Keith, what does Jesus say about the fact that good Christians often have serious pain? 


I don’t know where the notion came from that committed Christians shouldn’t have pain.  But for me pain has been the most important way that I find my way back to God—again and again. I remember hearing Dr. Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician and author and also a Christian, give a lecture on this topic.  A physician in the audience asked him a similar question:  “Dr. Tournier, how do you get your patients out of their pain?”  I was shocked at his answer, as was everyone else in the room.

“Oh, I don’t,” he responded.  “Not until they know the meaning of it.”

For most of my life I was very anxious to get out of pain—that is until I tried to surrender my whole life to the God Jesus called Father.  It had not occurred to me that personal pain is virtually a necessity for one who hopes to live as a serious citizen of God’s Kingdom/Reign. In fact, as I’ve said before (see this post), pain is like a fire alarm system to help us pinpoint issues we need to recognize and deal with. 

There are many kinds of personal pain:  pain that results from physical injury or various kinds of pain involving loss of self-esteem or from troubled or broken relationships.  

When Jesus first drew his disciples apart from the crowds to teach them, he listed some of the most painful personal experiences or losses people can experience and said to them, “You’re blessed

  • …when you reach the end of your rope.
  • … when you feel you have lost that which is most dear to you.
  • … when you are content with just who you are, no more, no less.
  • … when your commitment to God provokes persecution.
  • …every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me…You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.  (Matthew 5, The Message)

I think he was saying that until the disciples and I realize that we are powerless on our own to control our lives, our circumstances and other people’s acceptance and approval of us, we will not really believe that we actually need to surrender our whole lives to God.

When I became a Christian, I surrendered my “overall” life early on with a statement to that effect. But as time went on my behavior (and my family) finally told me that first surrender had evidently not included my insistence on being right in arguments, and over time my ambition that caused me to neglect my family (although I made valiant attempts to make it up to them, etc.).  But clearly I was powerless and hurt my family because I was over-focused on succeeding at everything I did—even as a Christian.  And I failed as a husband and a father.  Only then in the despair and rejection resulting from a failed marriage that I had caused did I hear Christ saying to me that unless I would go back to square one and become like a child in my relationship to God as my intimate Father. I could not see and change my life-long mostly unconscious compulsion to control circumstances and people to get them to act the way I wanted them to. I needed to recognize clearly that inside where no one can see, I am a little child calling out to his intimate Father (abba=daddy).  I am asking Him to teach me how to live and relate to other people as loving siblings instead of getting them to be actors in the drama I am producing and in which I am the star. 

This stance of putting ourselves on center stage in our daily or professional lives and subtly or openly trying to get the others around us to be supporting actors in our drama is a powerful word picture of the self-centered Sin that we Christians believe only God can overcome.  The problem is that God’s process of transforming us into the wonderful, loving and creative people he created us to be cannot, it seems, begin without our giving God permission (to the best of our ability) to teach us who we are and what our role in life will be that can bring happiness and fulfillment to other people and ourselves.  And this evidently begins with awareness, confession and surrender.*

One of the greatest mysteries about God’s process of transformation is that we cannot see in our own lives and behavior that we are in fact trying to control the other people around us (however subtly and “lovingly” we may be doing the controlling).  Some people who have the most serious problem of controlling their wives, husbands, children or siblings are consciously so “gentle and loving” with their hints and suggestions that they are astounded when accused of controlling.  They may even cry or rage and say things like “Controlling?!  Good grief!  I’m only trying to HELP you!!”  Or weep and say, “I’m trying to help you avoid making some terrible mistakes!!”  And that may be how they experience their behavior.  So solving these difficulties may take some counseling to unravel.

In my case, rejection by family member—when they couldn’t get through to me about my self-centeredness and control issues—caused me so much pain that I went to a treatment center, and there my denial finally cracked open.  (I described how this happened for me in The Secret Life of the Soul.)  Now I try to listen to the pain in my own life and see how I can relate to it as Jesus did and see what it may have to teach me about how to be more loving the way Jesus loved.

The experience of inter-personal pain is often a shock—whether it is experienced by being rejected by a person or group or the pain of a degenerating spine.  The good news is that as I surrender the pain and my future to God I can learn how to walk through the pain of living and understand better how to love people as I’m going through it.  And looking back I have realized that the areas of personal pain in my own life are like drawbridges I can put down into other people’s lives and walk with them as I learn how to take their hands and help them know at least one path through their particular kind of pain.

So it is often through our experiences of pain that we become “specialists” in helping people learn how to deal with their experience of that same kind of pain—or at least to know that it is possible to make it through that pain, because we made it through—or are still making it through.[1]

And my journey as a Christian has led me to realize that it is the experience of personal pain that can lead us to see new values in the world and to be more caring and loving to people who are alone in their pain.  And since that is one of the purposes of citizens of God’s New Reign in Jesus—to love people and be a part of their healing, we can actually use our painful lonely experiences to become the loving people we were designed to be—if we can learn to look for and notice when other people are in pain…and when appropriate, to walk a few steps with them.

Dear Lord, thank you for realizing that the various kinds of secret pain in my life can be sources of wisdom as to how to love you and other people specifically when they are going through the loneliness of solitary pain.  Help me to learn to listen and let people tell about their pain instead of rushing in with fixes and all kinds of “answers” (before they are even asking for help).  Thank you that you didn’t promise us “answers” in the usual sense but said you would be present with us in our pain—and that would somehow transform us to learn how to love others in their pain.  Help me to be willing to go and sit with people in their pain—as you have done through those who have visited me.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:  take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. 

-Romans 12:1, The Message


Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.  Follow me and I’ll show you how.  Self-help is no help at all.  Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. 

-Mark 8: 35, The Message


 Let me tell you why you are here.  You’re here to be salt seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth…and another way to put it:  You’re to be light, bringing out the God colors in the world … (and the way you’re to be light is) to shine…be generous with your life.  By opening up to others you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. 

-Mt. 5:13-26, The Message

* I’m not being “Pollyanna” here.  I still want to get out of pain as quickly as possible.  But I’m not quite as frantic about having pain because I have realized that all I have learned by going through a good bit of pain has helped me to become more sensitive and loving to other people—and more aware of God’s presence in my real life.

[1] If you have had this experience, you might consider taking a look at Facing Codependence.

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