Pain as Invitation

Mar 25, 2012

Life’s pain is rife with invitations. Paradoxes of life and death, joy and mourning, hope and despair, invite us to spiritual and emotional growth, if we will only stop to listen and respond.

The sun peeks over the horizon as I drive into the empty parking lot at work. I squeeze my silver Camry between the white lines, shut off the engine, and pause to catch my breath. A few minutes later, I open the driver’s door, put one foot on the pavement, and then the other. I take a deep breath and hoist myself up to a standing position, an involuntarily gasp escaping from my lips.

I cannot deny that the pain has been worse lately–although that is precisely what I have tried to do for the last few months.

After living with rheumatoid arthritis for more than 15 years, you would think I would be used to it. The weight of uncertainty about my future is hard to bear; but in its midst, I hear God’s invitations—to feel and acknowledge my pain, to choose wisely, to live intentionally, and to share my story.

Desperate Realities

Pain in life is as certain as the rising and the setting of the sun. Why then are we surprised when it strikes?

“Authentic worshipers seek God in desperate realities: body racking pain, exile, earthquakes, oppression, disease, poverty, heartbreak, betrayal, and warfare,” Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes. In her book, Invitations from God, Calhoun points out, “Jesus related to God through tears, and he invites us to do the same. Even a cursory look at Jesus and his teachings reveals a God who is at home in the watery world of tears.”

Invitations Hidden in Pain

As I am learning to live in the paradoxes of life and death, joy and mourning, hope and despair, I accept several invitations hidden in the shadow of distress.

  1. An invitation to feel and acknowledge my pain. I recognize it is unhealthy and unbiblical to deny my pain. I choose to acknowledge my pain and grieve my losses, knowing that death always precedes life and that dormancy and death are not the same. If I feel “stuck” in my pain, I will choose to seek help, whether it comes from a friend or professional therapist. Complicated grief* does not resolve by itself. Life is too short to stay stuck for long.
  2. An invitation to choose wisely. So much is outside of my ability to control. I cannot change the fact that I live with chronic pain and fatigue. I cannot ensure that I will be able to continue working for the long haul, other than to follow my doctor’s orders. However, I can choose to cultivate my strengths and gifts, to read widely, and to explore the God-dreams that have been in my heart since childhood.  Who knows what lies ahead? 
  3. An invitation to intentional living. Suffering reveals the chaff of our lives. Things that are worthless and irrelevant quickly become clear. Limited energy and emotional resources invite me to intentional living and purposeful action. What does not align with my life’s purpose, I release.
  4. An invitation to share my story. People everywhere are hurting. No one understands pain like someone who has walked through it. Lessons learned in the fire of affliction become tools of healing as I share my story with others. Someone needs the hope that my story offers.

Life is rife with invitations. Yet, in our frantic busyness, we miss most of them. Pain is an invitation to slow down and respond to God’s invitations for something more, to experience resurrection life in parts of our lives that have been dead for far too long.

Questions for Reflective Journaling

  • What invitations have you been missing in life’s pain? How can you respond to those invitations?
  • How can you live more intentionally, more in line with your purpose?
  • Who needs to hear your story today? What are some ways you can share your story?

*Complicated grief occurs not only with the death of a loved one but can also occur with any major loss–illness, loss of dreams, the death of a friendship, and more.