My friend Tam had a quote on her blog the other day that keeps popping back into my mind:
“Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.”
– Paul Claudel
It has me thinking about the distinction between pain and suffering. They are obviously closely related… even the dictionary overlaps their meanings. And they are certainly put together in every courtroom drama I’ve ever watched. But I think, in terms of our lives, they don’t have to go hand in hand because the physical can be separated from the emotional.
Not all the time. Especially not when we are trying to get through hard times on our own. Sometimes it’s a process, but when we are open enough to step out of the way and let God fill it with His presence, it’s a whole different ball game.
And it requires us to trust with everything we are.
I think I’ve written for long enough now that everyone knows pain is a constant part of my daily existence. I honestly can’t remember what it was like not to feel every joint in my body. I walk with my walker in my dreams… when I’m having a dream where I’m outside, I’m usually panicking and asking someone how I can get back indoors before I stop breathing. It’s just who I am now. My friends have gotten used to the fact that I wince and utter “ouch” and sometimes stop talking mid-sentence when the pain makes me catch my breath. I barely notice I’m doing it. I’m so accustomed to the pain now that I don’t consider it suffering as much as I used to.
But there are physical moments when the pain causes real suffering. The moments when it escalates and is unrelenting to the point of making me sick. I physically suffer. But when I let Him, I am filled with His presence in my spirit and I can feel strong in the middle of that weakness.
Emotionally, it’s called a pit of despair for a reason. A hole can be dug inside us so deep that it seems everything good has been excavated from our lives. We all have different ways that happens… I’ve lost abilities and freedoms and the potential for many things. You may have lost someone you’ve loved or found yourself in situations you never dreamed of facing. A pit is dug. And despair is the first visitor that wants to knock at your door.
It’s in those moments when I pray for God to get me out of His way. It’s those moments when I stop praying for what I want and start praying for Him to change my heart for what He wants. I pray that I can be aware of His opportunities. It requires me to trust Him completely. That doesn’t change my physical pain. It doesn’t change the loss. It doesn’t improve my earthly situation.
But it does change the suffering.
It allows me to not answer the door to despair and instead invite His presence into the pit. The pit that looks jagged and deep, which turns out to be a God-shaped hole in the center of our beings. A hole that is dug by circumstances and choices, and is filled with His grace.
I am in pain. He has made sure I don’t have to suffer.