Finding Purpose in the Pain: Living Successfully with Chronic Illness or Pain
By Lisa Copen
If only God would explain His plan to me I would feel so much better," shared Kathy. "it’s not that I don’t trust Him, but if I knew the reason for the pain, it would be so much easier to cope with." Kathy’s is not alone in her feelings. Pain without purpose threatens to deplete us of our joy, hope and sometimes even our trust in God.
Our world is full of sin and we cannot change that. Since Adam took the bite of the apple, we became susceptible to sin and difficulties in our lifetime. For many of us, although we hope for healing, either through a miracle or a new medication, we have grown to accept that perhaps our illness is "our thorn." "Lord, Lord," we cry, "Please take this away!" and God responds, "My grace is sufficient..."
If you have recently been diagnosed with an illness, this may seem like a tall order. "What! Find purpose in the pain! I refuse to because that is accepting the fact that it’s never going to go away." Your feelings are natural and you have a certain amount of grieving to experience. Accepting the pain may seem like you are telling God, "It’s okay that I am in pain. I don’t need a healing." But God knows your heart and will bring you to a place where you desire His will, whatever it is, rather than a comfortable life.
If we are going to live with pain, however, the only way to come to a peace about it is to let God use it in our lives in any way that He sees fit. We rest and wait for the purpose to be revealed. Each of us can find a purpose in the pain.
Pain with purpose is naturally, easier to cope with. As the founder of Rest Ministries, I have found a joy beyond description in being able to use my earthly weaknesses towards God’s greater good. Even when I mess up, I am able to share my struggles with all of you, and then I receive letters from you saying, "That is exactly how I felt too and your article really helped." When we open ourselves up to God’s plan, the pain becomes bearable. In his book Finding the Purpose in Pain, V. Gilbert Beers writes, "My tears must not prevent me from serving but rather grace my serving, making me a more effective servant, a more understanding servant."
Is this what Paul meant when he wrote 2 Corinthians 1:4? "He comforts us whenever we suffer. That is why whenever other people suffer, we are able to comfort them by using the same comfort that we have received from God." I believe so. Pain is undeniable. We will all suffer in this world. But we have the choice to use it for God’s glory or to sit in a dark room and be depressed about it. We have each been given the opportunity to become a "wounded healer" and reach out to others who are in pain, who feel alone, isolated, and abandoned.
Each day Rest Ministries’ email support list, Share & Prayer, is filled with people who are becoming wounded healers. I am overwhelmed at the unconditional love, sensitivity, understanding, and depth of friendships. The moment a new person joins the Share & Prayer family they feel the acceptance and comfort of the others and Jesus Christ.
There are so many ways to reach out to others. Perhaps your neighbor is going through a difficult time and you offer her prayer. Maybe you are interested in finding a pen pal through our Friend Indeed program and consistently encouraging someone in their spiritual walk and chronic illness journey. Maybe you are considering starting a hopekeepers [TM] group to reach out to others.
Our society is built upon the premise that you put others down and build up yourself. Jesus tells us to put ourselves last, and build others up with encouragement and love. By using your pain for God’s glory, you will begin to focus on Christ and others, and the pain will become more of a tool and less of a thorn.
"When we’re hurt we want to seek the counsel of someone who also has been hurt," writes Beers. "We don’t want to talk to someone who has merely reach about hurt or has heard about it only from others. No, the wounded gravitate to other wounded people for counsel and encouragement. Is it the weak searching for the weak? I think not. I think it is those with recognized weakness seeking those with recognized strength born of weakness. The weakness of the woundedness becomes a strength in the eyes of other wounded people." Gilbert Beers, Finding Purpose in the Pain.
Get a free download of 200 ways to reach out to someone who is hurting from Beyond Caseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend when you sign up for hopenotes, a monthly ezine. Author of this article, Lisa Copen is also the founder of Rest Ministries and National Invisible Illness Awareness Week.