Pain is everywhere. No one makes it from birth to grave without entering its grip. It is as much a part of being human as breathing. And it has the capacity to pervade every aspect of our being, no matter its starting point: from body to mind to spirit, and all the pathways implied between.
I won't claim an exhaustive knowledge of pain. And to be honest, counting the costs of expertise, I'm good with that. But as a fellow human, who has been comforted in a few things, I share that which I pray will prove a comfort to you in any circumstance. (2 Corinthians 1:3 - 5).
He Is Coming Soon
A few years ago when I was drowning in a pool of toxic and repetitive thoughts, characteristic of OCD, I experienced such profound psychological pain that I prayed for Jesus to take me home. And when He seemed slow in coming, I had to fight the urge to drift off into the dark night.
I remember whispering to myself, as the time passed like sludge in my pain, "He is coming soon." I could barely muster the strength to say it aloud. But, I wanted to live. And I was weak. And I believed He was strong and able and willing-most of the time- so I spoke the promise until my eyelids grew heavy and I fell asleep. And I recall, that no matter how tumultuous the day, the few minutes before sleep were sweet.
He had come. Through the pain He had made His appearance and spoken peace to my soul. And because of Him, there was another day, and another, and another and another. His sweet Spirit came like a wave onto the dry shore of my heart and refreshed it enough to hope that it would be better one day. And each day He met me at the faith I had to make it through. And little by little, "make it through" hope became "He will make me whole again" hope, because He never failed to show.
Sometimes we get trapped in the "Why" of our pain and that becomes our meditation. But, there isn't always an easily discernible "Why". A better meditation is on the many good promises God has gifted us. What promises can you hide in your heart? What promises has God given to encourage you as you wait for His appearing? Speak them often. He is coming soon.
He Is With Us In the Fire
My face rested against the cold tile of my bathroom floor as I lay prostrate at His feet. Tears flowed to form a puddle at the point where the light seeps in through the gap between the bathroom floor and the base of the door. I remember pleading with Him, as it seemed my mind was growing darker, "Please don't let me forget you. Please don't let me forget I know you and that you know me." At the height of my pain, when I had given up hope of healing, I resorted to bargaining: just let me remember.
Later, I would find myself sitting in the church not too far from my home, flipping through the hymnal in order to find the hymn appointed for that night's Bible study:
Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made; Were ev'ry stalk on earth a quill, And ev'ry man a scribe by trade; To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole Tho' stretched from sky to sky. (Frederick M. Lehman, 1917).
It took my breath away. What a confident declaration of God's awesome love! Who was it that knew such love? My eyes scrolled to the finely printed notes at the bottom: "The first two stanzas are Lehman's own work. The third, by his own account, he heard in a camp meeting sermon. They were apparently lines "found written by a demented man on the wall of his narrow room in the asylum where he died." (https://hymnary .org/text/the_love_of_god_is_greater_far).
A demented man? A demented man, robbed of all pomp pertaining to intellect, could still perceive God? A demented man could be confident in the love of God for him?
I wept. My sweet Jesus confirmed to my heart that night that I need not beg Him to maintain His love towards me. It was mine until the end of time. If all else did pass away, He would remain. (Romans 8:38 - 39).
Everything changed, even though so much remained the same. I started looking for Him. I started expecting to see Him. I was no longer waiting for Him to arrive. Instead, I was praying to have eyes to see Him clearly, no matter how profound the pain. These were prayers He was so eager to answer. I remember all the battles of that war as if He was holding my hand.
At the bottom of the pit, I found treasure. I saw my faith made sight when hell's hounds sought to devour me and my God held my hand and said,
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you [from captivity];
Beloved, the pain comes. But, it is not the final word. There is a greater word to be spoken by your Savior and it is peace and health to your soul. It is everything made beautiful in its time. From beginning to end, He is with you. Never will He leave you, nor forsake you. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, Matthew 28:20 and Deuteronomy 31:6).
Listen to and sing confidently the "Corinthian Song" ministered by Kathy Taylor at Mount Zion, Nashville, on February 4, 2011. She reminds us that Jesus dwells within us in the person of the Holy Spirit, and so we are always helped, held and loved, no matter how great the pain.
He Is Touched by the Feeling of Our Infirmities
I cannot tell you how many times I heard the refrain that God simply does not care about our feelings. And to be honest, it only added to the struggle to maintain my heart's conviction that God was good. How could God, having made me, not care that I was literally breaking and feeling every bit of it? How could He know my frailty and then ignore it? How could He care and ignore the witness of my experience?
Truth: God does not despise our frailty. Instead, He is compassionate towards us because He understands we are but dust. (Psalm 103:14). We don't have to feel shame. There is no shame in being made of dust.
Truth: He will never leave and He will never forsake us. We have a tendency to interpret the second clause as redundant. But, the latter clause refers to a Shepherd like disposition towards our souls- the seat of our will, conscience and emotions. He Is promising physical presence but, He adds to that by promising that every point of our soul's groaning-He will tend to.
Truth: He is our feeling High Priest. The Bible reads, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15, KJV). He is touched by the feeling of our Infirmities. Yes, it is true that He is not swayed by feelings, i.e. He does not make His decisions on the basis of feelings. But, He does care. He surely does.
Love Begins with Looking
You can't always tell when someone is in pain. In what I would characterize as the most painful experience of my human life, I looked normal. In fact, I apparently looked better than normal. People complimented me on how suelvt I looked (I wasn't eating. The grief had stolen my appetite). And I recall thinking, as people spoke to me without any awareness of my desperate condition, how easy it is to suffer without anyone seeing. And on the other side of my pain, I wondered how much of the suffering in the world go unhelped simply because we cannot see.
Pastor Shirley Brady says, "Love begins with looking." That is, we are able to apply strength to show genuine and unselfish concern for another when we are first able to see her or him rightly. And what is the right way to see? As Christ does. He sees, in all the people of the world, intended bearers of His image hindered in this good and pleasing call by the frailty of flesh, sinful nature and the collective action of a broken world. And His response? He enters into the disordered mess of our lives to fix us through His love.
But we are hindered in seeing because of the many distractions. The distractions of our external environment: the visual stimuli of media platforms and a busy city and; the unmitigated demands of others that clutter our schedules and disorder our priorities. The distractions of our internal environment: the ghosts of our past; the fear of our future; the secrets we hold, even from God and; the preoccupation with our frailty. All these distractions work to prevent us from looking-the first step to loving.
Beloved, there is an urgent call to stillness. A call to slow down, surrender our plans and needs to that of a loving God and to look-truly look-outward to see people. There is a call to have the mindfulness to enter each day with the prayer that God will help us see-truly see-and that we will know how He has prepared us to minister His kindness.
Watch Pastor Sheryl Brady of The Potter’s House of North Dallas teach us about the importance of looking that we may fulfill the law of Christ, i.e. to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (Galatians 5:14).
Resources for You and Your Church
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Carolyn Sinclair McCalla is a daughter of God who believes that as we seek the truth of God's Word, and humble ourselves to live in agreement with it, that we will experience the transformation which allows us to enter wholistic wellness: spirit, soul and body. She is the Founder and President of EarthBasic and leads its Be-Held Community: a group of women seeking, living and being transformed by the truth of God’s Word together. She is thrilled at the call to extend the Be-Held Community to include Be-Held Peace of Mind: a monthly publication providing Christ-centered mental health resources that raise awareness about mental health issues, end stigma around mental illness and point persons to hope in Jesus Christ.