The Painful Circumstances of Life

Recently I ran into a man whom I had not seen in quite some time. He looked great and seemed to be doing quite well. The next day he sent me an email and shared with me how much pain he was experiencing in his life. He came by my office a few days later and shared with me the painful circumstances of his life.

It made me wonder how many people walk around with smiling faces while their world might be falling apart.  You never really know.

In talking with this man, I asked him a question that changed the entire dynamic of our conversation. I asked him, “Do you think that God desires to use these painful circumstances purposefully in your life?” I am not sure that this had crossed his mind. I explained to him that if he saw meaning and purpose in his circumstances, it would transform the pain he was experiencing.

Dr. Paul Broad shares a very stark example of how this works out in life. If a woman in love with her husband decides to spend a romantic evening with him and the evening ends in sexual intimacy, we can all agree that this is good for both the man and the woman. This type of intimacy is a wonderful way for couples to express their mutual love.

Now, if we consider the same woman yet this time she is forcibly raped by a strange man, we cannot possibly imagine that there is no definable difference in the experience of such a horrific act from that of having sex with her husband.  Physiologically, she experiences the same act involving the nerve endings. The former experience, however, is one of beauty. The latter is the worst nightmare a woman could imagine. The meaning behind what you are experiencing is everything.

Dr. Harry K. Beecher of Harvard Medical School made an interesting observation among the 215 wounded men from the Anzio beachhead World War II:

Only one in four soldiers with serious injuries (fractures, amputations, penetrated chests, or cerebrums) asked for morphine, through it was freely available. They simply did not need help with the pain, and indeed many of them denied feeling pain at all. Beecher, an anesthesiologist, contrasted the soldiers’ reactions to what he had seen in private practice, where 80 percent of patients recovering from surgical wounds begged for morphine or other narcotics.

Here you have two different groups of people suffering from the same exact injuries. The soldiers’ responses to pain were impacted by the fact that their injuries carried with them a sense of meaning – a result of being involved in a significant mission for their country. They also had a sense of gratitude that they had survived. Yet the civilian patients with the same exact wounds saw their injuries as being depressing and calamitous, and thus “they begged for morphine or other narcotics.”

Just hours before Jesus was taken into custody, He made this point to His disciples in John 16:21:

Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been  born into the world (author paraphrase).

A woman’s pain produces something with great meaning – she has helped create a new life, and for that reason she can contemplate repeating the experience without fear and worry. The point that I am making is so crucial to grasp. It is foundational if you are going to deal effectively with painful circumstances.

In the midst of the storms of life, we will either allow what we are experiencing to influence our view of God, or we will allow our view of God to influence what we are experiencing.

If we will look at the circumstances through the lens of God’s truth, how we understand them will be transformed.

Of course this leads to a most obvious question. What do I need to know about God in order for me to be able to interpret properly what I am experiencing in the storms of life?

We will look at that in next week’s post.


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