 19th century explained it this way: “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”[i]
Think about this . . . God, the author of life, didn't have to allow suffering. When you look closer you see that God not only permits it, but suffering is so central to the human experience that He sent his Son to earth to suffer and die. Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross is more meaningful because of the pain and anguish He suffered for our benefit.
Here’s the remarkable thing about God—He redeems our suffering. He doesn't just allow it; He assigns purpose to it. He can transform the heartbreak and pain in our lives to benefit ourselves and others. Even when we experience consequences to our own poor choices, God doesn’t give us what we deserve. We receive grace and mercy in place of punishment and condemnation.
God doesn’t waste pain. As my friend Linda says, “our pain is our platform.” Often, it can become a springboard to greater things which He is preparing us to do.
[i] "Gilbert K. Chesterton Quotes," 2018, Brainyquote, https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/gilbert_k_chesterton_156933.