The Gift of Pain
On Halloween two years ago at 11:02 a.m., my doctor called to tell me I had cancer. Time stopped and fear gripped me. In overwhelming pain, suffering, or news of one’s condition, one tends to go inward, cut himself off, believe nobody could understand. At such times, it is impossible to believe a gift lies in the danger.
Most of our lives we attempt to be self-sufficient, in control, and strong. But these laudable goals teach us little about the depths and moving into communion with others.
Invariably, I have found that God’s gift is in my pain. I sometimes live on life’s surface when all goes well, but a crisis forces me to look deeper at life’s meaning, to ask hard questions, reach out to others, and discover God. Nothing about growth in suffering is automatic; the pain can crush a person’s very joy and life. The Chinese define crisis as a dangerous opportunity. Suffering can contract, but it can also be the gift that expands our lives like nothing else. We often tell the stories of our lives around such events.
The apostle Paul was obviously a strong, intelligent man that liked to be in control. Yet with all of his gifts, he could not figure out what to do with his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). He asked God to make this problem go away, but strangely this prayer was never answered. Confounded, Paul wrestled with God and discovered that this painful condition contained a gift—a new vision of his humanity in relation to Christ.
Paul learned that in his weakness, he could manifest the power of God. “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
This passage does not answer why bad things happen, but points to the One who can get us through the crisis. The Biblical story is about a God who hears our cry and is with us, certainly not indifferent or aloof from our pain.
From his struggle, Paul learned to live the way of the cross, to rely more on Christ rather than his own strength, and to be in community rather than “to go it alone.” The cross is a symbol of death and of life, of suffering and the joy of new life.
Since my phone call from the doctor two years ago, my faith has deepened and many of my relationships as well. While I wish the word cancer had never been uttered in my direction, to be lifted up in prayer and discover the power of Christ through human weakness is an experience I would not want to relinquish.
Questions for discussion:
• What gift have you found in your suffering?
• Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and reflect on what it means to discover “power in weakness.”