As I stood in the bathroom stall and wept quietly, I wondered if I would die from the pain that filled my chest. The heaviness that engulfed me threatened to smother me, and I gasped for air as my mind raced.
“Is this my life now? Is this the way it will always be? Will the pain ever end? “
On the outside, I appeared to be stable. I was working at a demanding job, parenting three kids, volunteering in the community, and I was serving alongside my husband at the church he pastors. However, inside, I was crumbling. I was suffering from a hopelessness that was so crippling that it left me weeping, curled in the fetal position on my closet floor. The pain coursed through my veins, filling every cell of my body with fear and regret. My pain overpowered me at times, and I wondered if I could die from the weight and sadness of it all.
My body didn’t know which state to be in – I was constantly transitioning from “fight or flight” – when my heart raced, my hands shook, and I wanted nothing more than to run away and start over – to utter and complete depression – where my body crashed, and I was left with leaden limbs that refused to move as I was overcome with numb despair.
I didn’t want to read the Bible, and other than my unanswered pleas to God, I spent little time in prayer. I was emotionally tormented, spiritually void, and physically exhausted.
I identified with Psalm 143:
The enemy hunted me down;
he kicked me and stomped me within an inch of my life.
He put me in a black hole,
buried me like a corpse in that dungeon.
I sat there in despair, my spirit draining away,
my heart heavy, like lead.
In those moments, as I “sat there in despair, my spirit draining away,” I wondered if there was no God, or if God simply cared so little about me that he had withdrawn his love from me.
Of all the emotions I felt, the worst was the terrifying loneliness. I inhabited a world where Christians told me, “You shouldn’t worry. You need to give it to God. You have so much to be thankful for, focus on that. Why can’t you just be happy?” The few friends that knew the depth of my suffering were losing patience with me. They said, “I don’t know how to help you anymore.”
These well intentioned words left me feeling even more isolated. I told myself that I was broken. I told myself that if I could just be good enough, I would feel joy. I convinced myself that my despair was due to weakness.
I have since learned that there are two types of people in the world:
- Those that have suffered and
- Those that will suffer
In Isaiah 43:2, God promises, “when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” God promises that we will come through the flame alive, but God does not promise that we will come through the fire unchanged. The fire will not consume us, but it certainly will transform us.
So where does that leave those of us that have endured intense suffering? What purpose could such pain possibly serve? Should we really “just be happy” and ignore our suffering? Romans 5:3-5 says:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
This passage is assurance that my pain and your pain will not be wasted. The more intense my suffering, the more perseverance I will have. The more intense your pain, the deeper your character will be. The terrible pain you feel will ultimately produce hope. Most importantly, “hope does not put us to shame”, nor should suffering make us feel shame. Our pain and the hope that it produces are because “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
As my perseverance, character, and hope blossom after the torrential rains have poured down upon me, I have a choice. I can hide my past struggles. I can remain alone in my current and past pain. I can keep my hands clasped tightly around the lessons that I have learned. Or, I can choose a different way.
I can choose to be vulnerable. I can choose to share my pain. I can choose to tell others about my suffering. I can open my hands and hold my pain in the light for the world to see. As the light reveals the depths of my pain, the light will also illuminate the hope that shines because I was transformed by the flames.
If you are a person that has suffered pain, do not allow shame and fear to convince you to hide your pain. Hidden pain is wasted pain, and God doesn’t waste pain.T