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The Painful Circumstances of Life – the third leg of the discussion

We have been discussing how life is full of pain and how God uses these storms of life purposefully. Last week we considered the characteristics of God and the promises that He has given us. These promises can enable us to experience peace when negative circumstances enter our lives. And today I want to address how we should respond when these storms come into clear focus, particularly when they are storms over which we have no control. Some of life’s most sacred truths can be learned only as we walk through our individual storms. We all have them. Yet all we ever seem to want is relief and comfort. We demand instant solutions, and we fail to recognize that, although God can solve all of our problems, instant solutions are not important to Him. What is important to God is how we respond to our struggles. I find that so many people instinctively respond to their negative circumstances not only with fear but also with anger and bitterness. “Why me?” they ask. “This is not fair. I don’t deserve this!” Caught up in the process of cursing the realities of life, we most often discover that the pain actually continues to increase. Philip Yancey, in his book, Where Is God When It Hurts?, writes about the insight of the highly influential, twentieth century, Swiss psychologist, Paul Tournier. “Only rarely are we the masters of events,” he (Tournier) says, “but (along with those who help us) we are responsible for our reactions.” In other words, we are accountable for the way we respond to the struggles we encounter. Tournier believed that a positive, active, creative response to one of life’s challenges will develop us, while a negative, angry one will only debilitate us and stunt our growth. In fact, Tournier believed that the right response at the right moment might actually determine the course of a person’s entire life. He found that quite often humans are presented with rare opportunities to develop and grow only through hardship and trial. Yancey further adds, “That, in fact, was why he (Tournier) moved away from the traditional pattern of diagnosis and treatment and began to address his patients’ emotional and spiritual needs as well.” We must all remember that God does not see life and the events of life the way that we see them. As the prophet, Isaiah, tells us, God’s thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours. I am reminded that Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent eight years of his life in prison for making a few disparaging remarks about Joseph Stalin. He went into prison as an atheist yet emerged as a Christian. After he was released, the first words out of his mouth were:

I bless you, prison. I bless you for being in my life. For there lying on the rotting prison straw, I learned the object of life is not prosperity as I had grown up believing, but the maturing of the soul.

How could anyone consider eight years in prison a blessing? Eight years separated from one’s family and friends. Solzhenitsyn realized that, through prison, God had made a spiritual breakthrough in his life. A breakthrough that otherwise might never have happened. If we can see the storms of life as a gift that God is going to use purposefully in our lives for our ultimate good, we can give Him thanks. This requires a tremendous amount of faith, but God always responds to a bold act of faith. Dr. Hans Selye was the true pioneer of discovering the impact of emotional health. He wrote thirty books on the subject. Towards the end of his life, in summarizing all of his research, he concluded that gratitude is the single response that is most nourishing to one’s health. He also recognized that people who view pain as their enemy instinctively respond with anger and bitterness, especially towards God. And this makes their pain worse. When we are able to trust God with the painful storms of life, and by faith, believe that He is somehow going to use it for our ultimate good, then we can give thanks. When we can express gratitude to God for pain, then this is when He will begin to unleash his grace into our lives. And we will experience that peace that Paul describes as “passing all understanding.”

And so – faith begets trust, and trust delivers gratitude, and gratitude produces grace, and finally, grace yields peace…peace, even during the storms when, seemingly, it is at its most valuable.

Next weekend is the Fourth of July weekend, and there will be no blog post for Monday July 7.

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