And yet, if we live in this world for any length of time, we will encounter and have to face pain:
- The pain of losing a loved one.
- The pain of being stabbed in the back.
- The pain of rejection.
- The pain of loneliness.
- The pain of failure.
- The pain of dashed hopes and dreams.
And the worst?
The pain of feeling abandoned by God.
There is no end to the many types of pain we can face in this world. Yet, what is important is not the types of pain we will face but what to do when it enters our lives.
Martha and Mary were faithful. They loved Him, served Him, gave Him their best. And yet, when their need was the greatest, when their beloved brother lay dying…He waited.
They knew He could save him. That was why they asked for Him to come. But He didn't.
If that ain't painful, I don't know what is.
However, unlike Martha and Mary, we have the gift of Scripture. We know what happens. They don't. What impressed me in Sarah's retelling is Martha's willingness to believe, even though she did not know what was going to happen at the end of the story. She didn't know that by dinner time, Lazarus would be sitting around their table again. They didn't know what Jesus was going to do. But still she affirmed, "Yes, I believe." (John 11:27)
What pain do you live with today? What hurts and wounds do you bear in your heart? We are usually not equipped to face pain. We want it to be heaven now.
But we're not there yet.
However, there is good news, and it is this: We follow a Savior that not only knows about pain, He has willingly entered into this sin-stained world we live in, dwelt in it, experienced it. And not only that, He has gone through the most unfair, the most shameful, the most painful experience any human being can ever imagine. And He did it willingly.
We are not alone. We are not abandoned.
What do we do then? Sarah writes:
“To live a life of redemption means to trust God even with the pain you cannot understand. To reject the way of redemption leads only to a life of bitterness. If you cannot trust God with your pain, then you will hate Him for it.”
It means to trust Him when it doesn't make sense. It means choosing to stay faithful to Him even when you are so tempted to walk away. It means believing even when your heart is breaking and being willing to place that broken heart into His wise and gentle hands.
Over the past six months, I have been walking through my own painful valley. I have had a hard time writing about it. So I haven't. I felt like God had dealt me a bad hand. I felt like He was doing it on purpose, punishing me. Life made no sense to me. And to be honest, it still doesn't.
I wish I could say that I was faithful to Him as Mary was. But I think my reaction was more like Martha's. Which is why this particular chapter really spoke to me. It reminded me that He was nearer than I thought. In my tears and weeping, He was with me. Like Martha, I too, do not see the end to this story. But also like Martha, I have a choice. His question to me is the same, "Do you believe this?" Do I believe He is the resurrection and the life? Do I believe that in Him, amidst the pain and sorrow, He is doing His good work still?
“Redemption isn’t always easy or apparent because it is God’s grace working amidst utter brokenness. But if you choose to embrace this way of walking through pain, you will see the very life of God become real in your circumstances. You will find the ability to hope where you never expected it. And you will see God strengthen your heart and guide you through the darkness.” (Sarah Clarkson, p. 42)
And that is my prayer for you and for me: that we would not only aim to "get through" our painful times but to choose to walk in childlike trust. I can say that it is not at all a natural response. My natural response is to run, fight, or rebel. I've tried all of them over the past few months. Let me assure you that none of them work. They only turn us into bitter, angry, and hateful people.
Instead, I need to reach out to the One who sits with me in my pain. I need to walk with Him through it. I need to trust that with Him, there is hope, there is strength, there is peace---even in the midst of that pain.
And one day, like Martha, we will understand what He has been doing all along.
If you're using this book in a discipleship context, consider discussing the following questions:
- What is your natural response to pain and hardship? Run? Fight? Rebel? Something else?
- Where do you see Jesus in these hard times? Near? Far? What is He doing? (see Luke 22:44, John 11:35, Luke 19:41-42) How might this make a difference in your life?
- Is there a hardship or heartache you are currently facing? What keeps you from placing it in the hands of Jesus in trust? Would you be willing to respond with your own, "Yes, I believe!"