Pain is universal, but when it persists, more than anything we want it alleviated. James 1:2-8 (NIV) gives us great insight into how to reframe our focus when the pain is unending and we long to return to a pain-free existence, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
Embracing joy in painful journeys
I shared in Hope Prevails¹ that when I was physically ill, on five months of medically prescribed bedrest, and in the valley of depression, I began to wonder if I was joy-immune because I tried all the usual recommendations I had given my patients over the years including therapy, medication, diet, exercise, and rest but they were not enough to eradicate the depression or to let me experience joy. The physical and emotional pain felt suffocating.
It’s easy to believe that James 1:3 commands us to feel joyful in every situation. Yet, when Scripture says to consider it all joy, that refers to a verb, an action, rather than an emotion. In our painful journeys, God offers us the opportunity to consider the joy that can result when we confront our concept of ourselves, our world, and God considering God’s Word. James doesn’t address the resolution of his readers’ situations, but he emphasizes the blessing and personal satisfaction (joy) that comes from candidly recognizing our own limitations, skewed perspectives and expectations, and weaknesses, including pain. He invites us to step out of the driver’s seat, lean on our heavenly father for wisdom, strength, peace, and God’s own presence as we walk the path of pain.
Painful trials serve a purpose
Part of that learning is realizing that painful trials serve a purpose: they test our faith. What do we believe about God and why? What do we believe about how God perceives us and relates to his children? In the testing of our faith, we develop perseverance which is necessary as we progress toward our finish line in life. As we develop perseverance, we mature and become more like Christ.
I’m comforted that passage doesn’t end there. While I long to become so like Christ that when others look at me, they really see his image in me, there’s still so much I don’t understand. Even in writing a book on pain, after having endured each of the pain types and sometimes multiple at a time, there is still so much I don’t know. But God doesn’t chastise us for what we don’t know. In James 1:5, he beckons us to come to him with our doubts, our fears, our questions, and to ask for his wisdom.
I’m thoroughly convinced that if we never endured pain, we would develop a false sense of security that we know all we need to know and that we are capable of successfully managing our own lives without the influence of a loving or sovereign God. God is such a God of abundance that not only does he not chastise us for asking him for wisdom, but he lavishes it upon us, knowing we need it.
Seeking God’s wisdom in pain and doubt
James 1:6-8 gives another wisdom-filled nugget for those of us who feel like we are crawling from one painful moment to another: use that time to expand your prayer life and to pray without doubting. I’ve been guilty of knowing that God can heal and does heal, and I’ve prayed innumerable times for him to heal me, but in all honesty, some of those prayers have been wrapped in doubt. James reminds us to use our times of trial to expand our prayer life, pray without doubting, and trust God.
Friend, if you are experiencing physical, emotional, relational, financial, or spiritual pain, grief or loss, can I encourage you to pick up a copy of my book The Hem of His Garment: Reaching Out to God When Pain Overwhelms. I wrote it in the crucible of pain, with you in mind. In it, I address the common thoughts and questions of pain sufferers, I openly and authentically share about my own painful journey, and I encourage you to hold on to your trust in God while waiting for your healing.
Adapted from The Hem of His Garment: Reaching Out to God When Pain Overwhelms by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2023. Used by permission.
¹Dr. Michelle Bengtson, Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression, (Grand Rapids: Revell, 2016), 83.
The Hem of His Garment
We all experience pain from time to time, and not just physical pain, but also emotional pain, relational pain, spiritual pain, grief and loss.
I’ve been there. I’ve experienced each one of those types of pain. I’ve asked the hard questions. I’ve searched the scriptures for biblical examples and lessons learned through pain and suffering. And I’m sharing a fresh perspective in my new book “The Hem of His Garment: Reaching Out to God When Pain Overwhelms.”
Here’s what Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, Physician, bestselling author, and host of the I Choose My Best Life podcast, had to say about The Hem of His Garment: “Honest and transparent. Dr. Michelle Bengtson gives the reader permission to ask hard questions and practical guidance on how to seek God during times when you feel the most wounded. A beautiful gift for every person living with pain.”
The Hem of His Garment: Reaching Out to God When Pain Overwhelms is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ChristianBook.com, Books-A-Million, and other fine book retailers.
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