Coming out from behind the door necessitated my going back to revisit some of the painful experiences of my past. For years, I had tried to ignore and forget many of the things that had happened to me. The sting of what I'd been through prevented me from fully knowing the reason behind why each of us faces adversity: the real intent behind every valley we walk through is for us to grow through pain. Psalm 119: 67, 71 reflects the Psalmist's perspective on this:
"Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.
...It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your
Adversity teaches us lessons that we cannot grasp otherwise. In times of great pain, we are forced to dig deep and examine things about ourselves and about life that times of prosperity simply do not allow us. We all sustain wounds from the painful experiences of years past, but God's plan is for them to become scars. At the beginning, it may seem to us that it's impossible for them to ever heal yet, with proper perspective, they can, in time, become reminders to us of what we've been through.
Over the years I've spent some time with a few of our injured servicemen and have had the chance to talk with them about the wounds they've sustained while bravely serving our country. I have found this to be a common theme in my conversations, and it's something that keeps me coming back to them as a source of inspiration time and again: almost every one I've chatted with takes a certain pride in their injury. They aren't ashamed of how they look because they know they can't do anything about it. Once they adjust to their "new normal" with a prosthetic limb, scarred face, permanent paralysis, etc. they begin to focus on what they still have and less on what they've lost. They start to make jokes about how they look and will readily converse with anybody about the things which brought them to where they are today. Without much encouragement, they will show off their scars and tell you what happened. While they will always remember the life they had before, they have learned to live in the life now. I love to be around them because of this attitude, and I often come away wondering why we don't treat our emotional wounds the same way. These injured service-members should be an example to us of how we should deal with our past.
Open wounds will never heal if we continue to lick at them and mourn the life we lost. Scars, on the other hand, make us tough and are daily reminders to us of what it means to overcome, to end up stronger than when we started. These ought to be something we are proud of because they would become a special part of us - this is, after all, our life and our story. Just like the wounded warriors, we need to arrive at a place where we embrace pain. Pain can be our teacher and thus, our friend.
I know from experience that it's often easier to take some sort of fake solace in the pain than it is to get back up and keep going. It is hard to not find something to blame for the way things have gone and wish that they were different. In the past, my blame was aimed at God.
How could He allow such unfortunate things to happen?
I felt for some time as if I'd been unfairly treated. The turning point came, however, when I stumbled upon a quote that simply said:
"Self-pity is believing that God does you a better life
instead of acknowledging that you owe God everything."
For me, it was an inversion of life-changing proportion. I realized that I had lived most of my life expecting to only receive good things from God and not expect hard things too (Job 2:10). I had not yet learned the concept of hard grace - that sometimes God's good gifts are bound up in the painful lessons we must learn in this journey called life. The way I should have been viewing things was in light of what the Puritan William Gurnall meant when he said,
"What God takes from me is less than I owe Him,
and what He leaves me is more than I deserve."
I began to see how greatly I'd had the two realities reversed. I had focused for so long on the pain and what I supposedly lacked that I had a hard time initially trying to switch to this new perspective. Over time, life started to become less about what I could get out of it and more about what I could give. It started to become less about me and more about God. I was no longer the center of everything - God was. As a result, life took on a new purpose for me, and I started to feel strong...because of Jesus...no matter what my circumstances were. Even if I faced the harshest of situations, I didn't have to run from the pain because, through these challenges, I had a God walking with me who promised that, though there would be trouble, He would also assure me to take heart and dare to see the reason behind it all (John 16:33).
The choice is up to us as to whether we're going to run away from our problems or embrace them as rich opportunities. Nobody likes to suffer but the alternative is an empty life devoid of lasting character. Those who really impact the world are those who know what it's like to knocked down yet who make the decision to grow in their pain. I believe that can be us if we welcome the chance to be transformed by our adversity.
Will that be us? Well...that's what each of us must choose for ourselves.