Pain, an Invitation to Hope

I’m compelled by the beauty of those who have walked down broken pathways but still lift their eyes to a horizon of hope before them. I’m compelled by the people that have shaped their scars into stories that tell of a merciful, loving, compassionate God in the midst of a weary and broken world. Their light humbles me, because it shines the light of a love that’s far greater than anything life could hand us. It’s something grown, something tended, and something far greater than anything we stumble upon. Yes, it’s far more than that, it’s something formed.

Pain changes things. Even more, pain changes how we see things. Pain, I’m learning, can be the greatest invitation to hope that we’ve ever received. Pain is loud and its presence cannot be overlooked, but it’s amazing the way it responds to hope. Pain doesn’t scream and shout in the midst of hope, it speaks kindly of a healing and redemption and love. Pain heals when it meets hope. Pain isn’t the completion of things, pain isn’t the end of the story. I see it in the light of those who walk through dark valleys but know they’re only passing through. I see it in the light of those who are not afraid when the winds and waves rush through their lives, for they know that love can never be shaken or taken or diluted. I see it in the people who use their scars as invitations to others with fresh wounds, letting them know that healing exists even in the midst of brokenness and pain. Pain, I’ve found, isn’t always lifted this side of heaven. But pain is never useless. It’s not the pain itself so much as the way it’s shaped our stories. It’s not the pain we feel so much as the lessons and the growth and the healing that it opens us up into. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising that some of the greatest fruits –compassion, and forgiveness, and love, and hope—are the things that are not found, but grown. They’re rare because of the process we must grow them through. I’ve found that heartache and loss and sickness and grief don’t stop there, they grow to become empathy, and compassion, and love, and gentleness, and patience, and understanding, and generosity, and selflessness, if only we let them. And when you stumble upon a person who lets them, my goodness, they will take your breath away. You will be knocked off of your feet in the midst of their beauty, because they are shining the beauty of our Lord.

When Exhaustion Feels Like Hopelessness

If you’ve felt the heaviness of exhaustion pull upon your body,

And felt depletion so burdening it began to speak into your heart…

If exhaustion has brought such heaviness to your eyes that you cannot lift them up to see the glow of hope,

And it has blurred images of pain into realities of despair…

If you’ve felt bruised by sorrow and feel tirelessly tired,

Please let me share this light with you:

Exhaustion and hopeless can feel strikingly similar when severe.

Oh, what a freeing truth this was for me; I hope it will be as freeing for you.

When exhaustion weighs so heavily that you feel it speak louder than your hope,

Please listen. Not to the despair, but to your body as it confides its aches and pains with you.

Please hear your body as it tells you it cannot take anymore.

It’s time for rest.

Rest well, sweet friend. Let sleep replenish you; let rest revive you.

Remember despair comes as an stowaway,

Don’t let your exhaustion be its host.

For weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning {Psalm 30:5)

Rest revives as God redeems.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” ~Matthew 11:28-30

Week Three: Your Illness is Not Your Fault

A few years ago, I came across a prayer blog for a captivating little girl named Daisy. Simply looking at her freckly little face instantly revealed what a bubbly, intelligent, unique soul was dancing around inside of her. It took one peak at a post about her to fall in love with that sweet little kindergartener. Heart warmed, spirits lifted, mind refreshed.

With great sorrow but even greater faith, her family shared that Daisy had been diagnosed with cancer. They shared updates about her grueling battles with the illness, along with very cheerful and touching stories about her life and vivacious personality; a personality as charming as they come! If Daisy’s life could speak for itself, I imagine it would speak with bravery and tenderness as it said, “Cancer is horrible, but life isn’t.”

Just a few days after Daisy was first diagnosed with cancer, her father gave a sermon at his home church entitled, “When My Heart Is Overwhelmed.”  This was the first time I had heard Britt Merrick speak, and it touched me in a way that I haven’t been able to forget since that day. He said many things in that sermon, but I felt one of the most powerful and influential things was this:

I will tell you that it takes more faith to endure Christ not healing your daughter than it does to see Him heal your daughter.

This is a truth that I pray warms and ignites in your heart in a way that changes your blame forever. Illness is not a punishment for a lack of faith. Illness brings an endurance, courage, hope, and belief in Christ that far extends the kind of faith that is only present when things are going okay. It surpasses that faith in lavish ways. When you face agonizing circumstances, God is not turning His back on you. God is reaching His hand and His pure heart out to you.

It heavies my heart to share that this year, Daisy passed away. Her family shared her memorial service on their blog, and it was a service of such deep faith and celebration of God that I cannot speak of it without tears of admiration. Daisy’s mother, Kate, walked onto the stage full of daisies with tears and courage both filling her eyes and shared words that I have held deeply in my heart ever since. She said that “Daisy’s faith in God was like a covenant, not a contract.” These words captivate me. A covenant faith; a faith based on promise rather than circumstance. This is what our illnesses give us an opportunity for, the opportunity to grow with God in a way that isn’t shaken by the sorrows of the world, but endures all things safely wrapped in His embrace.

I pray that this story will help you see that illness doesn’t fall upon us because we’re unworthy of good health. Illness touches the hearts and lives of people without consideration of what they believe or how they’ll handle it. Illness comes, and it breaks, and it steals, and it overwhelms, and it even kills, but it does not punish. We are under grace, and filled with it as well. Our gracious God doesn’t strike us down, but lifts us up. I pray that you will accept this bold truth, and let it dissolve the lies you’ve been pierced with for too long.

Your illness is not your fault.

{If you’d like to read the original post 5 Truths Your Heart Needs to be Reminded, please click here!)

5 Truths Your Heart Needs to Be Reminded

There are so many truths we can lose sight of in the midst of our struggles. With all the challenges grabbing our attention and all the pain wearing us down, sometimes we need to be reminded of hope and wrapped in tender encouragement and mercy. Sometimes we need someone to come along side us with a warm look of compassion and let us know how significant our struggles truly are. I hope that these five little truths will do just that. I pray that they will touch your heart and sit well with your soul.

1. You are not alone in your suffering.

“The Lord will not reject his people;

he will not abandon his special possession.” ~Psalm 94:1

One of the most heart-wrenching tragedies of chronic illness is the way it leaves patients feeling lonely and misunderstood. Opening up about the struggles of chronic pain is something very difficult, and sometimes even uncomfortable to do. It takes much courage and support to be so vulnerable, open, and transparent about the weight of the suffering. Many of us are blessed to have family members and friends that do their best to understand our suffering, but even with their beautiful love and encouragement, there are still many others around us that do not understand what it means to face chronic illness. This is not because your feelings are invalid, it’s simply because those who haven’t experienced this level of pain themselves can sometimes find it challenging to relate to our struggles. They may be able to imagine or sympathize with the idea of deep pain, but they rarely understand the way it touches our lives. Relationships can be so warm, uplifting, and rewarding, but they can also be exhausting and discouraging if the other person doesn’t understand your pain. It’s because of this that I want to remind you that despite the overwhelming pain of being misunderstood, you are not alone. There is a community of other sufferers out there who understand exactly what it means to feel the way you do. They know that you are not crazy, and they can understand even the most eclectic rambles you can spill out about pain. Christ’s love is the root of this community, because unity is one of His creations. He longs for us to live in unity and harmony with others who are aching. Not only are we blessed with relationships with other sufferers, we are blessed with relationship with God Himself. The miracle of Christ’s life is that He is living, breathing, and eternal empathy. Not only does He care that you are in pain, but He understands exactly what it means to feel that pain. He knows physical pain, He knows emotional pain, and He knows what it means to be rejected and misunderstood. He knows better than anyone what it feels like to carry this burden. He knows what it means to be left alone in time of need; He knows what it means to speak the truth and have people accuse Him of blasphemy; He understands what it means to suffer so deeply that it brought Him to death. And more than that, He knows what it means to conquer that. If there’s anyone who can relate to the struggles that you’re facing, it is Christ. Please take refuge in the fact that He is right beside you. He understands your struggles. He struggled long before you ever did and built an empathy and victory that is completely unshakable and unchangeable. He is with you, and He knows the hearts of His children. He can connect you with others. He can bring forth light in even the darkest of places. He loves you, and so do the rest of us battling beside you. You are not alone.

2. Your pain is significant.

He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. ~Revelation 21:3-6
Many of us have built such a pain tolerance through these trials that we often grin and bear it rather than stopping to tend our wounds and admit how deeply afflicted we truly are. We try to push through life and accomplish goals as if we were healthy, and we end up running ourselves right into the ground. We try to do things we know we are not well enough to do, and we suffer so greatly after trying. But the truth is, your pain matters. It matters that you’re hurting, and you don’t have to function as if it’s shameful to admit you are suffering. This pain is grueling and it’s okay to admit that. You were not left alone in your pain and God understands your grievance over it. He knows that pain is not right. It is not part of His design for His people and that is why He created a rescue plan for us. He is the God of redemption. He longs to bring us back to Himself where He can give us full healing. We may not know if we will feel healing this side of heaven or the next, but we know that it is coming. This pain is not something that you have to accept as if it were okay, because it isn’t. Yes, we try our best to make the very best of our circumstances and live our lives with positive attitudes, but it is okay to have moments, days, or even prolonged times where we need the empathy, encouragement, and care of God and those around us. Your pain matters, and you do not have to live in denial of it.

3. Your illness is not your fault.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” ~John 9:1-4

One of the most heartbreaking lies we can believe about our illnesses is that we are to blame for them. Whether you have blamed yourself or received blame from others, blame leaves very deep wounds. It grieves my heart terribly to know that many of you have felt guilt or responsibility over your illness. If you have believed that you are not healed because of a lack of faith, please know that you do not have to believe that any more. I offer you my deepest sorrow and wish I could give you my most caring hug. This illness is not a punishment from God. God absolutely cherishes you, and it deeply pains His heart to see you suffering in this fallen world. As I said before, suffering is not His will for mankind. A pastor I dearly respect once pointed out that illness itself may be a result of sin, but it is not a result of personal sin. In other words, illness exists because of the fallen nature of this world, not because you did something to deserve this burden. You are not being punished because of a defect in your faith. God is not withholding His healing touch because you don’t have “enough” faith. He is so full of mercy that He could never entertain such an evil thought. He told us the parable of the mustard seed in His teachings, and through that illustration we see how attentive He is to even the tiniest drops of faith. He knows you long to be healed, and He longs to bring that healing to you. Blame is completely opposite of the character of God. God is so genuine, gentle, caring, and kind. I know that it must break His heart to see us blaming ourselves for something that is completely out of our control. He has a rescue plan and you are a part of it. You are not left alone to battle this illness, and He will conquer it for you. Please do not believe that He wills for you to hurt; He cares more deeply than you can imagine. He loves you, and your illness is not your fault.

4. It’s okay to rest; it’s okay to need care.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~Matthew 11:28-29

Sometimes we feel guilty over resting. There are so many things we’d like to accomplish, so many things we need to take care of, and so many opportunities we’d love to explore. There are many things we need others to help us with that we wish could do for ourselves. With all of those things dancing around in our minds, we can find it hard to devote time simply to rest. But beyond our desire to do more is our need for healing. Our bodies are constantly burdened and strained under the weight of illness. We are carrying such heavy loads and sometimes, we need to take time to care for ourselves. It’s okay to accept help from your loved ones. It’s okay to need their support. It’s okay to need their care. It’s okay to need much longer periods of time to accomplish tasks than someone healthy. It’s okay to accept help. It’s okay that your life doesn’t look the same way as someone else your age. Your worth is not based upon your performance, but on your identity, and your identity is a dearly loved, precious son or daughter of God. It’s okay to rest in that truth.

5. Your hopes, your dreams, and your life still hold purpose, value, and meaning.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. ~Jeremiah 29:11-13

We have had to give up many things because of our illnesses. We have had to let go of many hopes and plans that we cherished. I am so sorry for your losses and your sorrows. I am so sorry for the days you have felt that your life has been stolen for you and that your dreams have been crushed. But the truth is, your hopes, your dreams, and your life still hold purpose, value, and meaning. Your dreams may not look exactly the way you had always pictured them to be, but that doesn’t mean they can’t exist. Sometimes we have to simplify, but that doesn’t mean we have to let go altogether. The truth is, many of our goals are external while what drives them is internal. You may be focused on a task, but that task comes from who you are as a person. As Holley Gerth said, “We have strengths and skills.” Strengths are the qualities that make you who you are, skills are what you do with those qualities. Who you are as a person is something very rare, beautiful, and special to this world. You can bring your gifts and talents out into the light and let them sparkle. They may not always look the way you thought they would, but you may be surprised at how much you have to offer the world. Who you are as a person has a vast sea of qualities and visions to pour out into the world in a way that has never been done before. Perhaps one of the greatest things we can do is see the root of our dreams and allow God to blossom them from there. We serve a God who is known for bringing hope, adventure, and redemption to unsuspecting places. It is His sheer delight to continue that in our lives today.