an aversion to pain

by Patti Cepin

Walter Wangerin Jr. in Reliving the Passion, quotes Thomas a’ Kempis from The Imitation of Christ: “Jesus has many who love His kingdom in Heaven but few who bear his Cross…. They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy.”

In the first century believing in Christ, becoming one of His own, was often a death sentence. It was an invitation to persecution, hardship, tribulation, sorrow, pain--yes, even death. And yet in the midst of this, they were radiant and filled with courage and glory. They gladly walked to the lions in the arena or to the cross or to the stake. How have we changed it? We now get angry with God if things do not go the way we planned them. We have created Heaven right here under our feet, and when it proves otherwise we rage, demand an explanation, doubt the goodness of our Creator and turn back.

I was reading Parade magazine on a Sunday afternoon. The celebrity featured had been rendered a quadriplegic by an accident. Computer technology has put many things at his disposal that would greatly increase his capacity to function as a normal, healthy individual, but he did not want a computer in his home, because it would mar the ambiance. And indeed the pictures of his home and his grounds were beautiful, a heaven in themselves. This man is not likely to believe in God or enter into what his Creator is offering as long as he is able to create his own heaven. I must admire his commitment to do so from a wheelchair.

Another situation brought clarity to this for me. I was staying in the home of a good friend who is an interior designer. She and her husband had just recently bought a home, gutted it, and totally renovated it. It is now all she wants it to be. It is beautiful.

She was sharing with me that she had just begun a study on Heaven. She said, “I have not thought about Heaven for a very long time, and I am realizing it is because I have created it right here and do not want to leave it.”

That is it! That is why, at least in part, we do not know Jesus as we ought to in the twenty-first century. Oh, we may be firmly entrenched in doing the work of the ministry, and with the information glut to which we’re subjected on a daily basis, the possibilities are endless. But when asked to engage at the heart level, or when life crashes around our ears, something is missing for too many of us.

When heaven now proves false, people come to the pastor or the counselor to help them find heaven again. People exit painful marriages, demand God provide a spouse, bring their children to be “fixed,” or insist on a change in circumstances or feelings.

What if Jesus had done that? The Garden incident alone would have been quickly altered. “Look, Father, I know we talked about this, but You don’t actually believe that I thought You would carry this thing this far, do You? You are God, for heaven’s sake! Change this situation now. I don’t want to go through this pain and agony for this lot of pathetic humans. They made their own choices anyway. Do something!”

Or what about when he was speaking to His disciples? “What is this about? I asked you to watch with Me just one hour. You do not care about Me! Why should I go through this agony for you when you are unwilling to even pray with Me for one hour? You have no idea how you have hurt Me. I cannot continue in a relationship that is so one-sided and unfair. It is over--I am out of here."

Or get this one: “Phillip, have I been with you all this time and you still do not know Me? You do not really care about Me. If you cared about Me, you would want to understand Me. You would want to work on knowing Me. Obviously I don’t really matter all that much to you. I am not going to be vulnerable to someone who is so insensitive.” Sound familiar? How unwilling you and I are to feel what He felt and walk where He walked and to find Him in the fellowship of His suffering.

I was asking a friend to be honest with one of his family members about the sin in his life. He agreed that he would do it. To prepare him for the reaction he might encounter I asked him, “What will you do if what you have been avoiding all along actually happens? What will you do if he is shocked by your confession and rejects you?”

His answer was quick and certain: “I will do my best to get out of the pain and move on.”

Is that not the answer we most often give? We may not articulate it as clearly, but that is our strategy for dealing with the pain we encounter on a daily basis in relationships. But that is not the right answer! We must enter the fellowship of His suffering if we are going to know His heart. His greatest suffering was in the context of relationships. When in the wilderness, the temptation came from one He created and loved who had betrayed Him long before he tempted Him. This tempter took one-third of all of His beloved angels with him.

Wangerin says, “The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow…. Joy rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope--and the hope that has become our joy does not disappoint us” (p. 31).

Paul tells the Corinthians that he and his fellow servants “do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (II Corinthians 4:5).

He tells them that God has shined the light of the knowledge of Himself in the face of Jesus Christ. He has just told them that their transformation into the Image of Christ will come by looking into the face of Jesus.

Paul goes on to tell them that the treasure of the Image and light of the presence of Jesus is housed in earthen vessels for the express purpose that the glory might go to God through Jesus and not to the earthen vessels.

So what does this have to do with pain? Everything! Glory is best reflected in broken vessels!

If, as II Corinthians 1:3-4 testifies, I comfort others with the comfort God has used to comfort me, then I will be in a place where I need comfort. How can I reflect Jesus to a lost and dying world, or even to my brother or sister who is struggling, if I have no knowledge of Him in painful circumstances, if I have no knowledge of His heart on the matter? He is a High Priest Who can be touched with the feelings of my weaknesses, infirmities, and liabilities to the assaults of temptation. He is the One Who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet is without sin. So let us fearlessly, confidently, and boldly draw near to the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners, that we may receive mercy for our failures and find grace to help for every need. (See Hebrews 4.)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

“Run!” “Come boldly!” “Come unto Me!” Are you getting the picture? Pain is a part of living outside the Garden. But oh, the joy of running into the arms of the One Who captures our souls with His beauty in the midst of that pain until we cry with bittersweet joy, “Lord, if this is where You are to be found, if this is how I experience You, if this is the place where Your presence and sweetness and overwhelming eternal love ravish me, then may I never leave this place. Ignore my cries for relief!!!”

Listen to what our Lord asked our brother Jeremiah to say to us:

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, “We will not walk in it.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

Yet we are surprised that we are called to be broken vessels in the Potter’s hand. It cannot be otherwise. That which we have seen and heard we declare to those around us. We are walking demonstrations of the suffering and grace of the Most

High God. When He suffered, it was for our benefit. When we suffer, it benefits those upon whom we are called to pour out our lives. So send I you.

Paul talks about the affliction and oppressing distress that befell him and Timothy in Asia. They despaired even of life itself. They felt within themselves that they had received the very sentence of death, the purpose of which was to keep them from trusting in and depending on themselves instead of God.

An old song has been running through my head as I write this. The title is Follow Close to Me. The words may not all be in order, and the author is unknown to me but the words go something like this:

I’ve traveled down a lonely road and no one seemed to care,
The burden on my weary back had bowed me to despair.
I’ve oft complained to Jesus how folks were treating me,
And then I heard Him gently say to me:

“My feet were also weary upon the Calvary road,
The cross became so heavy I fell beneath the load.
But now we’ll make the journey with your hand safe in mine,
Just lift your cross and follow close to me.”

Oh Jesus, if I die upon a foreign field someday,
T’would be no more than love demands no less could I repay.
No greater love hath mortal man than for a friend to die,
And then I heard Him say so tenderly:

“I left my home in glory and counted it but loss,
My feet were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross,
Be faithful, weary pilgrim, the morning I can see.
Just lift your cross and follow close to me”.

How can we resist such an offer? How could I miss my hand in the hand of my Master? What a loss--what a tragic loss! For this He died, for this have I been justified--that I may know Him and the fellowship of His suffering. May I never shrink. Help thou my unbelief, Lord Jesus.

Pain is God’s handwritten, blood-engraved invitation to intimacy with Himself, regardless of the specific nature or source of our pain.

Pain is an invitation to which we must respond.

Your pain, wherever you are right this moment, is your loving Lord, Husband, and Shepherd Who is drawing, wooing, loving, and longing to feed, nurture, enjoy, and be enjoyed by you. It is when you yield in utter obedience to His sovereignty in your life that your eyes meet His eyes looking intently into yours. Then you begin to love as you are loved. Then you taste the water of life satisfying your thirsty soul. He is inviting you to respond to his invitation to come away with him as his beloved (Song of Songs 2:10-14).