Pain can be a doorway to discover God’s truth, character, and provision in a new light. It’s not easy but relating to God in pain offers a fresh perspective and a deeper spiritual connection.
Seeking Understanding to Make Sense of Suffering
I paced the surgical waiting room, my mind and body on hyper-alert. When someone stood to get a cup of coffee, my gaze reflexively followed them. When someone signed in or out at the waiting room desk, my head jerked to attention. When a name was called over the speaker, my mind did a double take to ensure it wasn’t mine. And every time a surgeon walked through the doors to confer with a family member, I rose, even though I knew it would still be hours before I would hear anything.
Approximately ten years into our marriage, my husband required surgery for a very rare form of abdominal cancer. The surgeon finally walked through the doors, yanked the cap off his head and met my gaze. I searched his eyes, preparing myself for the worst. Warned that one in four patients die during surgery, we approached the procedure with caution. Now, I wondered if he was the one, or among the three.
“The surgery was about as successful as possible. You may see him for a few minutes.”
Suddenly I thought of nothing and everything simultaneously. He survived—at least for the time being. Thank you, God. But now what? I needed to see him for it to be real. I waited the better part of 24 hours from the time they rolled him away from me down the hall to surgery until he was settled in ICU for me to see him, to touch him, to talk to him but I wasn’t prepared for what I would experience. Waiting in the surgical waiting room, I lost all sense of time. I was too nervous to eat, and I couldn’t sleep, afraid I would miss the surgeon and his report. The stream of sunlight piercing through the pinhole in the window blinds surprised me. Daylight. It was daylight. He had survived another day. The last time I saw him, we held hands, prayed, praised God for his medical team. And then I watched them wheel him to surgery while I stood alone holding his belongings.
The various beeps and whirs of ICU machines monitoring his vital signs jerked me back to the present. But nothing prepared me for what I saw next. My eyes were drawn to the floor. I gasped as I saw a large pool of his blood expanding against the stark white hospital tile floor. In shock I looked up to see my husband’s body, nearly unrecognizable. He seemed dwarfed compared to the bed. Pale. Covered in wires and tubes.
“Oh God, no. Please no. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s been through so much. Don’t make him go through any more…” I sobbed, as I fell to my knees beside his bed. A nurse escorted me to an ICU waiting room chair where I lived for the next 10 days, save for 10 minutes every six hours when I was permitted to see him, hold his hand, pray with him. My tears and my prayers continued. “God, he didn’t do anything to deserve this. He’s been through so much already. Please don’t let him die. And please don’t let him hurt any more. Please let me take this pain and torture for him…”
As I prayed, I sensed God whisper to my heart, “That’s what my Son did. He took the pain and torture that would have been yours and went through it on the cross for you. He shed his blood for you, so you didn’t have to. It’s what love does.” In that moment, the blood I’d seen on the floor, I now pictured as Jesus’s blood at the foot of the cross. It was his sacrifice. He didn’t deserve to be tortured, or to die. He did it willingly, as a gift. It’s what love does. Had we not gone through that painful trial, I likely never would’ve related to Christ’s shed blood in such a personal way. Jesus knows and understands my pain, our pain, all of it.
Our Setbacks Are God’s Setup
Our pain produces vulnerability, and our vulnerability makes us easy prey for the assaults of those negative forces that are always present: our own fleshly desire for comfort and control, the popular cultural lure of personal satisfaction and comfort, and the active spiritual enemy who opposes us. These assaults, magnified through the vulnerability pain creates, produce fear and frustration, which many of us display as anger. We often project this anger onto God, blaming him for either not preventing our pain or for not fixing it.
A friend and I recently jokingly shared via text that we’ve both occasionally wanted to fire the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is considered the Great Comforter, why doesn’t he comfort us in the depths of our despair? Maybe you’ve wondered that also. If so, you’re not alone. Moses and his fellow wilderness wanderers did too. “…and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt?” (Ex. 14:11 NLT). The newly liberated Hebrew people wanted to fire Moses, or worse. But look at the basis for their questions and accusations. They blamed Moses as if he had forced them to leave Egypt. And they exaggerated their discomfort in claiming that he brought them into the wilderness to die.
Amid painful trials, we search for answers, we long for explanation, and we want to understand the why’s and how’s to not only make sense of our suffering but perhaps also prevent it from reoccurring. We realized for years after my husband’s diagnosis and treatment that we literally held our breath prior to subsequent medical appointments, tests, and treatment because we never wanted to be taken off guard or our world rocked like that again. That’s when it’s crucial to look past the pain of our circumstance and our own warped perspective to see the presence of God in our pain and the offer of his perspective. Our pain becomes a setup for us to see God’s truth, character, and provision in a fresh way.
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.
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 Michelle Nietert, M.A., LPC-S, Clinical Director of Hope Helps, Author of Loved and Cherished, had to say about The Hem of His Garment: “In The Hem of His Garment, Dr. Michelle Bengtson provides holistic, practical, and biblical strategies to help us move through our pain. Her approach to the seven different primary forms of pain including the less commonly discussed emotional pain, relational pain and secondary dynamics of pain inflicted by others is a much needed resource for faith-based medical and mental health professionals.”
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.
Click here to learn more: The Hem of His Garment.