Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Draw near: Praying to accept pain as a source of growth

Lynne Baab • Tuesday March 28 2023

Draw near: Praying to accept pain as a source of growth

“No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.”
—John Donne, “Meditation 17” of Devotions upon Emergent Occasions 

I resist John Donne’s idea with every particle of my being. I don’t want to be shaped by pain because I don’t want to experience pain! No, no, no! However, my perceptive and supportive husband tells me that my 16 years of battling depression (from age 27 to 43) softened me. I met Dave when I was 23, and he says he remembers many moments in my twenties when I came across as brash and cocky. He says my dark years with too many tears taught me empathy. He says I am a much better writer, teacher, speaker, and preacher because of those years of pain.

I don’t want him to be right. But I know he is.

The empathy that Dave sees in me now reflects a process the Apostle Paul describes in 2 Corinthians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God” (verses 3 and 4).

I remember coming across a quotation in my twenties from The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis. I remember how much I disliked his words: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I don’t want to view myself as deaf. I don’t want to believe that I need to be roused or transformed.

If you’ve read my blog posts before, you might have guessed that I collect quotations that speak to me. Before 2011 I wrote them by hand in a blank book, but then I switched to putting them in a Word document. I searched for “pain” and “suffer” in the quotations I’ve collected since 2011, and I picked out some that help me see the ways God has worked in my life through pain.

I’ll give you seven quotations below. I invite you to read them to see if something in one or two of them gives you ideas of how to pray to be open to God’s shaping of you through things that are hard.

“Our ordinary lives are given an extraordinary significance when we accept that our lives are about something much larger, our pain is a participation in the redemptive suffering of God, our creativity is the very passion of God for the world. No longer do we need to self-validate, self-congratulate or self-doubt — our place in the cosmos is assured. I do not need to be the whole play or even understand the full script. It is enough to know that I have been chosen to be one actor on the stage. I need only play my part as well as I can.
—Richard Rohr, Jesus’ Plan for a New World

Another quotation from Richard Rohr: “Our starting point makes all the difference in how we read the Bible.  Jesus spends little time trying to ferret out sinners or impose purity codes in any form.  He just goes where the pain is.”

“It is not enough for us . . . within the arena of the world's pain merely to know of a God who sympathizes. It is not even enough to know of a God who heals. We need to know of and be connected with a God who experiences with us, for us, each grief, each wound. We need to be bonded with a God who has had nails in the hands and a spear in the heart!
—Flora Slosson Wuellner, Weavings Journal

The disciples bear the suffering laid on them only by the power of him who bears all suffering on the Cross. As bearers of suffering, they stand in communion with the crucified. They stand as strangers in the power of him who was so alien to the world that it crucified him. This is their comfort, or rather, he is their comfort, their comforter. . . . This alien community is comforted by the Cross.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
—James Baldwin, 20th century author

“The serene joy we experience in the presence of beauty is an aspect to Christian hope. By hope we see the unseen. By hope we see that despite all the difficulties of life, the ultimate expression of God’s grace will overwhelm all the ugliness, fear, distortion, and violence. By hope we grasp that there will be some redemptive purpose in the suffering of loved ones.”
—Caroline J. Simon, Setting Sail on Mighty Waters

“Every suffering can be blessed because it hollows out a place in us for God and his comfort, which is infinite joy.”
—Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue

Beloved Jesus, you suffered for us and you suffer with us. We pray to be willing to see the ways that pain has helped us grow into your likeness. We pray to embrace the ongoing process of transformation into your image because yes, yes, we want to be more like you. Please continue to comfort us when we hurt, and help us to experience and receive your comfort.

(Next week: Praying for friendships and loneliness. Illustration by Dave Baab: Lake Hawea, New Zealand. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” below.)

I have written a lot about holding grief and gratitude in two hands:

Next post »« Previous post