In early 2018, I got a phone call that stopped my breath. “Something’s wrong,” my dad said. “We need to visit your brother. Will you come?”
How could I not?
When we got to his apartment, we found angels finger-painted on the windows, blinds hanging broken, and all the appliances arranged in circles in the garage. The sink was filled with water, and broken glass clogged the drain. There was nothing in the fridge.
But there was my older brother, standing at the counter, talking in the third person about himself, claiming that he (“we”) had three wives and that he (“we”) could make electronics invincible by running them under the water.
We were terrified. Had he developed schizophrenia? Had he been getting into drugs without us knowing and triggered an episode of psychosis—a break from reality? But that didn’t seem to make sense because he had never been like that.
As the ambulance drove him away, we prayed and wept.
In the ensuing weeks, we were forced to drop everything to battle for his health.
For a full month he stayed in the hospital, and the doctor told us that he had been suffering from undiagnosed bipolar mood disorder. The stresses had piled on top of each other and triggered a full break from reality.
My brother, essentially, was stuck dreaming awake. He had been experiencing such emotional pain that his body had to do something drastic to protect him. We had no idea if he’d break out of it. Some people never do.
This was without a doubt the most painful and frightening period of my life.
But the worst part about it was realizing that I had a part to play in his suffering.
He’d told me months earlier that he had been experiencing intense emotional pain, but I didn’t do anything about it because he’d said things like that before. But I knew, in my spirit, that if I had taken him more seriously and encouraged him to go to the hospital, he might not have been forced onto the brink of death.
It haunted me. It still does.
I kept wondering: Does this pain have a purpose? Please, Lord, let there be a reason.
Job, in the Bible, experienced an even worse litany of tragedies. He lost his children, his wealth, his health, everything. In response to his wife telling him to forget God and die to end all the suffering, Job said something that rocked me. “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And the Bible says, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10)
Job’s statement addresses the crux of our most common attitude toward pain, doesn’t it?
We get mad at God because we think, “You have no right to do this to me.” But the truth is that God would be righteous to end our lives right now. The fact that he doesn’t means every breath is a gift.
Job’s statement also implies that there are times when God sends trials and pain on purpose. What that means is that there is always a purpose for your pain. You just can’t see it right now. And that’s okay.
“Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.” – Dueteronomy 8:5
And, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” – Hebrews 12:6
Sometimes our pain comes in the form of discipline. Other times, it comes in the form of trials that test us, to pressure us to grow.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4
At other times our pain comes from the fallenness of our world, through sickness and suffering. Though these things remain the result of evil, God can use these circumstances to accomplish good in and through us.
Praise God, my brother is back to health. In fact, because of the crisis, we were able to discover that he had been suffering, and to give him help. A few weeks after coming back to health, he said to my dad, “For the first time in my life, I feel peace.”
Without the tragedy, there would have been no triumph.
The tragedy remains what it is. My role in it remains what it is. Even more so, God remains who he is: Good with a capital “G.” I see that now. I can even thank him for putting us through it. Because now my brother is better than ever.
But even if my brother died, there would be nothing righteous for me to say but, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Job 1:21
Let’s go a little further.
Without Christ’s death, he could not have arisen. Without Christ rising from the dead, he could not give you life. Without giving you life, you could not feel his presence and experience him changing your desires.
Do you see now how our belief about God’s sovereignty over everything affects even our acceptance of his Gospel?
I don’t know your pain. I don’t know your situation. I am certain it is unique.
Maybe your pain is an attack from the enemy. Maybe it’s the result of your own poor decisions. Whatever it is, I am certain that God has a purpose for your pain.
So don’t waste your pain. (As far as I can tell, that’s a Rick Warren quote.)
Let your pain be a reminder to draw close to God, your fortress.
Lord—help us to trust you. Teach us to rejoice at all times! To find the secret, like the Apostle Paul did, of being content in all circumstances. In plenty or in want, in health or in sickness, in life and in death. We choose to be satisfied by you in all these seasons of life! Save us from our small-minded thoughts. Don’t let our problems distract us from worshipping and loving you. Strengthen us to walk by your spirit every moment of every day. But also, please comfort us in our affliction. Take away unnecessary pains. Heal our sicknesses! Thank you for your kindness. Because you experienced this life, you have compassion on us in our pain! We love you. Thank you for making us yours. Amen.
Spend some time in prayer today thanking God for how the pain in your life has drawn you to him. Also spend time confessing the areas where you have allowed pain to drive a wedge between you and him.