I sat on the floor with my scrapbook open, the photos instantly taking me back to the hospital bed. The memories flooded my mind as I flipped through each page: my family gathered around me and my swollen face, the question hanging in the air: “Will it work this time?”
Born with a cleft lip, I wasn’t new to surgeries. But in my late teenage years, what was supposed to be one routine jaw procedure turned into four major surgeries and a journey I never expected.
I made a scrapbook to document the journey, but more than the pain, the waiting, the uncertainty, and the eventual healing, it showcases God’s faithfulness. The challenges I faced brought me to the feet of Jesus, where He showed me His strength, His kindness, and His unchanging faithfulness.
What if our pain is the vessel to a deeper understanding of who God is?
A diagnosis. Childhood trauma. Rejection. Chronic illness. A rebellious child. The loss of someone you love. Addiction. A broken friendship. Infidelity. You know pain in some capacity. Maybe it’s a distant memory you’d rather not dig up, or maybe you’re wondering if the storm of suffering will ever let up. In this broken world, Jesus tells us that we will have trouble (John 16:33). What matters is what we do with and through it.
God Sees the Whole Map
We’re going to look at the life of someone who was no stranger to pain. You are probably familiar with Joseph, Jacob’s son who was given the colorful coat.
If Joseph was with us today, I wonder how he would recount his life story: how his brothers threw him in a pit, he was sold as a slave, put in prison as a result of being falsely accused, and given a powerful position by Pharaoh. It gets even wilder when he rescued and showed grace to his brothers, the same ones who wanted to kill him. You can read the remarkable plot twists and adventure in Genesis 37–47.
Joseph experienced the pain of betrayal, wrongful accusation, suffering, and not knowing if he would ever see his family again. Yet, through these snapshots, we see his steady trust in God in the midst of the trouble and uncertainty. Why? How did Joseph keep moving forward in the suffering?
Joseph could have held onto bitterness because he had been mistreated. He could have sought revenge now that he was in control. He could have ignored his family’s pleas for help and let his heart grow numb to the pain of the past. Instead, Joseph sees his situation from God’s point of view. Joseph knew that the story God was writing through him was about so much more than what he could see in those painful moments. Joseph knew the Lord was with him. God’s presence sustained him.
How many times do we look at our own lives and think, This isn’t fair. This isn’t right. But we’re looking at one moment in time, one little dot on the map, while God knows the beginning and end; He sees the whole map.
In chapters 8 and 9 this week, we read about several people who are familiar with suffering. Colleen Chao is one who has learned to trust God through depression, anxiety, chronic illness, and more. Though her pain was deep, her love for God became greater:
I let go of my white-knuckled grip on life, and with each new suffering came a deeper, more joyful experience with Christ. I knew I loved Him more than ever. I experienced the power of His Spirit in me. And I was learning that true ministry came from walking closely with Him—even when it didn’t look at all like I’d once dreamed it would. (p. 112)
In your deepest trenches of pain, in the face of betrayal, in the dark night of despair, Jesus is with you. He is our comfort, our refuge, our help in times of trouble (Ps. 46:1).
It may feel as though your life is spinning out of control or that those who hurt you will never be brought to justice. Yet, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and her husband, Robert, point out,
You will see in the stories that follow and as Scripture attests, our faithful, loving God has the power to redeem the unredeemable and to turn ashes to beauty, not just in spite of the injuries we have suffered, but actually through those very wounds (p. 119).
You can trust Him with the pain and through the pain. When you’re grieving, lift your head to see Jesus, the One who understands your suffering. The One who died on the cross, who carried our sin and shame, knows suffering all too well (Isa. 53). He was with you when you were scarred by that event or that person. He is with you in this moment that weighs heavy. And He will be with you in every trial to come.
We would all like to look back like Joseph and see what God was doing. To see the messy pieces be made into a beautiful masterpiece. But as Nancy and Robert say,
Some of those messes will not be cleaned up this side of eternity. In the meantime we walk by faith, trusting His presence and grace to sustain us each day in the here and now, and assured that in the end He will right all wrongs and vindicate those who are His own (p. 125).
The pain you have experienced, or the sufferings you’re experiencing now, “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Paul, who wrote these very words, had many struggles, including a “thorn in his flesh.” He begged God to take the thorn away from him. What was God’s response? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Those places of doubt, discouragement, and sorrow are often the places we see God most clearly. Our pain humbles us. When we recognize our weakness and need for Jesus, His strength shows up for us in ways we couldn’t even imagine. His power is made perfect.
Though we may not be able to see how God is working, we know He is in control and working all things for the good of His people (Rom. 8:28). “All things” includes our pain that doesn’t seem good in the moment. Let’s be like Paul who kept his eyes on Jesus, not only in spite of that “thorn,” but believed that God was doing something through it.
You can trust the One who is holding your life. The One who knows every hair on your head. Give Him the pain of your past, the pain you’re walking through now, and the pain that is bound to come. Watch for Him to show up in beautiful ways.
My story with surgeries and physical pain didn’t seem beautiful at the time, but it was part of the beautiful story God was writing. Would I have chosen that path? No. But I wouldn’t change it. He was with me every step of the way, and He changed my heart in the process.
Cling to Jesus. Cling to His light. Cling with full trust in the One who will never let you go.
Reflect and Discuss
Are there struggles in your life you don’t think are “fair”? When you’re tempted to be bitter about the pain you’re facing, consider how God might be using it. He might even be preparing you to encourage someone else who is suffering.
LeRoy says in Chapter 8, “We don’t know how this is going to turn out. And we may never know why He does what He does, but we know that it will be good, and we keep trusting Him for that” (p. 109–110). Write down a Scripture that comes to mind, perhaps from this week’s reading, and dwell on it when you’re struggling to trust God with your circumstances.
It’s your turn to talk! What does it look like to trust God when the pain is in your face? What about when others have sinned against you? Share in the comments some ways you can surrender your pain to the Lord or show grace to those who offend you.