Before I came to really know God personally (mind you, I’d been Christian for years)–before I understood purpose and calling–I would hear women say that my ministry could be found in my misery. I felt the misery part, but I just couldn’t figure out the ministry part. I honestly didn’t believe that I had any ministry in me anywhere. I felt so lost and clueless about my own identity, and about this whole salvation thing, that I was sure their statement, though true for someone, just did not apply to me.
Here, twenty-something years later, I can attest with a bold confidence: their statement was and still is absolutely true. Today you hear it said, “There is purpose in your pain.” Same concept, different generation.
The warning I share for those of you who are suffering hardship, heartbreak, or the like, is to not allow the cliche of this statement to cause you to turn up your nose at its truth. If you are caught up in the pain from your past, or struggling to get through some offense or hurtful situation in your present, or maybe even crippled by the anxiety of an uncertain future, it’s easy to feel resistance at hearing such a thing. Be careful that your pain, and your feelings of powerlessness to resolve it, doesn’t steal your hope or dampen your faith. When I was hurting, and lacking understanding, I would get so tense and my emotional defenses would go on high alert if I heard anything remotely related to misery and ministry, purpose, or calling. Oh, and don’t let someone even mention the word process!
Church speak and cliche didn’t help me.
Hearing the catchy phrase didn’t tell me how to actually transition my misery into ministry. And that frustrated me beyond measure.
My encouragement to you in the midst of your suffering is to really understand that God does love you and His love is not mean and vindictive. He means you well. My point: don’t blame Him for whatever it is. Don’t turn from him—run to Him. Second, you have to remind yourself constantly, until it becomes the core of your belief that He sees you and He is with you in your place of pain. He’s not just able to sympathize with your surfing because of what He went through on the cross for you. No, He can feel your pain because He’s with you in it right now! Third, practice giving less and less focus to your feelings, and begin to look diligently and desperately for Jesus. Remember, He is with you; so then, tweak your focus so that you begin to recognize Him. I didn’t know Jesus as my mind regulator until I nearly had a psychotic breakdown. Yes, there was a licensed, faith-based, therapist involved, but the Holy Spirit was working through her and in me to pull me back from the brink of destruction. At a head-knowledge level, I knew of Jehovah-Jireh–the Lord who provides. I’d read about Him in Genesis 22. I didn’t get to know Him personally, though, until I had to experience Him as my provision, and my absolute source during the dot-com implosion. Look for God in the midst of your suffering and come to know Him more deeply as a result.
There is purpose in your pain, my friend, and that purpose may not be immediately clear because the reality is that pain does cast a pretty dark shadow. Look for the light, and go after it. Be cautious not to interpret ‘purpose in your pain’ to mean you should expect some grand call to ministry, some elaborate business idea, some big leadership initiative, or whatever else many pastors, teachers, speakers, authors, or entertainers might testify of. That is likely to come, but don’t let that be your goal. I feel compelled to address the misconception that we go through pain just to get our assignment in life. You aren’t going through what you are going through solely to help someone else. I believe there is truth in that sentiment; however, I’m just more convinced that the immediate purpose for our pain is not necessarily assignment, but relationship: to recognize and get to know God in new, deeper, and more personal ways. Because truth be told, you will need to know Him like that to become what (and who) He desires you to be.
Plus, as you are getting to know Him in new ways, He is changing you on the inside. He will be taking away some self-sabotaging tendency, breaking some spiritual bondage, giving freedom, replacing fear and doubt with confidence and clarity, or strengthening your faith and tenacity. All the while, you just think you are hurting. You mistakenly believe that you are just a spiritual weakling, struggling yet again. No, my friend. You are so much more than that, and you are doing so much more than just struggling. You are making the transition. Transformation is taking place. It truly is amazing, and it’s exciting stuff WHEN you get through the pain. I emphasize when because there is no if. YOU WILL GET THROUGH IT.
If you’ve experienced a period of suffering and have come out with a deeper understanding of who God is and why He needed you to know Him as such, would you briefly share it in the comments below? We thrive in community, and somebody may just need the encouragement to press through their own pain.
Blessings on you!